Private schools have their own systems for securing accommodations. For example, Miami Country Day School uses a streamlined version of the IEP to simplify the plans for teachers, and runs seminars to educate them about the plans. Paule Ebrahimi, director of the Learning Resources Program, says the school considers psycho-educational evaluations, observations from weekly meetings with teachers, feedback from the school psychologist, parents and sometimes the student.
Many parents of children in both public and private schools opt for an evaluation done by an independent psychologist, although this can often run into the thousands of dollars.
Samantha Carella, psychologist and owner of Pediatric Psychology Associates, says parents want answers that explain poor test scores and behavioral issues. Private evaluations also outline what steps parents should take in the home.
Even with a valid, recent evaluation, children are not given accommodations on the spot. A “staffing” or meeting of teachers, parents, administrators and therapists is scheduled to discuss the child’s progress and needs.
The goal is to provide accommodations based on the needs of the individual child, said Ava Goldman, administrative director of the Schools’ Office of Special Education and Educational Services.
When an IEP or Section 504 meeting is scheduled, parents may feel like they have reached the Holy Grail, says Bustos-Alban, but they have to be prepared. Parents should come prepared with organized chronological information about the child’s progress, questions, and a short list of accommodations they believe the child needs, she said.
Parents are often intimidated, in some cases even bullied by schools attempting to get through a long list of student cases, says Alexian Hueso, program services manager at Parent to Parent.
Yet what sounds like a disaster in the making can ultimately result in life-changing benefits for a child, say parent Miriam Tellez. Tellez’s daughter Natalie, 8, is on the autism spectrum. At the first IEP meeting during Natalie’s kindergarten year, she says, the school recommended that Natalie attend classes in a self-contained classroom for the entire day, because of poor behavioral skills.
Tellez wanted her daughter to experience some regular classes each day, despite the classroom challenges she knew might lie ahead. Believing the exposure would advance her progress, she called Parent to Parent.
What happened over the next three years, says Tellez and Hueso, who worked with her, is an example of how the system can work well if not overnight. Tellez says that with Hueso’s help, the school agreed to expose Natalie to some regular classes.
“It was hard for Natalie because she really wasn’t ready,’’ Tellez said. “Her abilities were not at the level that they needed to be to function independently at a kindergarten level.”
However, by allowing Natalie to experience a regular class setting, Tellez discovered the therapies provided by the district were not adequate. She eventually got her additional private therapies that improved Natalie’s behavior. The teacher, who was challenged by Natalie’s behavioral issues, nevertheless discovered that the kindergartner could read.
“The teacher was really good. She gave her the sight words and exposed her to the material. I realized that she had more potential than I ever thought”