I have been receiving a large number of emails with questions about the IEP process at schools and parents feeling lonely and isolated because they feel no one else is dealing with this issue. The story of Mary and her daughter Pam is a common story I have heard many times from families who have children who need an IEP. Prior to the age of 4 years old Pam was diagnosed with a speech and auditory processing difficulties. Pam was behind in her speech developmental milestones and attending preschool to address these issues. However, no one explained to Mary, Pam’s mother, what this diagnosis meant or the prognosis. Neither did anyone explain to Mary about the special education services she was entitled to.

Pam started kindergarten and do to her difficulties she needed to repeat kindergarten. Again, no one explained to Mary, Pam’s mother, how this may impact Pam and they also did not explain any other options, Mary agreed. She was not alarmed because Mary had to repeat kindergarten herself.

However, this started a never ending cycle, where Pam was not meeting the standards for her grade level even when she was receiving Resource Assistance. Mary stated some Resource Teachers were great and others knew very little about auditory processing issues so her daughter received no help.

Mary, watching her daughter struggle, decided to do her own research. She found out more about her daughter’s learning disability and that there was a private school which specialized in this learning disability. Mount Diablo School District continued to lie to Mary as she asked more questions. Also the District went to Pam’s father and lied to him. They told him if Pam’s mother was successfully in getting Pam into the private school, he would have to pay upfront. The District said they would reimburse him later. This is a lie. Also it is not uncommon for the school district to take advantage of a divorce situation and play the parents against each other. In fact, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in August of this year that if there is a private school which will meet the educational needs better than the public school, then the public school district must pay the tuition for that student.

This resulted in a long fight with the school district and in the family court. Pam is in 6th grade and after many years and a great deal of time and money, the fight continues. Mount Diablo School District never looked at the price Pam was paying not receiving the education she is entitled to and having to endure her parents fighting each other in the courts.

This could have been handled very easily if someone was honest with Mary and told her what her daughter was entitled to and if the District followed the legal guidelines. However, they lie to parents all the time hoping parents will give up. If they do, then the District doesn’t need to pay anything and can use the money how they want. Mary was a prime target. A single parent who does not have a lot of time or money. Mount Diablo misjudged Mary, she would not give up on her daughter.

Mary also found out something else parents need to be aware of when dealing with the IEP process. The parent liaisons provided by the district are not there to help the parent or the student. They serve as another way to confuse parents by providing incorrect information to parents. Most parents trust these people believing they are on the student’s side, but they really are there to support the District.

As I said, Mary and Pam’s story is not uncommon. I have worked with many other families who have very similar stories. Parents believe school districts have the students best interest at heart. However, I have worked with families across the United States and what I have seen is that school districts have their best interest at heart not the students. Mary had a very good way of stating the problem, “the child is the one who struggles for not having their needs met academically. How many more parents are out there with struggling students who have been given the same bad information? I don’t know. But we need to help them help their child, or these children will be at risk of drop out and struggling the rest of their life. The school district is actually helping create children who are unable to get jobs and will be homelessness in our youth, when they become adults. And that is a very very scary reality, no one wants to talk about because it’s not their child who is at risk, it’s ours!”

Unfortunately, this story is a common story that many families are dealing with daily. Parents you need to be aware of your and your child’s right to an adequate education that will prepare them to survive in today’s world. Do not be afraid to ask questions and fight for your rights. There are legitimate advocates who are willing to help. For more information on finding assistance with the IEP process visit www.LucasCenter.org. Also remember a 504 plan is not the same as an IEP.

Dr. Michael Rubino has over 20 years experience working as a psychotherapist with children and teenagers in Special Education. For more information on his work or private practice visit http://www.RubinoCounseling.com.

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