Josh's Journey
This placement is inappropriate for my son.

During the 2011-2012 school year Josh was in the fifth grade. When I attempted to register him, I was told by faculty that I could not enroll him at our local elementary school, because “he would be going to a different school”. They said it “has a great program for Josh”.

Now I didn’t know anything about these plans for a different school, but if it really had a great program then I was game. Clearly our school wasn’t working out. Fifth grade and still reading on a first grade level isn’t exactly what I would call an adequate education.

I was told the name of the school that Josh was suppose to go to, according to the faculty at our local school, but when I contacted this other school they said that I couldn’t register him there either. What the hell was going on???

I finally contacted the School District’s Central Office and was told that Josh was to go to our local elementary school and I should have never been told otherwise. Apparently there needed to be an Individual Education Plan (IEP) meeting in order to place him somewhere other than the local school.

I requested a tour of the school and program that the district wanted to place Josh in. They said they would be happy to provide me with such. They scheduled the tour for the day before the IEP meeting. It was when I went on the tour that I realized it was a GA Network for Educational and Therapeutic Support (GNETS aka Get No Education or Therapeutic Support) outpost!

Now this is exactly what I did not want for Josh! All during fourth grade the Lead Teacher for Special Ed (LTSE) had been pushing this program on me. I even voiced concerns, that were documented in meeting notes, that giving Josh a secondary eligibility of Emotional Behavior Disorder (EBD) would be his ticket into psycho-ed ville aka GNETS. They said that because he had been diagnosed with an adjustment disorder (see fourth grade) that he should have this eligibility. I repeatedly declined the GNETS placement and eventually had to get rather aggressive in my response, “This placement is inappropriate for my son, do not mention it to me again!” But here it was, in disguise, and a meeting to place him there was tomorrow!

Now you might be wondering what my aversion is to the program. Well I had pulled the program audit and the results were not good. Additionally the placement is for children with severe emotional disorders. It is not intended for LD (learning disability) kids. Most telling is that the program would receive a year worth of funding, for every child that was enrolled in it for at least ten consecutive days.

The Southern Poverty Law Center has filed a complaint - The state of Georgia discriminated against students with disabilities by funding public schools through a formula that encouraged schools to unnecessarily segregate students with disabilities to receive greater funding.

The US Department of Justice launched an investigation after the Southern Poverty Law Center filed the complaint with the department charging the state of Georgia and the Georgia Department of Education with violating the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

Currently the US Department of Justice (DOJ) is investigating and I am being interviewed by a DOJ representative on Monday.

What should a parent do in this case? What should I do? Were they just going to put him in this program and I couldn’t stop it? I went home and called Parent to Parent.

Then I rescheduled the IEP meeting. The LTSE tried to guilt me into keeping the original meeting date. “All these people are planning to be here tomorrow, it’s really an inconvenience to reschedule”. I insisted that we reschedule.  

Parent to Parent put me in touch with an educational advocate. I believe the only reason that GNETS was taken off the table when we did finally have the IEP meeting is because I had an educational advocate present. The advocate suggested that I ask for another comprehensive evaluation which I did. This evaluation would include a psychological, speech language, occupational therapy, and assistive technology.

I think fifth grade is going to require two separate posts!

Mr. Special Ed Teacher Belittled and Bullied Josh

This is part of fourth grade but I felt that it really deserved it’s own post.

So now we get to find out why Mr. Special Ed Teacher was mean. Mr. Special Ed Teacher belittled and bullied Josh by talking negatively about him, in front of him to his peers.

For example: Mr. Special Ed Teacher told other students during lunch in the cafeteria to ‘stay away from Josh because he is a screw up’. Josh heard this but it took another student, telling Josh that it was not okay for Mr. Special Ed Teacher to say it, before he understood that he could report it.

The incident was reported to me by the principal, after it was verified by other students. Mr. Special Ed Teacher remained at the school and in contact with Josh for the rest of the school year. I was told that he would have no further contact.

Josh had said that this teacher was mean for years. He had suffered emotional abuse at school for years!

