I recently had the privilege of participating in an ARD (Admission, Review and Dismissal) meeting for one of our students. During this ARD, the school shared their data, what they have observed, and their intentions for the future. The parents and I asked the school about the level of rigor her child, Riley (name changed for privacy), would be facing as well as the possibility of getting more inclusion minutes for her 8th grade student with Down Syndrome.
Background: Riley is a social butterfly who enjoys interacting with other people. He is currently functioning academically between a 2nd and 3rd grade level, but shows strong signs of growth. Socially, he is high-functioning and can participate in complex conversations.
When we requested inclusion time for reading, we were immediately given ambiguous answers in attempts to avoid doing so. The assistant principal (who I believe ran the meeting fairly well) and the other teachers communicated that ‘they could not assign a general education student to make sure Riley was following along with the class’. However, peer-mentoring like this is a common practice in public education schools and her initial refusal was not in compliance with accommodations in the general education setting for students with disabilities.
With this assistant principal’s (AP’s) clear lack of SpEd law knowledge, we simply circled back around and asked the school staff if they thought it would be worth trying to include him in a general education reading classroom to see how it goes. We also asked about giving him the opportunity to listen to the audio version of a book the GenEd class was studying and allow him to participate in the class discussions.
Initially, the AP was not accepting of our proposal. However, as we continued to suggest further inclusion opportunities like having him in a math class, or transitioning him to the GenEd PE class, reading inclusion appeared more and more appealing to the AP and other teachers present. By the end of this informal ARD, we all had a clearer idea of where Riley’s family wanted to direct his education and a plan to include him in the GenEd reading class.
After our meeting, I recommended that Riley’s mom send an email to his LIFE (Living In a Functional Environment) skills, self-contained, classroom teacher and summarize our expectations moving forward. The summary of our meeting included how we are anticipating more challenging goals to support faster growth and progress in his core subjects (Reading, Writing, Math). This email also served as a reminder to initiate and integrate Riley into a general education reading classroom to expose him to different text and discussions with his typically developing peers.
Now, you might be wanting to put your warrior-mom hat on and let this school staff have it about SpEd law, LRE (Least Restrictive Environment), and FAPE (Free and Appropriate Public Education), trust me I did at many points throughout the meeting. However, like with any group of people, there are disagreements, different interpretations and perspectives, and some feeling more ‘qualified’ than others to make decisions. For these reasons we, as non-confrontationally as possible, laid out our requests ranking from what the school might deem as least challenging integration to most challenging: reading class, GenEd PE, then math. After discussing all of these inclusion possibilities, we zeroed in on our “gateway” – GenEd reading inclusion.
Since this particular school staff eventually opened up to the idea of incorporating Riley with his typically developing peers, we did not see a need to push for all of our options at once.
By emphasizing the need for exposure to meaningful interactions that demand higher level thinking and conversation, we were able to passionately communicate the necessity for more inclusion minutes without seeming abrasive or discontent. We were also able to observe, through facial expression and body language, that Riley’s classroom teacher began seeing our perspective and viewpoint. Which, as many of you know, the classroom teacher is really the most important factor here.
The classroom teacher is often the catalyst and cavelier for any new minutes and accommodations requested for implementation; especially if they are informal and not included in the official IEP (Individualized Education Program).
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I’d love to! The classroom teacher is the keeper of our students’ schedules. They determine what they are working on, where they go, and for how long (besides uncompromising times like specials and lunch). Since we are wanting data on how well Riley performs in a general education classroom, we must support his classroom teacher as best we can.
As a former classroom teacher, I was able to offer Riley’s mom with perspective and understanding for how our requests might impact Riley’s teacher.
Now, many of you may say “well it’s his job”. You are 100% right. However, it is worth mentioning that our goal is not just for implementation and time served. We want purposeful interactions and relevant instruction to foster the best possible outcomes. If we bombard the classroom teacher without offering some kind of support and reassurance, we act as yet another burden; which in turn might create animosity towards us and our child.
This is only the beginning of Riley’s story and our journey to getting him included. Stay tuned to see how successful our approach is.
Have a better idea of how we might get more rigor or inclusion for Riley?
