Thursday, March 3, 2011

Sleazy Additions to Resolution Settlements

I can't talk about my own resolution settlement because it is confidential - mind you that confidentiality was not at our request but at the districts insistence - they don't want other parents to know what they give to some of the parents.  It might encourage others to ask for the kind of services that are working for other kids when the district fails to do its job.  So consider this a compilation of several cases.

Now a lot of settlements are made during due process but prior to going to court.  The districts know when they have stinker of a case and that they are likely to lose and will often settle during mediation rather than risk losing big and being exposed as court cases subject them to.  What I have seen them do though is go into the mediation and discuss certain issues but not give specific dates and such, not discuss certain terms, such as transportation, and then get real sneaky and sleazy and insert things into the resolution agreement as though they had been discussed.  Then when you bring it up they refuse to discuss it because "we have an agreement" when in fact you didn't agree to what they have put in the document.   

If the child is being sent to a non-public school that location is likely some distance from the child's home - so when the district sneaks "no transportation" into the agreement that puts the parents in the position of having to take their child to and from school every day, which may be some distance.  Since the child is in school all day, it is unlikely that the parent can just sit around and wait all day so they must make two trips daily to a location that could be 20 - 30 - or 40 miles or more.  Right now gasoline prices continue to rise and with an average of 25 mpg and a distance of 25 miles each way that will mean 4 gallons of gasoline per day, not to mention the increased costs for insurance when putting on so many miles every day.  It adds up.

Another sneaky way to avoid paying what the district should rightfully pay is to put limits on when they will pay for certain things.  Say you place your child in a non-public school for two months prior to the resolution.  You did this legally and they should be on the hook for paying for this NPS as long as it is agreed that this is what your child needs to get FAPE.  It is determined that the district should pay for the schooling for the two months prior - that's all that is discussed, but when the paperwork comes back, the district has added in without any conversation or agreement, that they will not pay for behavioral services or a one to one aide as they had previously agreed were needed for your child to benefit from an educational placement prior to the day you sign the agreement.  Because of what you discussed you are under the impression that they are covering all services except for OT and Speech therapy which were excluded by agreement, and to top it off, as you are trying to read through the agreement, they enter the room and start chatting with each other so that you are not really able to concentrate.  In this case, you must sign the agreement that day, there is no taking it home to read and think about, it has to be done that day.

So, what I learned from this is - have a list of everything that must be included even if they are not specific due process issues and check them off before agreeing to anything.  You can bet there could be things that you did not discuss as it wasn't in the due process complaint.  Then, check all the fine print for any additions to the agreement that were not discussed.  Do not sign until they agree to honor the spirit of what was stated rather than going along to get things over and done, yes you are tires, but so are they, and maybe they will decide to quit arguing over stuff they shouldn't be arguing about if you are ready to go to court.  Either take your copy of the agreement out of the room to read and inspect carefully, or tell them to leave and you will call them when you are ready to sign any paperwork.

They are not there to discuss what your child needs.  They are there to settle a court case and give as little as possible no matter what your child's needs.  This is a battle and they will stop at nothing to win.

Excuses to Avoid Giving Speech Therapy

Recently I have heard two absurd excuses not to give speech therapy. The first was that the difference in cognitive ability and speech was not two years apart.  The second was that the child's speech ability had plateaued.  Both of these excuses were delivered convincingly, but neither made sense.  Then there was the excuse they used for my daughter, which was also a bunch of "hooey" as Great Grampa would say!.  Here is why...

If a child has no speech at three years old it is very difficult to be sure of their cognitive ability, especially when one has not done a proper evaluation of their cognitive functioning, and especially if that testing was not done with a test for a person who is non-verbal.  Most schools do not do non-verbal cognitive tests on three year olds, probably because they don't want to lose their excuse for not giving speech.  Secondly, how will that cognitive ability go up any time soon unless the child gets additional assistance to understand the world around him or her?  Speech therapy would be vital to ensure that the child's cognitive ability increases.  This is certainly a way to create a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Don't give the child what they need so they won't progress so that you can continue to deny them the services they most need. In addition, not helping a child to learn to understand and to speak will be a sure way to create behaviors which will make it even harder for the child to benefit from any pitiful services that are eventually offered thus completing the fulfillment of the prophecy.

Then the plateau deal.  This was the child's first assessment with this SLP, and she had no records from which to make any judgments. How could she determine if he had plateaued without knowing where he was a year ago and a year before that and so on?  Wouldn't a plateau infer that the child had been progressing and then stopped?  It seems to me that the "plateau" line is a well rehearsed excuse to avoid giving services.  This time the excuse came from a Kaiser SLP.  This child's mother had heard that line before from the school, prior to his recent increases in ability to articulate and gains in overall speech thanks to his new communication device on the iPod touch.  It's too bad the Kaiser SLP didn't know the meaning of the word plateau or she might have tried a more convincing excuse!  

And finally, the one that made me laugh, but really wasn't funny.  The excuse for not giving my daughter speech was that she wasn't making "meaningful sounds".  Okay, so she can make sound, which is the first thing a person needs in order to make speech.  But they weren't meaningful...well, then isn't it their job to help the child turn the un-meaningful sounds into meaningful sounds?  Isn't that a lot of what speech therapy is?  Of course it is!

The lesson I take away from all these shenanigans is - If it seems like a stupid excuse, it probably is just that - just a stupid excuse.  If it doesn't feel realistic it's time to ask for an IEE.  Get the input of an expert who has nothing to gain from denying your child services.  

What Do I Do if the District Uses an Inappropriate Evaluator?

I went to an initial IEP recently in which the district had the psychologist/autism expert do assessments in all areas except for physical health which was done by the school nurse. Areas that were checked off as being assessed by the school psychologist included speech and language, motor development, and self-help/adaptive.  The parents asked the district about whether or not these should be done by PT, OT, or SLPs and were told not to worry about it.  Now, there were no formal assessments completed, obviously because the person doing them wasn't qualified to do a formal assessment.  Her conclusions were that the child needed no designated services.  She also stated that therapists come to the classroom and assist the teacher and aides to help the children with speech and fine motor issues that may arise.

Now the parents want a REAL evaluation.  The district tells them they must write a letter and request that the district do an evaluation.  But their assessment plan clearly states that they will be doing those assessments.  Is it the parents' or the child's fault that the district used inappropriate personnel to do the assessments in the first place?  Should they give the district another 15 days to get the assessment plan signed, 60 days to complete an evaluation, and another 30 days to hold an IEP?  Clearly the answer is NO.  The district had their opportunity, chose to do an inappropriate assessment, and now wants to waste more time.  The parents have every right to request an IEE at public expense.  If the district chooses to take them to due process rather than pay for the IEE they have no case and could very well end up giving compensatory services.

Sadly, this first IEP is going to set up the relationship between the parent and the district for as long as the child is in the district.  I can think of no better way for the district to create mistrust between them and the parents and to set up a relationship that is contentious from the get go.  They have made it clear that they do not have the child's interest in mind and that they will do any underhanded thing to avoid doing the right thing.