This article is an adaptation of a column in the Hands and Voices Newsletter that is written by Shirley Swope. Shirley is a parent advisor/advocate with the PEAK Parent Center in Colorado Springs. Shirley's son, Michael, now in college and a certified EMT, is hard of hearing.
Q : Our only daughter, who is five years old, and in kindergarten in a self-contained, total communication classroom, is hard of hearing and is learning to sign and speak. We'd like her to attend her home school so she can become friends with the children in our neighborhood and develop better-spoken English skills. We feel she'll be less isolated if she builds good relationships with her peers close-by and attends school here in our community. The school district says this isn't appropriate for her because she won't be able to pay attention to the teacher and will suffer academically and socially, therefore they won't support our request. What can we do? --Lilly C
A : First of all, Lilly, as a parent you are an equal member of your child's IEP team and your request must be respected. Your neighborhood school is certainly a placement option and should be explored if you've made this request. The s With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) lends plenty of support to the idea that a child's "least restrictive" learning environment may not be a self-contained classroom. In fact, the broad interpretation of "least restrictive environment" starts with the school the child would be attending if s/he did not have a disability. From that point, appropriate supports and services can be added to that environment based on the child's needs as set forth in the IEP. Your school district, and specifically your IEP team and the regular education classroom teacher in your home school must put a good faith effort into making that setting successful for your daughter both academically and socially.
Districts and educators are legally obligated to put forth a good faith effort. This precedent was established in the early l990s by a lawsuit in New Jersey now referred to as the "Oberti Case" where a child with Down's Syndrome was denied neighborhood school placement on the basis of his disability. The parents fought this legally and the courts ruled in favor of the family based on the IDEA's interpretation of least restrictive environment. This case established the need for schools to put forth a good faith effort. Their efforts must be documented and time must be given (sometimes called 'trial placement') before an assessment of the appropriateness of the placement can be made. A good faith effort may include adequate in-servicing of staff, use of the FM system, talking at your daughter's eye level, interpreters, and/or whatever else is in her IEP.
Be sure to examine the rationale behind the school's position: is it based on how the district's program operates or on the needs of the child? To be told a placement is "not appropriate" may be due to a district's philosophy about teaching children who are hard of hearing or deaf. If you, as parents, have a differing opinion, explore your options, learn your rights and stay focused on your goals for your child. School districts, teachers, and programs will change, but you will be the constant in your child's life and quality control is up to you. - Shirley
Q . What's the update on IDEA '97? Do we have a new law to follow?
A . When a new law is written, regulations are written on the law. The regulations are a guide for states to follow when implementing the law. The original projected date was May 1998, the next was June, then July.... Now we are hearing that no regulations will be passed until after the November elections. The tragedy of school shootings across our nation has made a thoughtful impact on our law makers, and the behavior language is the hang-up.
What does IDEA '97 mean for schools? Schools have to:
New Parents Rights and Responsibilities Added under IDEA 97
Q . My school and I have a hard time agreeing on anything. We especially are disagreeing over the kinds of services they should be providing for my son. We've hit a brick wall in talking to each other, what should we do next? -Tia
A . Sometimes when communication seems to be at a total stand still there is a method to help break down that brick wall. I would suggest that you ask the school for mediation. Let me explain a little about mediation and how it works; when both parties agree to mediation the Colorado Dept. of Ed. is notified, and a mediator is assigned. The mediator is paid through the Colorado Dept. of Ed. but is NOT an employee, the mediator is an IMPARTIAL part that is trained to help. Both parties find a solution. The mediator will first contact you and the school by phone to hear both sides of the story, you will be asked about your ideas on compromise. At the meeting , a good mediator can skillfully break down that brick wall and help both parties focus on the real issue and keep personalities out of it.
The mediation process does not take away any of the parents due process rights but can often short cut a way to a solution, a good mediator can help build a good communications base for the school and the parents. While in mediation, remember that your priority is your child's education.
Q . My child has an IEP that looks good on paper, but the school isn't providing the services as stated on the IEP. We've had many meetings regarding implementation, and school people nod their heads in agreement but nothing changes. what can I do now..? S.L.
A . This sounds like a situation in which a formal complaint would be appropriate. A formal complaint is best used to resolve specific violations of IDEA and compliance issues.
To file a complaint is a simple procedure of sending a letter to the Federal Compliance Officer of the state. In Colorado that person is:
There are some key components that must be included in the letter.
1. Name of parent and child, address and phone number (complainant)
Just remember to include the "who, what, when, where" of the complaint.
The Complaints Officer will review the complaint to decide if they can accept it. If accepted, you will be notified within ten days. The Compliance Officer will review the facts and make a ruling within a 60-day time frame.
If the Compliance Officer finds the school district out of compliance, the Colorado Dept. of Education can enforce compliance by withholding funds or other sanctions.
For more information contact:
PEAK Parent Center at 800-284-0251 or 719-531-9400
Q . We live in a small community that has one elementary school. My son will be starting first grade there in the fall. I'm concerned because he'll be the first child who has a hearing loss to attend that school. The teachers are nice, but none have had experience teaching a child with hearing loss. Is there anything I can do to help them ALL be successful in the fall? Mary T.
A . I understand your concern. I think it's a good idea to remember a few things about teachers. First, I think it's very safe to assume that all teachers want to do a good job with all their students. Secondly, teachers are life-long learners and should embrace the opportunity to learn new ways of interacting and teaching perse learners. Thirdly, you can request that teacher training be part of your child's IEP. Both in Federal and State law teacher training is addressed. Both state that it should be provided to staff who provide both direct and indirect service to children with disabilities. Another statement says that training and technical assistance are provided as necessary to assist them in their effort.
Next, it's important to understand the role of the IEP document. This is to be a guide for your son's education. You as the parent are an equal member of his educational team. It is very appropriate and important that your voice be heard. If you are concerned, speak up! If you want teacher training around hearing loss ask for it,and ask that it be specifically written into the IEP. You as a parent can be involved in the training. As a parent, don't be afraid to express your opinions and questions about your son's education. As an equal team member it's your responsibility to speak up. Open and honest communication among the team members is the best method for insuring a good and flexible IEP.
Please feel free to call or e-mail me anytime,