DOES THIS SOUND FAMILIAR? “This child does not have failing grades, so this I.E.P. is fine, no new services will be added or alternative school placements considered.” All too often, I have heard this obstructionist line delivered to parents of children with underserviced special education needs at their child’s I.E.P. review meeting. Parents familiar with the fact that their child is struggling in school are in disbelief that they must fight with the school to get their child the special education support services necessary to succeed. So why is this systemic obstruction happening?
To be clear, it is not a sinister plot on the part of educators to deprive children of the educational supports needed. This problem of obstruction parent/advocates’ encounter when requesting additional special education support services for learning disabled children is caused by federal underfunding of school special education services. This financial pressure manifests itself in the bold faced ‘gas lighting’ of parents that is perpetuated at I.E.P. meetings by the school district’s powers that be. Tragically for those children, budgetary concerns perpetuate the inherent cancer in the public school system that rears its’ ugly head every time schools have the audacity to assert: 1) a 5th grader, whose dyslexia/dysgraphia has her reading/writing at a 1st grade level, is making educational progress; 2) an autistic child, who starts and ends his day in peer isolation, is making social/emotional progress; and 3) an emotionally disabled child is making positive progress’ despite that very child failing several classes and being identified as performing at a “warning level” on his MCAS testing.
Thankfully, the U.S. Supreme Court recently established a new measurement for “progress” when assessing the suitability of an IEP as it relates to each child with special education needs. In a unanimous decision, the highest Court in the land ruled that merely “de minimus”, or negligible educational progress made via IEP services is akin to no progress at all. Consequently, a new, higher bar was set: a child’s Individualized Education Plan (I.E.P.) must be “appropriately ambitious in light of [the child’s] circumstances” in terms of its goals for that child’s educational progress. This new, “appropriately ambitious” standard will be particularly helpful in empowering parents and/or advocates, to successfully challenge the school district’s assertion that simply because their child is not failing all courses, sufficient evidence exists to prove an IEP’s effectiveness. This “appropriately aggressive” standard will force the school district to tailor each I.E.P. to each child with special education needs AND ensure that “appropriately ambitious” progress goals are incorporated into that child’s I.E.P. Gone are the days that school districts can justify keeping a child with special education needs in the equivalent of a holding pattern. Hallelujah!
Since this monumental decision was handed down last month, there has been both celebration from advocates on behalf of the millions of learning disabled children with special education needs and grumblings from School Superintendents that this new caselaw will change nothing as Individuals with disabilities act (I.D.E.A.) funding deficits limit the I.E.P. services/out of district placements the public school districts can afford to provide.
What does it all mean as it relates to our children? It means a child’s I.E.P. must provide “appropriately ambitious” educational goals, a point that should be advocated at your child’s next I.E.P. review meeting. Do not accept or allow status quo to be heralded by the school as progress if your child is not making effective progress. As the Supreme Court recently proclaimed: “every child should have the chance to meet challenging objectives.” Dream big on behalf of your child. Never forget that, as the parent of your child, you are the most important member of your child’s IEP Team: insist that your child’s individual educational program is “appropriately ambitious” so your child makes effective progress academically, socially and emotionally. Accept nothing less!