Friday, April 4, 2014

Considering an Advocate

Ok, this has been an emotional week. A very emotional week. At our last meeting, we agreed that the Goofy One needs an evaluation so I turned in a written request to get a written copy of the evaluation reports to review before the eligibility meeting. When I handed it to the School Psychologist and the Area Coordinator, they assured me that there would be no problem giving me the evaluation reports beforehand so that I could prepare for the meeting. It's getting close to time for the meeting so I emailed them to ask when I can expect the reports and was told that they would be unable to give me the reports until after the meeting. Oh, I was mad. Very mad. So, I emailed them back firmly objecting. I reminded them of my formal written request and their verbal agreement to provide the reports. That email was ignored.

Then the anxiety set in. If they don't give me the reports, there's not a damned thing I can do (that I have found yet) except document it for the due process hearing. That may help in the end, but it's not going to help with this meeting. My husband has gone with me to every meeting this year, and I love him for the support, but he has no clue what is going on. I have a clue what is going on but I can't follow a conversation unless I already know what we are talking about. If I can't get the reports before the meeting, I can't properly discuss the information. What is going to happen is both of us are going to go in there and just be bombarded with words that have no meaning. Goofy is screwed.

I called the lawyer I found online. Her website is freaking awesome, she looks perfect for us. I asked for a consultation and got a phone call. Yeah. That was fun. and then, even better, she doesn't want to be a lawyer, she's more of an advocate. The choices are, I can take her with us to the meeting for $150 or call the other guy for due process for $300/hour. They are the only two in this area. Those are some scary options, but I am not going to be able to meaningfully participate in this meeting and someone has to. The conversation with her took the anxiety and pushed it right over the edge into panic. I found the money, set up a meeting with her, and emailed the team to reschedule our meeting so that she could be there.

I started gathering and organizing everything I have that she will need:
  • Contact log/ emails
  • Documentation of what we are working on at home
  • Homework log
  • The Reading Specialist's video of Goofy reading
  • My videos of Goofy reading
  • Pictures of the Goofy Child's room/work area
  • Behavior Charts
  • Visual Schedules
  • Evaluations
  • Reports/Report cards
  • Written Requests
  • The list goes on...
The more I sort, the more pissed off I get. At the school, at the advocate, at myself. This is ridiculous. I'm pissed off that I have to get an advocate, but I'm thankful the pressure is off of me.

I have arrangements made, emails sent, and I'm sitting in the waiting room of Goofy's OT office when I get an email from Goofy's principal. She thinks there may have been some confusion. They can absolutely share the evaluation results with me prior to the meeting, the report that they are unable to give me is the eligibility report that is a result of our meeting.

and now I'm back into uncertainty. It's not a comfortable place to be, and honestly, I'm afraid. There's a trick here somewhere, I'm sure of it, but I don't see it yet. There are a few possibilities, one being that they will promise the information and not follow through and the other being a guest at the eligibility meeting.

They sent me a notice for this meeting, I don't always get one, so I'm thankful they sent one this time. They invited someone new to this meeting, an Effective Practice Specialist. I've never heard of such a thing so I googled her. She's a Diagnostic Specialist. What business she has in Goofy's meeting, I don't know. As far as I can figure she's there for one of three reasons:
  1. She has a legitimate reason to be there, to share information about Goofy
  2. To back up the School Psychologist when he tells me no
  3. To help us decide where he qualifies
So, here's the trouble- hope for the best and prepare for the worst. I'm pretty sure I'm in over my head.

I have two choices- $150 that I don't really have for an advocate or $300/hr that I don't really have for a lawyer.

This is a hard decision to make. If I can get the information I need to prepare for the meeting, I don't really need the advocate. I need the advocate because I can't properly discuss what Goofy needs because of my difficulty with conversations. Taking the advocate, in my unique situation, has both pros and cons. The bottom line is I needed her because I was missing vital information that they are now willing to give me, so there is a decision that needs to be made quickly.

The biggest issue, for me, is I'm worried that I'm either going to take money that we don't have and throw it away on something that I don't end up needing that will also create a hostile environment when we've all worked hard to make this a team effort and to keep things civil or that I will foolishly opt out this opportunity to use an advocate to work it out before the decision is made and end up in due process paying an obscenely larger amount of money to fix what an advocate could have helped with in the beginning. Because these are my only options- $150 for an advocate or $300/hr for a lawyer, right?

I don't know what to do and I'm sure either way I go, I'm going to regret it. That EPS they invited is really making me nervous. I talked to a couple of friends. One knows Special Ed, one does not. The one who knows Special Ed had really great advice that got me thinking straight. The one who does not know Special Ed had questions that held the answer. I had to explain the process from beginning to end, I had to explain my rights. The advocate threw me for a loop with the either/or and completely left option #3 out of the equation. If I disagree with the team's decision, I have the right to request an Independent Educational Evaluation.

I thought for a minute that that was not for us because I already have private evaluations as well as the school's evaluations. I googled the tests they are using and one of them warned that too many tests in a short amount of time will invalidate the tests. I talked to a School Psychologist who runs Breaking Out of the Box (she's great, check her out) and she told me that is true, but they can use different tests that would not invalidate the testing, they just need to know what tests the previous evaluators used. What I need to find out now is if mediation is a possibility after that.

For now, that's my tentative plan. I assume I will have everything I need to prepare, I will pass on the advocate for now, and give it all I've got. If that isn't enough, I will request an Independent Evaluation and look at the advocate again if we need mediation. It's a big gamble, but I think it's the right risk to take.

1 comment:

  1. Have you tried a parent-advocate? What you need is somebody that is familiar with law and your child, and who can ask the hard questions and play the bad cop for you. Sometimes that doesn't need to be a lawyer. Or even a paid person. Sometimes what you need is just someone who has been through due process with the school. Preferably someone they already hate- I mean, respect.

    Otherwise, I'd talk to your two candidates more, and go with the one you feel more comfortable with personally. After all, you are hiring them to fight for your child, you need to trust them and feel they understand what is needed. Both of those prices are quite good.