Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Gatekeepers and Troublemakers

     If you have a child with special needs, it's crucial to know the role of every IEP team member. When the room suddenly seems more crowded than usual, you really need to be alert to why these new "experts" on your child have decided to join the party.

If only all Gatekeepers were this easy to spot.
     Put a smile on your face and keep your back against the wall when a new person claims to provides support about district procedures. Here, they are called Procedural Support Liaisons, but their true purpose is to act as Master Gatekeepers.
     Heaven forbid someone allow a soft-hearted speducator like moi to recommend the individualized plan that will allow your child to thrive for the next year. Special education, like its counterpart general education, is about passing standardized tests.
     Your child's teacher, speducator, principal and school district must show a "pass" for your child on his end of year tests. Here, they are called "SOLs," which proves someone at the Virginia DOE has a sense of humor.
     Forget about the reading program you suggested; there is no time for that. One-on-one instruction? Don't make me laugh.
     By the time your child is having a meltdown over not being able to fill out a job application -- much less a college application -- the experts sitting around that IEP table will be long gone. For now, their motive is to determine the most simple way to "get a pass" out of your child. There is no room on the agenda for the real world, so you should probably start saving up for a tutor.
     The following information about Gatekeepers is from Pam and Pete Wright's book, From Emotions to Advocacy and http://fetaweb.com/02/gatekeepers.htm.
     When you advocate for your child, you are likely to meet Gatekeepers.
Gatekeepers limit the number of children who have access to special education services and limit the services children can receive. If you have health insurance through an HMO or managed care firm, you know about Gatekeepers.
     A Gatekeeper may tell you that your child is not entitled to:
An evaluation
Any change in the IEP
More services
Different services
The Gatekeeper’s job is to say “No!”
What do you do when you meet a Gatekeeper? Do you accept "No?"
No! You persuade the team that your child’s situation is different and requires a different approach.
     Every staff member at the table acts as a Gatekeeper in terms of how individualized the resulting education program will be. The principal, gen ed teacher, speducator and therapists can offer a level of services that will assure your child receives a free, appropriate public education or one designed to fit in with whatever is already in place. For example, the amount of time a student spends in an inclusive setting could depend on how many hours his classmates' IEPs allow them to spend in gen ed. Not very individualized, is it?
     What parents must look out for is the sudden appearance of a Master Gatekeeper because that means the district office is paying attention, concerned you might be getting through to the school staff. The Master Gatekeeper doesn't even know what your son looks like, which makes it easier to treat your him as a test score. The therapists and teachers, sometimes even the principal, are familiar with the sound of your child's laugh; they have wiped away his tears. Compassion might cloud their judgment.
     Master Gatekeepers have no time for that type of thinking; it's so unprofessional. They are business people, there to prevent the demand from exceeding the supply. Your child's needs are the last thing on a Gatekeeper's mind. Like every other team member, they have too much to do in too little time with less than they had last year.
     There is only one way to respond if you walk into an IEP meeting and encounter a Master Gatekeeper. As she introduces herself, look her straight in the eye and smile, reminding yourself that you know exactly who she really is. Surprise her by holding her gaze for a second too long.
     Then silently pat yourself on your back for being such a powerful advocate for your child that someone has deemed you a Troublemaker.