Let us know in the comments below.
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Every school district, principal, teacher, and environment is different. I recommend you approach each challenge in a way that best fits your situation. Luckily, most of what you desire for your kids (and in everyday life) are both acquirable and achievable when you are determined and communicate effectively.
Before speaking to any district employee, make sure you have compiled evidence for what you believe your child needs and any accommodations you might be requesting. This step is the only step you really need.
If you are able to provide data and documentation, as opposed to only presenting a doctor’s note, the district employees are more likely to put your requested supports in place. When you have supporting details, it is more difficult for anyone else to come up with loopholes and excuses as to why those supports are not possible.
The excuse “we cannot afford to… [blah blah blah]” is unacceptable and should NEVER be taken as a matter of fact!
As stated in the 2004 IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), every child has the right to a “free and appropriate public education”. If you find that your student thrives and progresses better with speech support, as shown via deficits from CREVT (comprehensive receptive and expressive vocabulary), DAB (diagnostic achievement battery) assessment, CASL (comprehensive assessment of spoken language), etc. or simple home data collection like check boxes, grids, etc., your school will be legally required to honor your request for instructional service of speech.
In the event you come to your IEP (individual education plan) or annual meeting, which I would argue is too late, with data to support the need for related services, more minutes in an instructional area, break time, etc., the district employees cannot simply shrug off your requests.
You may find that teachers and principals can be put off by the material presented, mainly because they were not prepared for any of it. Which brings me back to “it’s too late” to bring your data to the IEP meeting.
So, now you ask, “well, when do I present my information?” I recommend you request a meeting with any and every teacher who will be present for the annual meeting. This type of meeting goes by different names in various regions, but you could call it a MDT (multidisciplinary team) meeting. This would be a pre-annual meeting where all parties can discuss their intentions with the student at hand.
More than likely, this request will be granted and a meeting will be set up. This is where you can ask how your child is doing, what everyone involved has observed, and present what you have observed.
During the MDT meeting, hold onto your data until you’ve heard from everyone else first.
It gives you the upper hand if you can get them to corroborate your narrative first and prevents them from being able to discredit, discount, or dispute your facts and the position you’re taking. After you’ve heard from everyone, communicate your observations and request the appropriate teacher begin taking data or assessing your child for a particular service. Great! Now what does that look like?
Let’s say you are wanting speech instruction. You might want to try saying “I’m noticing [your child’s name] is having a difficult time communicating what he wants and creating sentences that make sense on his own. We work on making his own sentences at home, but he won’t make them without our help. What can we do to get him speech support?” (allow whomever to speak).
The teacher or principal might come back and say “Oh, we’re working on things like that in the classroom”.
My follow-up question would be “how many minutes would you say you spend a day focusing solely on sentence development or communicating wants and needs?”
Again, the teacher/principal will respond. Maybe with something along the lines of “we don’t track that exactly, but I would say 15 minutes during reading time” or “we spend about 15 minutes/day on those skills.”
My follow-up request would be “oh that’s great! I would like him to get tested for speech services to see if that could be something he would benefit from. I’m sure y’all are doing a great job, but I feel like he would greatly benefit from explicit instruction in speech.”
At this point, you have legally requested an evaluation for speech. If anyone objects or refuses this request, this would be the time to show your data. If they continue to refuse, you can request an independent evaluation. If you get an independent evaluation, make sure you meet all of the district’s criteria so that you can push for them to pay for it. Although, it’s in the school’s best interest to simply do the evaluation if they have the staff available.
If your child were to qualify for speech services, he would then be entitled to individually specialized instruction by a licensed speech-language pathologist.
This is just one example of how to effectively support your position of increasing, decreasing, or adding a service accommodation/modification to your child’s IEP. Of course, every situation varies and it is highly recommended that you seek a knowledgeable education professional, advocate, lawyer or contact your state’s education agency with questions on how to get support for your child.
Remember, your child is entitled to a free and appropriate public education and there is nothing wrong with pushing your school district to uphold this federal law.
Jasmine Habeeb is a certified special education teacher who graduated from The University of Texas - Austin with a degree in special education. She enjoys sharing her opinions, recommendations, and current events on all things education.