This post is the first in a series on transitioning to a new school. My Monday posts will focus on this topic for several weeks because it is a large and complex topic. Also, this post is participating in the Moms' 30-Minute Blog Challenge at Steady Mom.
In March we were told that our daughter's Individual Education Plan (IEP) goals and services could now be provided at our "home school" which is always preferred as the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) and therefore her placement was changed. Even though she had attended her current school for three years through Early Intervention Preschool (EIP) and Kindergarten, even though the child has trouble moving from one daily activity to the next much less through large changes, even though she struggles to establish good peer relationships, even though...we were faced with a decision that essentially had been made for us. At the end of our IEP meeting we were preparing to sign forms to indicate our presence at the meeting and our approval of the plan. I stated that I approved of the services and goals, but that I did not approve of the placement decision. I asked how I should sign the forms to indicate non-agreement and was told that it was not a decision I could approve or disapprove, it was simply where the district had decided to place her.
I left that meeting in a fog. We've learned not to discuss "uncertain" things with our daughter, so I knew I would have to mask my frustration and confusion from her until we had figured out what we should do. This took a lot of effort and didn't leave a lot of energy over for daily functioning. As a result one of our cherished stoneware plates met its end on our stone dining room floor later that evening. I was almost non-functional. After the kids were in bed I fired off e-mails to several trusted resources, set up a meeting with two wonderful mentors, got some of my thoughts down on paper/screen, and went to bed to finally let the tears wash away all the pent up emotion.
To get the full impact of this story you have to understand that we had already uprooted our daughter once from a dear neighborhood preschool because we couldn't supply appropriate support resources in that setting. Moving her completely to the campus that hosts our district's Early Intervention programs had drastically changed our family's "M.O." Instead of walking to school we drove 10 minutes each way, sometimes several times a day. We developed social circles for ourselves and our daughter in this other neighborhood, and after a rough start she had begun to really blossom there. We felt like the stability of being in one place for more than one year had contributed to her progress. The prospect of changing schools felt like taking a tender seedling, and ripping it out by the roots to transplant it again. Allowing myself to process all of the emotions that came with this "out of my hands" decision was not only cathartic, it was necessary to clear my mind and let me focus on the next more pragmatic steps.
We had to find out what our options were: 1) Fight the transition. 2) Question the transition. 3) Accept the transition.
1) Fighting - There is always the option of going to arbitration or fair hearing. These processes can take months and generally require hiring advocates and/or lawyers, and in this case we had little evidence that the placement decision was "wrong" in any legal sense of the word. Home school placement is always considered LRE if IEP objectives can be met there.
2) Questioning - We could apply for an intradistrict transfer. Every district has its own way of handling requests like these. In our district you apply in April or so and you get an answer back in June. From past experience we knew that Summer is not a good time to work through complicated IEP issues, and regardless of which direction the district decided the IEP would need to be re-worked. If they denied our transfer request and we had to accept the transition we would be left with fewer resources to support the transition, and for our daughter good transitions are a necessary as food and water (well almost). This would also mean keeping this secret from our daughter much longer. It would also mean, we found out later, allowing her to develop misconceptions about where she would attend 1st grade that would be much harder to break down afterward
3) Accepting the transition in March/April gave us more time to develop a transition plan with support and input from the schools and district personnel. It also let us move back to our original "Family M.O." Our younger children will (eventually) attend that lovely neighborhood preschool and we'll be able to walk everywhere that we want to, and hopefully rebuild social circles that were previously put in limbo. Before fully accepting the change in schools we did some private assessments and waited for the second term report card to come in to be sure our daughter looked "ready" to us to make such a big leap.
In other situations, and for other families there might be other options to consider if school placement becomes an issue. In other situations, and for other families, our decision to accept the placement decision might not be the right choice. For us it has worked (so far), and it has allowed us to focus on developing a good transition plan, which I'll share in the next post.