In third grade Josh had reported that another teacher told a child, who was new to the class, not to play with him. This was denied by the school. These are just two examples of the social isolation (aka bullying) promoted by the school.

The district has been very dismissive of the traumatic experiences that Josh incurred as a student. The district’s solution to Josh’s feelings in response to his experiences was to simply move him to another school.

My response to this ‘solution’:

"It is a child’s subjective emotional experience that determines if an event is traumatic not the objective facts. For example if you were mugged while walking outside at night, you may not want to walk outside at night anymore regardless of the location. If a person experiences a car accident on a highway they may no longer want to drive on highways even though it is a different highway."

Moving Josh to another school is analogous to the aforementioned scenarios.

In response to my concerns, the Director of Special Ed stated, “that teacher is no longer here”.

That’s like saying that the experience no longer matters because the perpetrator is gone. Victims of all types of abuse and crimes are not expected to just get over it and just drop the matter because the person who inflicted the injury be it emotional or physical “is no longer there”.

Josh has had many experiences in school that have created anxiety and trauma. If Ms. Director of Special Ed speaks for the district than this is indicative of a system that does not have concern for the well being of their students.

They just completely ignored the private evaluation

In response to an ever widening academic gap and an increasingly hostile school environment I withdrew Josh from public school in October 2010, to home school him and to obtain private evaluations.

My goal was to “get to the bottom of it and find out why Josh is having so many problems”.  I paid out of pocket ($$$) for a private educational psych and Josh was diagnosed with Specific Learning Disability (SLD) Reading, SLD Writing, cognitive deficits for- visual processing, rapid naming, visual learning, ADHD and Adjustment Disorder.

The doc summarized, “Josh’s SLD have placed him under much pressure and this has led to frustration. Unfortunately his reaction to chronic stress and frustration has been to both internalize it in the form of anxiety and depression or to externalize it through inappropriate behavior. This can best be described as an adjustment disorder”. While Josh was in public school he developed ritualistic hand washing as a stress response. This never occurred during school breaks and was really quite severe only during the school year.

I re-enrolled Josh in school in January 2011 armed with the evaluation. I supplied the school with a copy of the report and requested a comprehensive re-evaluation as well as an evaluation for assistive technology (AT). I was hopeful that with this new report and its recommendations, Josh would get the appropriate education.

An eligibility and IEP meeting occurred in April 2011. Once again the school district was full of explanations as to why Josh could not get the services that were recommended. They explained the “role of OT in the school system” and stated that Josh was not eligible for OT. They also explained that the district did not provide vision therapy. A speech language evaluation was not completed because “language skills are considered average per his teacher”. However, the private evaluation, completed by a PhD clinical psychologist, reported difficulty with rapid naming. The district didn’t even have a speech therapist observe and they just completely ignored the private evaluation and went forward based only his teacher’s comment.

SLD remained the primary eligibility and Emotional Behavior Disorder (EBD) was added as secondary in response to the adjustment disorder diagnosis. Other Health Impaired (OHI) for ADHD was not included. I was concerned that the EBD label would automatically put Josh in a psycho-ed, self-contained school. The Lead Teacher for Special Ed (LTSE), explained that this was not the case. 

Third Grade: And then things started getting fishy …

Third grade sucked. But, it wasn’t the worst year. That was yet to come.

Josh was continuing to fall further behind academically.

Some of his disabilities were still unidentified (ADHD, PDD NOS, Speech Language) and the ones that were identified were not being properly treated.

Parents  and teachers (teachers according to Josh, parents according to the school counselor) were telling other children to stay away from Josh because “he is bad and will get you in trouble”.

So, wait a minute, in pre-k Josh was described by his teacher as “Josh has great restraint when approached aggressively by peers and will shut down when he is upset. He is quite truthful without thought to consequences” and now he is described as ‘bad’. Something is horribly wrong.

However, Josh often told me that he was being picked on at school. When questioned about it he lacked the ability to verbally defend himself (unidentified disability). His withdrawal and shutting down was interpreted by school faculty to be a willful refusal to speak. They took that as an admission of guilt. He was now labelled the “bad” kid by the school community.

