It's a sad fact that many parents have to question if their school districts are actually providing the services laid out in their child's IEP (Individualized Education Program). We see it often in our special education advocacy. It's not uncommon for a parent to report to us that their child told them they haven't been receiving their special education and related services. It usually happens something like this: "So, Tommy, have you been enjoying working with Mrs. Jones in the speech room?" "Oh, I haven't seen Mrs. Jones since Halloween. I think she might have had a baby or something. I'm not going to the speech room anymore." Yikes!
Even worse, for many children who, due to the nature and severity of their disability, can't tell their parents what is happening in school, parents suspect services aren't being delivered, but have a hard time knowing for certain.
So we were not surprised to learn that a financial audit, which was part of an on-going probe of Darien, Connecticut's special education department, revealed fraudulent practices that are downright sickening. The Darien special education department received over $200,000 for special education services that never happened! You can read the details here. Before the audit of their special education books, a deep probe into the school district's overall special education practices and procedures revealed serious violations of the IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act). Now we have learned that, not only was Darien removing necessary services from children's IEPs, but they were charging the State for those services anyway!
While your school district may not be puffing their special education books to receive extra funds (and we certainly hope they aren't!), you may believe or suspect your child isn't receiving their prescribed services.
So how do you prove it?
In our experience, questioning the integrity of teachers and school staff can lead to serious ill-feelings. No parent really ever wants bad blood with the very people who are working with their child. But let's face it, this is serious. You're entitled to know if your child is actually receiving what is in their special education plan, and your child is entitled to be receiving those services.
So how do you ask for documentation that doesn't put everyone on the defensive and, from a practical standpoint, get you the information you need to help your child? And there it is, "the information that you need to help your child." As parents, we want to know what our child is working on so we can reinforce or generalize the skill at home or in the community, depending on the skill. We also want to know whether the services the school is recommending in the IEP are working! Here are a few easy ways to get the information you need:
- Ask that a home/school communication log be developed. This can take many forms: email, notebook, or a specially-designed form that can capture what was worked on at school. If your child is missing services, it should be fairly easy to notice if that provider isn't filling out their portion.
- Ask for regular "team meetings" that include you as a parent. These can be monthly, bi monthly, or quarterly. We suggest that you have those meetings put into the IEP as required to happen. When you meet with the team, you should be able to have a better sense of whether services are being delivered regularly.
- You can ask to observe a particular session in school. This will require advance scheduling and notice, but this is a good way to get a sense of what is happening.
- Ask your child. We realize there are some children who are non-verbal, but if your child can communicate, and is a fairly reliable reporter, this is often the best way to find out if a service is happening.
As with all things related to special education disagreements, make sure you are documenting any services you feel have been missed. If it's happening a lot, put an email or letter together to the district asking why your child is missing these services. If it becomes an issue, your district may have to make up those sessions at a later date through what is called "compensatory education," so it's important to keep records.
Lastly, we want to say that we know that there are wonderfully dedicated teachers and school staff where these suspicions do not apply. We also know that educators have the same life challenges we all have; they get sick, they have family members who pass away, etc. But we need to take a page from the Darien, Connecticut probe, and not assume that everything is as it seems.