Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Spring Break?

We are out this week for Spring Break! Yiipppeeee! Well...maybe I'm not so-o-o-o excited -because every day this week I have been in my office at school writing IEPs. Yuck! It's not that I mind meeting with parents or writing about their child or even taking the time to look at everything I have on a particular child and reflect on how our year has been and where I need to go. In fact, I love all of those parts of my job - but it's these pesky IEPs!

Early in my career I had a chance to meet parents in NC who lobbied in Washington for Public Law 94:142 - the law that guaranteed all children the right to a public school education. Many of these parents had children that had been refused a public school education for a variety of reason - usually because they weren't toilet trained. I listened as they passionately told the stories of their individual children. I understood that they wanted the same thing for their child that I wanted for mine - a chance to live the best life they could. I listened - and I cried - as they talked about their dream to have a group of professionals sit down at a table with them to discuss how best - together - we could make a difference and make dreams come true. In those early days, we struggled with this idea that children with such significant needs would be part of our educational system and I'm sure parents had many sleepless nights and bitter battles with school personnel, but they persevered and children began to do things we never thought possible. Miracles happened!

However, we must have done a really poor job of meeting the "letter" of the law because as the years have gone by requirements and mandates and new interpretations have been stacked on every year.  Parents have sued and counties have gotten a little paranoid until now I feel buried by all of the "dot your i's and cross your t's". I just want to sit down with parents and celebrate and plan and dream, but instead I am shackled to a set of paperwork that has become a nightmare. As long as I fill in every little blank with a drop down (don't write anything of your own because it might not be compliant), then no one seems to care about the quality of the IEP - Is my plan even one that makes sense? Those first parents that I met so many years ago must be turning over in their graves, because, by insisting on meeting the letter of the law, we have forgotten the intent.

This year I am working with -oh yet another new IEP program - always "new and improved" - yeah, maybe, but I'm writing short quips from the drop down menu instead of letting the parents know that Unique's smile lights up the room or that Shaun's hugs make me smile even on rainy days or that Dominic makes me laugh every single day. I was just thinking that maybe I need to get someone else to discuss my IEPs so I can man the computer and make sure I've done everything correctly (if that is even possible!) What am I thinking?!! Forget that! Regardless of the extreme mountain of paperwork (that almost makes me want to jump ship to general education like so many of my peers), I promise that I will use this time with parents to let them know how much I value them and their child in my life. I WILL listen to them instead of being obsessed that they have sign and initial each item of the 20 page IEP (I signed less when I bought my last house!) Maybe the IEPs won't be perfect and maybe we'll get audited and someone will fuss at me because I didn't check the third box on the right, but I'll sleep at night knowing that Mikayla's grandma leaves knowing that I adore her little red headed whirlwind and that grandma's sacrifices have been so well worth it.

I know the pendulum swings, so for many years I have been waiting for someone to realize the the pendulum is stuck and is so far out of whack, that it's really absurd. There's really nowhere - further out there - for the pendulum to swing (how many more lawsuits can be threatened?) except back in the direction of caring honestly and sincerely and making sense. When will the insanity stop? Probably not before the end of my Spring Break... so... back to writing...

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