Preparing for Battle: Support & Organization

Hi friends, This is my final post in a 3-part series about my family’s Special Education Formal Complaint and Mediation proceeding. If you are a new visitor to this blog, I’d recommend starting with the previous posts: Special Education Mediation Experience and  Formal Complaint & Mediation Processes Explained.

Over the years I have attempted to connect into the blind organizations: NFB, AFB, FFB, and others, but unfortunately there are no chapters within a 3-hour drive. Several of the groups suggested that I organize a coffee social or gathering but I wasn’t ready to commit. I wanted the relationships, but I have an autoimmune disease which makes my energy and overall health unpredictable.

So, prior to filing the complaint, my first step was to reach out to parents of VI kids whom I already knew.  They pointed me to other people and resources, and eventually, I decided to join Facebook to connect with the VI community. I’m not a fan of Facebook, but in this case, it has been a God-send.

I began posting questions and sharing a bit about our situation and the support was immense. Parents shared their stories and connected me to people who helped them.  As a way to show my gratitude for their service and as a way to help other parents who find themselves embarking on this treacherous path, I’ve compiled a list of services, people and organizational strategies that helped. Some of these services are specific to our state, but if you reach out they will do their best to connect you to local resources.

SERVICES:

  1. Visit your state’s Board of Education website and contact every single person on the Visually Impaired services page. Explain the issues and ask for their advice and help.
  2. Call your local school board member and explain the issues and ask for their support.
  3. Contact your education system’s current braille materials production center. Explain your concerns and learn from them about the process and how it might be improved.
  4. Contact your state’s school for the blind and tell the headmaster about your issues and ask for their advice.
  5. Visit Wright’s Law Website for detailed information on Special Education Law.
  6. Contact Katherine Alstrin of Insight services for a free review of your child’s IEP.
  7. Contact Ladji Ruffian of Authentic Braille Masters if you are seeking on-demand high-quality Braille production.
  8. Contact Jackie Anderson a very knowledgeable advocate the state of Georgia.
  9. Contact Mitzi Proffitt, advocate Parent-to-Parent state of Georgia

PARENTS WHO ARE IN THE RING:

  1. Kristin Smedley: Instagram, Facebook
  2. Hayley Lalsingh: Facebook/Messenger
  3. Richard Holloway: Blind Kid (Formerly GOPBC)
  4. Kimberly Banks: Her MUST READ articleNOPBC
  5. Jill Richmond: Facebook/Messenger
  6. And, of course, there were many others who helped by listening, feeding us, and lending encouragement. Special thanks to Wendy, Mikayla, Julie, Laura, and Angel.

ORGANIZATION: Document and organize everything as it happens. Don’t wait until you need to file a complaint to try to piece together the documents because you will forget important things. This is how I organize my records:

  1. One manila file folder for each meeting
  2. Label folder with the date and school year (10th)
  3. Staple the meeting’s agenda on the inside front cover.
  4. Each folder should contain all related documents: IEP or Addendum, meeting notes, related emails, and letters
  5. Write bullet points about which issues were covered in the meeting on the outside front cover of the manilla folder.
  6. One folder per meeting: For example, I have 9 folders for last year – one for each meeting I called.
  7. I keep all of the folders in a large accordion file, but you could use a file cabinet.

MOST IMPORTANT THINGS I LEARNED:

  1. Don’t give up, the fight for your child’s education is worth the battle.
  2. Time is of the essence. Formal Complaints only cover a 1-year period. Due Process only covers a 2-year period.
  3. Your student’s good grades or good attitude do not equal FAPE or IDEA. For example, our school believed they were upholding standards because I have a motivated and happy son who achieves good grades, however that does not excuse the fact that they were providing, late and inaccurate materials.
  4. Focus on this one particular battle. Don’t try to solve all accessibility issues for all kids – that’s too much for any one person. Do your small part in raising awareness and expectations.
  5. Be kind to yourself. This is hard work.
  6. Ask for help. See lists above.
  7. A learning curve is not a valid excuse. Schools are required to provide appropriate services and accessible materials that are timely and accurate even if they have never done it before (which many will claim).
  8. Schools cannot use their lack of personnel or resources as an excuse for not providing your child’s IEP services. They must adhere to your IEP, FAPE, and IDEA. Hold them accountable.
  9. Document & organize your records as you go. See the suggestions above.
  10. Fight the issues, not the people. Do your best to keep the discussions focused on specific issues, and do your best not to attack the character of the people involved.
  11. Remember to give thanks. Having an attitude of gratitude helps keep the big picture in perspective

If you have experience in this area, please feel free to comment or ask questions. It is completely appropriate to list services or ideas that worked for you. Thank you!

Also, if you need help, leave a comment and I’ll do my best to get you connected to helpful resources. Stay strong – our kids’ futures are worth every single battle.

folders
ID: Image of File folders labeled as outlined in the Organizational section of post. 

Formal Complaint & Mediation Processes Explained

As discussed in my previous post we filed a Formal Complaint against our school system. This post will give an overview of what I learned about the complaint and mediation processes.

In early September, I downloaded the “formal complaint form” from our state’s education website. The document was four pages and asked a series of questions about the issues, and how we believed they could be resolved.  The Formal Complaint only covered issues that occurred within a 1-year time period. Near the bottom of the form, there was a question asking if we would be willing to mediate?  I selected “yes” thinking that I wanted to do everything possible to come to a resolution for my son. I submitted the complaint along with 20 pages of detailed records outlining the issues along with two recommendations for resolution.  Then I waited. Continue reading “Formal Complaint & Mediation Processes Explained”

Special Education Mediation Experience

It’s been 5 days since our 8-hour mediation proceeding with the school district. (Yes, 8 long, emotionally draining hours.) The mediation was in response to a formal complaint we filed in September. Our allegations were that the school was not providing a Free Appropriate Public Education and was not upholding the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act in the areas of Accessibility and IEP Implementation.

I’m writing this article to assist other parents of blind children who are facing these issues. I hope to convey the process as we experienced it, as well as the immense emotional toll it took on our family. Continue reading “Special Education Mediation Experience”

As Featured on Bold Blind Beauty

Navigating Blindness was featured on Bold Blind Beauty! The blog owner, Stephanae McCoy, is a blind woman who loves style. She is a businesswoman, blogger, and abilities crusader who breaks the myth “blind people can’t be fashionable.” I find Stephanae to be a powerhouse in the blind and visually impaired community and I’m grateful to have our story featured: Continue reading “As Featured on Bold Blind Beauty”

The Advocacy Tightrope

In student advocacy, partnering with the IEP team is a key concept. However, some days it feels impossible to straddle the divide between my child’s accessibility needs and the school’s ability to provide timely, accessible materials. When I’m feeling overwhelmed, I ask myself:

  • What exactly is the issue?
  • What does his team believe is the best answer?
  • What does my child believe is necessary?
  • Is “good enough” okay, or will this problem seriously impact his future?

Continue reading “The Advocacy Tightrope”