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If we left it up to the school, Dar would have one IEP meeting a year, around the time of his birthday. However, we feel we need progress reports more often than that. A couple of months ago, we called for an end-of-school-year IEP. We’d noticed that he’d had a lot of staff turnover from his first year of kindergarten to his second year of kindergarten at the same school, and we thought it wise to ask for a year-in-review with this year’s specialists.

In the past, Irena and I have asked for progress reports in advance. In the past, those have been inconsistent and begrudgingly given at the last minute, and receiving them in advance has tended not to make a whole lot of difference to us, and so in the name of team harmony we let that one slide.

Sometimes we start these meetings with our list of carefully prepared questions. We began the meeting by asking if we might do that this time. That’s when we learned that the 1:30 meeting had a “hard ending time” of 3:00. 90 minutes! Previous IEP meetings had gone twice that long. Would have been nice to have known that in advance.

Dar’s speech therapist, whom we love, said, “maybe you could ask some of your questions, and maybe we’ll wind up answering some of the others” in the course of giving their progress reports.

I looked at my list, which looked a little bit like this.

Things to work on/ask about:

  1. What’s the threshold at which you’d say ‘this isn’t working?’
  2. Who’s next year’s 1-on-1 aide?
  3. Bullied, bullying, or neither?
  4. Naked? (At home he’s always getting naked)
  5. Pointing to things in a book (dog, clock, chair, etc)
  6. Following instructions with one action, one object (bring me the book, close the door)
  7. Following instructions in if-then form (if you want to play outside, then clean up)
  8. Listening to stories for 15 minutes or more
  9. Following 3-part instructions (Brush your teeth, change clothes, go to bed)
  10. Following instructions heard minutes before
  11. Using phrases with a verb and a noun (Katie stay, go home, eat cereal)
  12. Asking questions with inflected words (Me go? Mine?)
  13. Using adjectives (dirty, pretty, big, loud)
  14. Leaving the classroom
  15. Percentage of time a) with therapists b) with peers and class c) outside?

At that point I said, uh, in that case let me just ask one question. I stammered something to the effect of, “what exactly is the threshold for the BUSD’s plan not working? That is, might we ever look at how he didn’t meet his goals and say, ‘Maybe the BUSD isn’t the right place for him?’” I always (over)worry about hurting people’s feelings, so I followed up with “I mean, we want this to work, this is our plan A, but we have to think about plan B…”

Dar’s speech therapist – again, we love her – replied to the effect of “If that happened, we’d take a look at what we, the team, are doing, and what we could do differently.”

In other words, as I’ve said to wifey, the real truth came out when our school’s principal said to us almost offhandedly, “he’s already been held back a year, so…” That spoke more volumes than any so since Peter Gabriel’s “So.” She meant that Dar is in the system now, and can’t really be kicked out of it (unless he were to become violent).

The big BUSD advantage, and disadvantage, is immersion. So of course we ask about that, and apparently he’s pretty well immersed. The teacher says he’s doing more than half of the group’s activities (with the help of his 1-on-1 aide, of course) and that he listens during story time for at least ten minutes. WOW. Haven’t seen this at home. When I push a book on him, he pushes it away. So maybe, just maybe, seeing peers do things helps Dar feel that it’s okay to do them. In other words, the BUSD immersion strategy is working? Really?

Last year, our justification for keeping him in the public schools was that most of the private options didn’t start until first grade. (My theory about that is that most parents of special-needs kids at least try the free public schools for a year before biting the bullet and paying for better.) This year, our justification for moving him to first grade in the BUSD is threefold: one, we don’t have a good private option in Berkeley and we hate driving/moving; two, money, as in we’re paying for (Dar’s brother) R’s private preschool for exactly one more year, and R will move on to free kinder in a year, and thus free up money for Dar’s private school; three, he seemed to meet almost all of his goals from the beginning of the year.

Yeah, looking over the IEP progress reports, he kind of rocked his year. That made me wonder, did we set the bar too low? One of the participants even asked the group if Dar “needed the same level of support” next year. Red flag! If Dar loses his all-day 1-on-1 aide we would very, very, very seriously consider leaving the BUSD. You can’t really tell this from this blog, but sometimes in life I do know when to shut up and let others talk. In this case I said nothing and let the room have at it. To my relief all of Dar’s therapists, as well as his kindergarten teacher, chimed in to say YES, he needs the same level of support. The inquiring woman said okay, she’ll make sure it happens.

The same woman warned us that February 2017 was coming soon; that’s the every-three-years month when Dar is extensively evaluated to see what kind of services he really needs. Somehow these sorts of warnings don’t phase me. It’s entirely obvious to anyone who knows Dar that he needs as much help as any other special-needs kid.

And yet…looking all over this report, there are dozens of reasons for hope. And they answered all our questions in pretty convincing fashion. I guess maybe wifey and I should stop worrying!

I’m kidding. Let’s follow this up next week.

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