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The district is required by law to give us an IEP every 12 months. On the first day of school, I asked about it. The school’s special-needs coordinator, Mary, said she was working on it. I guess we had to have it done by September 22, or something? Then it turned out we couldn’t rally Dar’s entire team by then. So Mary came to me a little embarrassed, and asked if we could schedule something small, just to meet the legal requirement, and then have a larger IEP the following week?

I said sure. No big whoop. Then she came to me a few days later and said the next week wouldn’t work. So how about October 11? So we’re…uh, all set with that then. Presumably.

I’m not crazy about how things seem to keep getting scheduled at the last minute, when it’s not like Dar’s condition is something they just learned about. He’s been with the BUSD for four years now.

Anyway, so we had the minor, state-mandated meeting. This was the first IEP (if it can be called an IEP) where my wife and I added up to the same number as BUSD employees – two of each of us.

Me and wifey and Mary and Jennifer, all huddled around a plastic table designed for five-year-olds – I don’t think it came up to our knees.

“We’re still concerned about this issue of metrics,” I said. “In other words, what it would take for the district to say, okay, our approach has failed. I mean, we’re all in education, we all know there’s a difference between an A and an F, and those matter, right?”

“Right, but…” began Jennifer…

Not letting myself be interrupted, I said, “So three different aides for Dar in the first two weeks, if that pace were to continue, that would be an F, right?”

“Right,” said Mary.

“Right,” said Jennifer, “But you shouldn’t feel like just because that area has been unstable, that the BUSD isn’t the place for Dar.”

“It’s not just the turnover, it’s how they were trained on the first day.” I asked my wife to tell them a story she had told me.

She did. Every day, when one of us picks up Dar, we ask the aide, “How was his day?” or “How did he do?” or likewise. As my wife tells it, on her fourth or fifth day, Dar’s current aide, Nicole, told my wife words to the effect of: “Well, he screamed a few times but I sometimes saw it coming and I took him out of class before there was even a problem!” There was, per wifey, a noticeable twinge of pride in her voice.

As I reminded Mary and Jennifer, Dar’s BUSD pre-school teacher, Mike, who was nice enough to attend Dar’s first IEP at his current school (Thousand Oaks), explained that if you take Dar out of class every time he tantrums, it simply re-inforces the behavior. This is not some incidental, tertiary concern, comparable to making sure the aide knows the difference between the “peach” and “pear” icons on Dar’s iPad. This is first-day, or at least second-day stuff. This is central. This is do-we-keep-Dar-in-the-BUSD-or-not. How can immersion be working if he keeps getting unimmersed?

Nicole should have been trained on that the first day. Jennifer leapt to Mary’s defense: “I know she did.” Mary said: “I tried.” It’s rare for the school to show any daylight between itself and its third-party vendor, but this was such a case. Jennifer, who is very good, saw what I saw. She hastened to add: “This vendor, On Your Own, has had other successes at the BUSD.”

“Really?”

“Yes. There may be some issue about them coming from Vallejo.”

Vallejo? I would later learn that Dar’s aide is actually driving from Vacaville. Zoiks. That doesn’t matter to me…unless it affects my child.

I asked the room, “Wouldn’t this be working better if the district trained its own aides?”

“The BUSD does train some special-needs aides, and also relies on some contractors.”

“But if the BUSD were to help Dar go to another district, where…”

“Other districts,” Jennifer womanterrupted, “Have some full-time special-needs specialists and hire contractors as well.”

I tried to keep my voice level, amiable. “It just feels like the district sets up the goalposts so that there’s no way Dar can fail here. Can Dar fail here?”

“Yes, but…”

“We need metrics,” I manterrupted. “We need metrics by which the school could possibly fail Dar.” Everyone in my Berkeley special-needs-parents secret email group says that the district never pays to move a kid to another district, unless said kid is violent. (Dar is never violent, except occasionally to himself.) I understand the school’s reluctance, but I have to see it for myself.

We agreed to have Nicole fill out a form every day that documents how often, and for how long, he’s taken out of class. Of course that’s not the whole story. It’s a step.

Today, I happened to run into Nicole’s boss’s boss. She had been waiting for me in Dar’s classroom for more than an hour. (Nobody told her that I always take Dar to an hour of non-school therapy early Wednesday mornings.) She handed me her business card and asked if we could chat. Oh yeah, I said. We can chat now. So I walked her outside and told her most of this blog post. I give her credit that she didn’t try to make a lot of excuses. She just said they’d do better from now on. Uh huh. She said she’d be at the IEP.

My plan is for the October 11 IEP to demand more metrics beyond class time that Dar could fail at, or not. I expect the bar to be set high. I expect Dar to retain skills, not just learn new things and forget old ones.

We’re either in a slow-motion helicopter rising, or in a slow-motion car crash. It’s very hard to tell which.

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