One parent / teacher conference stands out in my mind. I was meeting with the regular ed teacher and she was asking me what to do about Josh. I had no answer. I had been asking for services for years but they were repeatably denied. It was clear that the school had no idea what they were dealing with or how to handle it. The district wasn’t supporting Josh or his teachers.

Then things started getting fishy … well they were really fishy before but I couldn’t really smell it until now. Hindsight is 20/20.

I could not attend an IEP meeting but asked the team to proceed without me to make sure that all Josh’s services remained current. During the meeting the team created a Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP). When I reviewed the meeting notes, they reflected that I was not in attendance but went on to  indicate that parent rights were offered and refused as well as discussion about Josh’s behavior at home occurred. HUH? I did not attend the meeting so how did those things happen?

Josh wasn’t making any progress with reading  (still Kindergarten / 1st grade level) but managed to pass the third grade reading CRCT required to go on to fourth grade. Excuse me? What???

In November I took Josh to his pediatrician with concerns about unidentified disabilities. He was sent to the hospital for a psychological evaluation and treatment. All the hospital did was hold him for three days. They did not do any testing or evaluations. Another FAIL!

Second Grade: “Why is everybody at school better than me at everything?”

So let’s stop here, just for a second, and reflect on what all ‘this’ might do to one’s self esteem and self worth. Josh starts second grade, three grade levels behind his peers yet he has an average IQ. He’s no dummy. In fact he’s smart. He feels like crap. Heart breaking things I have started to hear: “Why is everybody at school better than me at everything?”, “Why do I have to have this brain?”, “I hate school”, “Everybody at school is mean to me”.

Ok, so what about getting Josh into Special Ed-

Although testing was complete in March 2008 Josh is not found eligible for special education until November 2008, half way through  the school year (let’s just waste more time and let him get further behind).

SURPRISE! Josh is determined to be specific learning disability eligible, yeah I have only been trying to tell the school district this for how many years! So now I am thinking “ok, we had a false start but now the ball is really rolling!” … yeah right (ok ‘yeah right’ is not what I was thinking at the time but it should have been).

So here are the summary notes from an IEP meeting March 2009. At this point Josh has been in special ed for 4 months.

"No improvement in reading comprehension. Josh does not do well when Mr. Special Ed Teacher goes into the general ed classroom to help him with reading. Josh is embarrassed of his reading in front of his peers and is often uncooperative. His self concept is very low and he often gives up. At times he has cried in the room. When he receives one on one support in the resource room with Mrs. Nice Special Ed Teacher he is much more cooperative because he is receiving individual support and there is no one else in the room. It is also noted that Josh is uncomfortable in new situations, and has difficulty following multi-step instructions. He also does not recognize cause and effect. Ms. Berry states that Josh continues to struggle with speech".

Anyone catch the red flags???

Ok, how about this one:

Josh often told me that Mr. Special Ed Teacher was mean to him but could not explain why he thought this. I thought that maybe Josh was interpreting being pushed to work on things that were challenging as mean. I didn’t know that Josh’s speech impairment was much greater than what I suspected and that he had issues with word finding as well as expressive/receptive language. In forth grade I found out how mean Mr. Special Ed Teacher actually was.

First Grade: “He doesn’t know how to write, spell or read his name”

First Grade was a better year emotionally for Josh. He had a lovely teacher that supported and understood him. He didn’t cry at drop off anymore! He also made some friends and was invited to a few birthday parties.

Josh’s academic issues however were getting increasingly critical. I went to open house night and noticed that Josh’s last name was spelled incorrectly, by accident, on the name card that the teacher had made and taped to his desk. All the kids had these name cards. I told the teacher about the mistake and she said, “I wonder why he didn’t tell me”. I told her, “He doesn’t know how to write, spell or read his name”. I don’t think she could have looked more concerned if she had tried. It was a look of horror really. I think that’s appropriate, it is how I felt, horrified.

Unfortunately  Josh  was found no longer eligible for speech because “he had met all his goals”. I expressed some concerns that he continued to confuse sounds but no additional speech language testing was performed. He no longer had an IEP so now it was back to SST (which I would like to rename school stall tactic instead of student support team).

