September 11, 2014

Death by Paper Cuts

Have you wondered where I have been?  Have you missed me?

Almost didn't make it back. Nearly mortally wounded was I.

DEATH BY PAPER CUTS.  That's what the Coroner's report would have said.  Would anyone have believed that cause of death?  Probably not.  Most people don't understand how dangerous a stack of paper can be.

This is just under half of the amount of documents that I have been going through -- page by page, word by word, over the last 2 months.

I have dubbed it, "IEPmageddon."  It was a battle that I do not care ever to repeat.  I do believe I came off the victor.

IEP's for neurotypical children -- I can spit those out in my sleep.  IEP's for complex children -- that requires an extra hemisphere in a brain.

IEP's are made much more difficult when you have some members of the "team" that don't think they need to perform as the IEP dictates.  I was suspicious of missteps, mistakes that were being swept under the rug, nonperformance and a host of other problems from our IEP of last year.  The joke of the proposed IEP that was placed before me in May for this upcoming school year only served as the icing on a very disgusting cake.

IEPmageddon commenced.

It started with me asserting a Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act request (FERPA) that required all of Bridger's academic records, including any correspondence, emails, notes, memos, and such sent between anyone in the school system that referenced Bridger be provided to me.  I had the privilege of spending the end of my summer going through every single page of that stack.  Most were uninteresting.  Some were very painfully revealing. It was interesting to see when a IEP team member would selectively withdraw an email they didn't want seen, but the beauty of that is the recipient of that not-so-great email still included that email in the materials that were given to me per my FERPA request.

Mistakes, both intentional and not were flushed out by the dozens.  Not just trivial typos and such, but intentional disregard to Bridger's educational requirements that will have a significant impact on his life.  One team member had solicited ideas for IEP goals from me, then proceeded to email around the team and reference my suggestions as "mom's laundry list."  As I was laying the ground rules and expectations to the team at the most recent IEP meeting, I couldn't help but add a little sarcasm to her newly flushed out statement and assured the team that laundry is a whole separate problem I have at home with 5 young children, not to be confused with Bridger's IEP and that laundry issues and Bridger's goals had nothing to do with each other.  Most, sans one, nervously laughed at the table.

We hired a highly feared respected advocate to stand by our side and guide us in Bridger's legal educational rights and help us sort out the mess that had been created by people that felt it not necessary to do their job.  I could have, and would have much rather, bought an entire wardrobe for the next couple years with the fees I paid for an advocate. But her help and knowledge was priceless and an appropriate education for Bridger is worth every cent.

Intermingled in those meetings came my request to the state for mediation to rectify the disregarded elements of Bridger's previous IEP.  The director of Special Education for our county stepped in and, after a lovely meeting with her, state mediation was able to be avoided.  The Special Education director made right again all the wrongs that were done.

Many more IEP meetings, lots more paper produced, lots of anxiety, lost sleep, time and money was poured into making it right again for Bridger.  As I was driving home from one such angst-inducing meeting that I had held my head high and spoke with firm authority over Bridger's best interests I found myself in my car with my eyes welling up with tears. Alone in the car, speaking to myself I said, "I am proud of me."  The self acknowledgement of that feeling - an acknowledgement no one else could offer because they have no idea what is involved in the educational side of this journey, moved me to more tears.  I will protect this child, I  will advocate with every fiber of my being for this child, I will even fight for this child and did so graciously and firmly.  I was proud of me.

I had heard through the grapevine that a meeting attendee once said that it was "tough".   Appropriately, I capped off our final meeting with some oversize homemade chocolate chip cookies, wrapped in cute yellow bags, sealed with a "One Tough Cookie" label.  

I can laugh at myself too.

The weight is off my chest for the next 11 months.  Bridger has an amazing IEP in place, an amazing refreshed team in place and he will achieve what he is capable of achieving , because I took my 6000 paper cuts like the champ that I am and kept pushing through the pain of it all. 

"I think future IEP meetings will go a little differently from now on," said the mother with a little chocolate cookie crumb on the side of her satisfied smirk.

But if not, I have my Bandaids ready.