I don't think I know a single special needs parent who enjoy an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) meeting. It becomes strikingly clear that your child needs extra attention, modifications, and is quite different than his or her peers. Many times you have a room full of school administrators who have never met your child, but apparently are qualified in knowing what is best for your child. Discussing individualized goals and have the school follow through on them is a separate topic. I have gotten pretty good at advocating for Jacob and putting emotions to the side, but an IEP meeting can push my hot buttons.
Two years ago, I experienced the worst IEP meeting. We had asked the school district to have Jacob continue at Bal Swan who had a proven track record of keeping Jacob medically safe. The school district was not interested in making an exception. It felt as if the meeting was only about money, and no importance was put to what Jacob needed to be successful at school. Our ARC representative said that she was "disgusted" as she left the meeting.
Jacob was hospitalized at this time with pneumonia. Dr. E. came by in the evening, and we talked about the IEP meeting. I was still fired up. As we talked, she got this concerned look on her face that means that she is going to say something that can not be disputed. She said that she unfortunately never could see Jacob attend a public school in his life. It would be too dangerous for Jacob's health. A public school could never keep Jacob medically safe. I still remember having a heavy heart that night as I had hot dogs and broccoli for dinner...
Fast forwarding to today. Jacob has been attending kindergarten at Bal Swan and Coyote Ridge this year. Coyote Ridge is a public elementary school five minutes from our house. I can't say that this year has been a great school year for Jacob when it comes to attendance. Jacob started having uncontrolled seizures end of September, which led to a long hospital stay later in the fall. When Jacob finally got home, he was on heavy steroids, and could not go back to school. Jacob has been homeschooled this year for the first time.
Despite poor attendance, we have been really impressed with the whole set up at Coyote Ridge for Jacob. We have for the first time started to think about Coyote Ridge as Jacob's elementary school for years to come. The team of his kindergarten teacher, special ed teacher, speech therapist and OT are all part of Team Jacob.
So, back to our most awesome IEP meeting. We met this week to talk about Jacob going back to school in May, and start planning for next school year. Since Jacob is going into 1st grade, we will say good-bye to Bal Swan since they only run through kindergarten. Bal Swan has been a place of home for us for the last five years, and I know that we will continue to have a connection to that school despite not being there every day. It has left a too big foot print to leave our lives and hearts.
The principal started out by saying that she had been thinking about Jacob a lot. Thinking about how we can make sure that Jacob can attend school as much as possible knowing that he can't attend school when he is sick or when kids are sick in his classroom. She was suggesting an individualized school year for Jacob. She wants to propose to the school district that Jacob's school year starts in April and runs thru October. So as all kids take the summer off, Jacob will be in full swing of his school year. She feels that this would give Jacob a much higher chance of actually going to school. He will be at Coyote Ridge during the regular school months, and attend summer school over the summer. We're very lucky that Jacob's kindergarten teacher is going to teach summer school this summer!
The other suggestion is to have Jacob's special ed teacher be his teacher all year around. She will be his teacher independently if Jacob is in school or at home. This is very exciting for us! There are times when Jacob has come home from the hospital, and there is no way that we can take him out of the house, but he could easily do school at home. Did I say that his special ed teacher is simply awesome? I am so excited about this change.
With Jacob having a consistent special ed teacher all year long, he will also be able to have his speech and occupational therapists all year around. As you're home schooled you don't receive therapies from school. By having his special ed teacher be the link back to Coyote Ridge, she will have a direct access to them all year around.
If you're not in the world of special needs, I am not sure that this seems as exciting as it actually is for Jacob. I know that everyone expects my son to be homeschooled all year around, but with the help and support of his school team, we can at least have Jacob in school with his peers for most of the year. Something that neither Dr. E. or myself would have thought was even possible two years ago.
And I have to mention Jacob's principal. She is my kind of woman. She is not one to follow rules. She is one to go to bat for her children. Two years ago when I fougt to keep Jacob at Bal Swan, and said no thank you to Coyote Ridge, she was one of few who supported me in the room. She had no problem stating that her school was not ready for Jacob, and that they (the school administrators) had to do the ethically right thing for my son. Two years down this journey with her, she is again proven herself. She is going to the top with our combined requests, and somehow I know she will get what we want. I have found a true partner in her and Jacob's school team. I was literally scared to put the word public school and Jacob in the same sentence two years ago, today I am embracing it.