Tuesday, June 4, 2013

An IEP, a prayer and a mountain moved

                                            Brett's last day of preschool

When Brett was 3 he was evaluated by the school district for his preschool placement. After more than an hour in a room full of strangers from therapists to psychologists all making requests of him I didn’t feel like they saw Brett’s true abilities. Before we even left the room they suggested Brett be placed in a multi-needs classroom (a separate class for children with multiple issues and a variety of diagnosis). Mama bear took over - I wasn’t happy. Brett will be integrated in a regular preschool class I told them. They recommended we visit the multi-needs classroom before making a decision.
I told Tate we were in for a fight.
But then we visited the classroom and despite all my preconceived ideas and principles we were so impressed and Tate and I both left there convinced it was the right place for Brett and we still believe that two years later.
But last month a few week’s before Brett’s scheduled IEP meeting (an Individual Education Plan that creates goals and details of needs) a strange thing happened. I told Tate I felt God kept putting the idea of integration in my path. We had planned to just move along happy with multi-needs, but everywhere I turned I was reading about integration and meeting new people who were telling me their experiences, it just kept coming. I told Tate I just can’t ignore it so I’m going to explore it. I met with a mom whose daughter, with Cerebral Palsy similar to Brett’s, had been integrated from kindergarten all through high school. She was amazing. She had a whole box of resources and coached me on some things to say and not to say in an IEP. More than anything, though, she listened and encouraged. I felt so grateful for all those who have gone before us blazing a path not traveled before. I left there feeling empowered. I talked to Tate and e-mailed the school district/special education program about our desires to integrate Brett in kindergarten – and I prayed. I felt like I was following a lead that wasn’t my own, which put me way outside my comfort zone.
For those who haven’t been through it, IEP meetings are stressful. You come to the table with the child’s team. The idea is the parents and child are part of that team. But it’s just you and about six or seven people from the school district and it can be intimidating. Since Brett was 2 and I started researching schools, programs etc. I have read and heard countless stories of bad IEP meetings with major disagreements, advocates and lawyers. Those seem to be the norm. So Tate and I did our homework, we proposed goals of our own and made numerous pros and cons lists for a variety of integration scenarios. We were realistic about the limitations beyond our control like distance between schools and multiple bus trips. I prayed someone else might offer a solution we couldn’t see.
We braced ourselves and went in prepared for battle.
But when we got in the room I was reminded that we are a team. Except for one new district official, everyone at the table was someone who has been helping Brett for two years. We traded stories and ideas and the tension melted. At the end of the goal setting we had gotten everything we wanted and more. We realized what an advocate Brett has in his speech therapist.
When it came to talking about transitioning to kindergarten the program director asked what we wanted. I told her our pie in the sky version – Brett safe and comfortable in his multi-needs program part of the day and then integrated into our neighborhood school with his brothers the second part of the day. Dipping our toes in the water. But the two schools are on opposite sides of town. We were concerned about the additional disruption, especially to his lunch, which is a challenge for all involved. But they said 'if that is what you want, we can do it.' We threw out a few more scenarios and then asked everyone around the table to give their honest opinions or new ideas. We landed on what we knew was best for Brett –  staying at his current school for both multi-needs and integration. They suggested we take time and discuss it privately, come back with any more questions and then let them know when we had decided. We talked and prayed and slept on it for a few days. We felt at peace with the choice and signed off on it.
I said a prayer of thanks that we have options, things had gone so smoothly and it was over. But, I know Jesus knew my heart was disappointed that Brett still wouldn’t be in school with his brothers.

Fast forward about four weeks. I received a call from the special education program administrator.
“You’re not going to believe it,” she said and I held my breath thinking, 'what now?'
“They are moving the kindergarten multi-needs classroom to your neighborhood school. Brett will be able to attend that class and integrate at his neighborhood school with his brothers.”
I choked up, I couldn’t respond. I was floored – I still am. I immediately called Tate and we shared our shock and celebration.
I was still crying when I hung up the phone and couldn’t stop saying prayers of thanks. I immediately thought of Matthew 17:20 and am reminded, as I have been so many times in the five years since the boys were born, that even when my faith feels small - pray God-sized prayers. Nothing is impossible through Him.

Matthew 17:20 (NIV)
He replied, "Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you."