I continued to request educational-psychological testing for learning disabilities because Josh continued to struggle despite participation in the Early Intervention Program (EIP) program for reading and math. Josh’s teacher fully supported me in my requests. The School District finally agreed to perform a psychological during January and March 2008.

What they found was that Josh performed on a beginning of kindergarten level but he had already been through kindergarten twice! By first grade he was already two years behind!!!

Kindergarten x2: Notes from a school conference state Josh is not progressing with reading as hoped. He wasn’t progressing at all. The district was refusing to teach him or acknowledge his disabilities.

Josh repeated kindergarten the next school year. Once again he cried everyday at drop off. He was so far behind academically it was starting to feel desperate.

I was still a student and could not afford a full blown educational-psych but I manged to get together some money and took Josh to a developmental optometrist for a private evaluation. The developmental optometrist identified cross-dominace which is a form of dyslexia and recommended vision therapy. I also had Josh privately evaluated for occupational therapy (OT). That evaluation also resulted in recommendations for services. I provided the reports to the school.

The school district told me that they could not give OT services to a child who just had a speech Individual Education Plan (IEP) (I found out later that this is not true). They also would not provide the recommended vision therapy. The school district also declined to provide the education psychological testing that I had requested.

His teacher agreed that he needed testing but she couldn’t make the county approve it anymore than I could. Notes for a SST meeting state Josh is not progressing with reading as hoped.

He wasn’t progressing at all. The district was refusing to teach him or acknowledge his disabilities.

Kindergarten: Scores from the speech evaluation were shockingly low!

Pre-K had been rough but I was hopeful that Josh would have a better year in kindergarten. Unfortunately he cried again, everyday when I dropped him off. Now some people might say “well then why did you keep sending him?” To be perfectly honest I didn’t know what else to do.

Once again conferences with the teacher validated my concerns with Josh’s speech and now with academics. He could not read or write his own name at 5 years old.

At a student support team (SST) meeting I expressed concerns regarding intelligibility and decreased ability to sound out words and spelling. The school district’s Speech Language Pathologist (SLP) finally agreed to observe Josh in the classroom setting. Her observations lead to formal assessment. I thought “ok, this would have been better last year but now we have got the ball rolling!”

At the same SST meeting I brought up that Josh was struggling academically and I requested an educational-psych evaluation to look for learning disabilities. The county declined to conduct that evaluation. I also requested Josh to repeat kindergarten because he was not emotionally or academically ready for first grade. My older daughter had repeated kindergarten and then gone on to excel in school, even testing into the gifted program. I thought maybe Josh just needs a little more time to mature.

In November 2005 Josh was found eligible for speech therapy services. His scores from the evaluation were shockingly low! Normal scores range 85-115. Anything below 70 is a severe impairment. Josh had scores in the 60s!

His teacher reported that Josh loved to participate in classroom activities such as use of the computer and listening to stories and that he has a desire to learn. She also stated that he is performing below grade level in all academic areas and often becomes frustrated when unable to complete classroom activities. Throughout the school year I continued to express concerns about his pre-literacy skills and it’s relation to speech concerns. Josh was placed in the Early Intervention Program, which is a regular ed classroom with children who are struggling but not in special ed.

Pre-K: Where it all began.

In August 2004 Josh began pre-kindergarten in public school. He cried every single day that I dropped him off. I kept thinking that he would “get use to it”. He had no identified disabilities at this time, although I did suspect something was wrong, maybe a speech problem. After conferences with the teacher, Josh was referred to the Student Support Team (SST). The pre-k teacher noted that Josh uses “baby talk” and that “Josh has great restraint when approached aggressively by peers and will shut down when he is upset. He is quite truthful without thought to consequences”. I requested a speech evaluation. The county declined the request. I was a college student and working in an after school child care program so I did not have the funds to pursue private testing.

 

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 protects the rights of individuals with disabilities in programs and activities that receive federal financial assistance, including federal funds. Section 504 provides that: “No otherwise qualified individual with a disability in the United States … shall, solely by reason of her or his disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance …”