A Story from the Trenches: The Crap that Flies in IEP Meetings

02 Feb

I’m a believer in the concept of intellectual property. Of owning what I say in both senses of the word. Owning meaning it’s mine. It has a little JH trademark, instead of a TM or R. But, perhaps more importantly, owning in the sense that I say what I mean and mean what I say. No skirting issues, no backtracking, no caveats, no hesitation.

So, you don’t have to excuse me for a less-than-stellar, more than hopefully forgettable statement that slipped out of my mouth a few weeks ago. I’ve been reluctant to process it, to talk about it, and, yes, to own it. Sitting in an IEP meeting for a fifth-grader with AS with every possible therapist, educational professional, and school district figurehead, I became frustrated. No, I became annoyed first. 60 minutes, 75 minutes, then an hour-and-a-half of dancing in circles like we were all auditioning for Dancing with the Stars. Well, I have two left feet, so you might guess that my annoyance bred frustration that ultimately led to words sliding out of my mouth like Michael Jackson’s moon walk.

“Can we cut the crap?” I asked. Whoooooa, did that just happen? As I checked in with the special education director (yes, the big kahuna every parent wants in a child’s meeting until you have to sit and smell that fish) I realized that I didn’t need to pinch myself, her face provided the reality check. I began to think about the ways in which I could position this error, how I could make this meaningful for the team in relation to the child in some supremely deft manner. Fail. So, I was left with the emotions that had betrayed me and the trigger for those emotions: My inability to understand why a basic accommodation for dysgraphia– reduction of written output — was being met from the school district with such refusal.

The school district’s reasons were the usual song and dance I hear from uneducated educators (mind you, this is a VERY small percentage of educators): He’ll mis-use this accommodation; he’ll never write again; he can write when he wants to; he draws just fine; he NEEDS to be able to write SOMETHING. Well, I technically can knit, but you sure as hell don’t want to wear any of my creations.

And just when I thought the litany would never again, the big kahuna let the beans, though carefully not the crap, spill: “Well, Jeanne,” she carefully and condescendingly retorted, “We will have to write everything for him then.” This logic is an amazing form of educational catastrophic thinking. Good ole’ catastrophizing sounds more like, “Oh, I have an irregular spot on my skin? I have cancer!” So, when the big kahuna throws that dead fish at you, you don’t know whether to catch it — that fish is slipperier than it looks — or dodge it or, better yet, let it hit you in the chest and fall to the table with a smack for all to see, smell, and handle. That floppy fish is the crap.

I’d like to say that my ignorant comment brilliantly induced an AHA! moment in which everyone realized how ignorant and woefully unjust we were being to C.J. That an AlphaSmart, a visual cue card for a scribe, and a more caring and understanding attitude about the struggles of putting pen to paper suddenly and miraculously appeared.

All I can say is that I learned something, something sad. The passion and the dedication that spewed forth those words from my mouth was met by a can’t-do attitude that has ruined C.J.’s elementary school career. Unfortunately, that can’t-do-attitude piggybacked on my comment, my lack of professionalism, as an excuse to not make very basic modifications. This IEP team didn’t resemble a school of fish. No, it was a pack, with its members meant to be silent.

Now, that’s crap.

And so what if we did have to write every single word down for him?


Posted by on February 2, 2011 in ASD in the Schools


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11 responses to “A Story from the Trenches: The Crap that Flies in IEP Meetings

  1. Liz Ditz

    February 2, 2011 at 12:44 PM

    Thanks as always for a great post. This is genius:

    “Well, I technically can knit, but you sure as hell don’t want to wear any of my creations.”

    While there is some reciprocity between learning to read and learning the rudiments of writing — letter formation, spelling — I am not convinced that there’s much connection between written output and literacy — if the student has another form of output, like speech-to-text.

    My father was a highly successful businessman — very few of his generation “wrote” in the sense of actually composing by hand or on a keyboard. They dictated reports, memos & so on, which were transcribed by secretaries or the typing pool.

    I’m still mystified by the barriers to written so many AS students have. I’d love to hear your insights.

