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Archive for Monday, February 7, 2011

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Reader takes issue with advice about student IEPs

February 7, 2011

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Dear Dr. Wes and Ben: I am writing in response to your Oct. 12 column about a high school girl’s IEP.

You suggested the school would try to get away with the easiest possible method of service delivery and that the parent should bring an advocate to their next meeting. I am a school psychologist who was personally and professionally offended. It is irresponsible to advise that as being the first step for the parent to remedy theproblem. My team works tirelessly to provide individualized plans for all students.

Some schools may not have the same standard, but I believe that to be the exception and not the rule. There are many avenues a parent can try before hiring an advocate or lawyer, and I think it would have been more reasonable to suggest that as the first step, with the legal route being the next step.

Wes: No topic riles folks up as much as this one. That’s evidenced by the fact that your recollection of that column, which is available in the online archive, is inaccurate. I suggested three steps before seeking “advice of counsel,” and although I did not suggest bringing anyone to an IEP meeting, that is a perfectly reasonable option for parents to consider. I did suggest a book, which is not incidentally titled “From Emotions to Advocacy,” specifically because it frames the situation as I did in the column — a legal and business transaction, not the measure of anyone’s worth, competence or professionalism. I did suggest that families may eventually need to file a class action if a given school system is not following IDEA. Civil litigation has often benefited education in the past, as in Brown v. the Topeka Board of Education. At the time this case was considered “irresponsible” by a greatmany Kansans. It is now considered historic.

I also cited “parents, teachers and students” as frustrated with the same situation cited by the letter-writer, and I could have included school psychologists and counselors, as I hear from them, too. They don’t have the voice of Double Take to bring this issue to public attention or to recommend the additional steps I did. I am sincerely glad that your team advocates for kids and families, and I am also familiar with other schools that work as you describe. That was not, however, the letter submitted. We respond to questions that are asked, just as we are today.

Ben: I have little to add regarding our previous column, as I did not see myself as qualified to speak to the issue. As one who is somewhat acquainted with the system, however, I’ll say that any IEP involves a lot of factors: teachers, counselors, methods, etc. A huge chunk of those are wrapped up in the school, and so it’s easy to blame the school when an IEP is ineffective. As with anything, it’s best to take a look at what we ourselves can control before pointing fingers. The parent and the student are, in my mind, two of the biggest factors in the process. My parents were incredibly encouraging during my IEP, but they also held me accountable. They knew when I was struggling, and they knew when I was just being lazy. They knew that it was my job to use the opportunities my IEP was giving me, and they made sure I did.

There’s a lot of responsibility to go around, and parents need to be careful to make sure that they and their child are doing their own jobs before they start accusing schools of failing to do theirs.

— Dr. Wes Crenshaw is a board-certified family psychologist and director of the Family Therapy Institute Midwest. Ben Markley is a senior at Free State High School. Opinions and advice given here are not meant as a substitute for psychological evaluation or therapy services. Send your questions abou

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