  2. jholverstott

    February 2, 2011 at 1:09 PM

    Well, I’m not so sure it’s ever acceptable to lose your composure, even if it seems as though a good reason exists. In the end, a bunch of adults impact the child. I understand that we are suppose to “know better” and “be in the interest of the child”, but I know that doesn’t always play out.

    RE: Writing. I will post on that topic soon!

  3. Jill

    February 2, 2011 at 3:18 PM

    I work with a couple brilliant adult students in college that need me to write every word down for them. The stuff they come up with is absolutely worth it. Their teachers think so too. That this kid met with such reluctance is crap.

  4. Dennise Goldberg

    February 2, 2011 at 8:50 PM

    Great article. I once had my son’s teacher write on a post-it, “this is a joke” and slide it over to me as the speech therapist tried to kick my son out of speech. After 8 months, an IEE, & two mediations we were not only eligible for speech but received a large block of one-on-one speech outside of school. He had sever apraxia.

  5. Joan

    February 2, 2011 at 11:37 PM

    I think the most useful skill I learned in my son’s 21 years of FAPE was to be able to wait until whomever finished spinning their tale of what the “data” showed and then ask pointed, but very appropriate questions with regard to the profession of teaching. The best example is the time a teacher spent at least 20 minutes providing “data” that showed my son will never learn. To which I asked, “Tell me, did you have even ONE success with him?” And she answered, “I am sorry, no.” My reply was, “That’s too bad. Good educators *Always* find one success, no matter how small.” And then went on to explain that his behavior suggested he was frightened, anxious, and did not want to be in her classroom, and even if he had, she had admitted that she had not modified the lesson prior to the class for him as is outlined in his IEP.

    Data and reasons can be used in so many different ways.

    Once you establish yourself as a force to be reckoned with intellectually, it’s much easier to say, “Can we cut the crap” out loud.

    you didn’t ruin his elementary years. There’s lots of time to change things.

  6. Tracy

    February 3, 2011 at 3:19 PM

    I can relate. We just finished the first of a three part IEP. Yes, is takes three pointless meetings to complete a yearly IEP, each of which are 3 hours in length. In each meeting my time is wasted with, we can’t, I don’t know and that isn’t district policy statements. I have found that if they actually listened and were helpful we might be able to accomplish something. Also if they actually followed the approved IEP the child might stand a chance. We have taken the route of home schooling and have been delighted to see that when our ideas are implemented our child can succeed.

    • jholverstott

      February 3, 2011 at 3:34 PM

      Tracy, My apologies that it takes 9 hours for a school district to do its job. Or, rather, to set up a vague plan to do its job. My comment was intended to reduce the time wasted by all so that we could get down to business.

    • Shelly

      February 4, 2011 at 12:45 PM

      We have had so many “cut the crap moments” in case conferences that my head fairly spins. One time, however, the principal looked up and said, essentially, “Let’s cut the crap here,” can we forget about what label to use and just get on with creating accommodations that are best for Caleb?” We were thrilled that day that one of the administrators stood in the gap for us after 3 hours of listening to reasons why our PHD diagnosed son with Aspergers did not qualify for an autism diagnosis at school because he was too social! He was tired of the run around too. Unfortunately, not many of the accommodations were carried out in a way that benefited our son and we are now homeschooling him with great success.

      • jholverstott

        February 5, 2011 at 8:48 PM

        “Cutting the crap” is a two-fold job: 1. discussing and planning for the real issues and 2. implementation. Neither are easy, and I find that administrators can help best with the the former especially in setting the right tone in a meeting.

  7. Marcyinak

    February 3, 2011 at 3:22 PM

    I know this is more directed to parents with AS kids, but I can totally relate. I have a child that is WAY ahead on all the tests, completely “normal” physically, mentally, etc. He also has trouble writing. I’ve heard this crap of “oh, good readers have a really hard time writing sometimes”. So, if they can’t come up with options for HIM, how can we expect them to come up with options with special needs kids? Frustration has gotten the better of me too….relax, it happens to us all.

    • jholverstott

      February 4, 2011 at 2:09 AM

      It does happen to us all, I agree! When we walked out, I apologized to my client’s dad. He said, “No worries. I had another four-letter word to say to her.”


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