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Creative Solutions Contest #2:
The Vote!

On August 28. 2000, we announced the Second Creative Solutions Contest. In our Creative Solutions Contests, our goal is to harness the "power of the Internet" to develop "Creative Solutions" to common problems people have in the wild and wacky world of special education. (Read the original Contest announcement

In August, we received dozens of emails from teachers who ran into problems when they returned to school. Many of these problems involved IEPs that had been unilaterally changed by administrators during the summer. Special education services were changed or discontinued. The people most affected by these changes - the children, parents, and teachers - were not involved in these decisions. In letter after letter, teachers from different states and districts asked what they could do. How could they help the children without losing their jobs?
 

We decided to focus on a teacher's problem in this Creative Solutions Contest. (rRead the full text of the teacher's problem.) 

Wrightslaw visitors are special folks - you have shown that you have the experience, expertise, and imagination to generate creative solutions to complicated problems. When faced with a problem, we knew that many of you would step up to the plate and offer solutions. We sent "The “Problem” out to more than 15,000 newsletter subscribers.

"How can people who work in the system do the right thing and advocate for our children -- without losing our jobs?" 

In less than a week, we received more than 150 emails - 96 of which proposed Solutions. (Other readers sent stories they wanted to share.)

We received solutions from parents, grandparents, educators, directors of special education, school administrators, psychologists, advocates, attorneys -- and at least one special ed student. We pruned and edited more than 150 pages of text down to 28 pages that contained the 96 Solutions. 

On September 12, we posted the Solutions on the Wrightslaw website and asked you to vote. [We were swamped]  Here are the results.


1st Place: Solution # 94 by Dave 

15 year old Special Ed Student, Virginia Beach, Virginia

2nd Place: Solution # 53 by Wayne Blankenbiller
Superintendant of Schools, Buffalo, South Dakota 

3rd Place: Solution # 17 by Linda Moran 
Executive Director, Academic Solutions, Inc. Tuscan, Arizona
 
Solution #94 by Dave
This is a very interesting problem. I have one way you can go about solving this. First, send each parent of a child with a modified IEP a copy of their new IEP, and inform them that you did not attend the meeting and tell them whose signature is- and isn’t- forged. 
 
Second, call an IEP meeting for each child with a modified IEP. Beforehand, make a batch of brownies for each meeting -- with a “secret” laxative ingredient.  You may need to tell the parents and any other “good guys” beforehand not to eat any of the brownies, letting them in on your “plan” if necessary.  Sometimes this is the only way to get the $#|t out. At first, the staff will be appreciative of your efforts to “loosen up” the meeting. 
 
During the meeting, you should deny knowledge of the fantasy IEP meetings, and the parents and any other involved parties should also. Seek to regain the lost services (speech, OT, PT, and others) and suggest that the students be reintroduced into the regular classrooms with any necessary services. If the administration says they can’t do that, or protests, feel free to drag the meeting out as long as necessary (in other words, as long as their digestive systems will hold out). 
 
Tip: This is especially effective for meetings right after lunch. Dave, 15-year-old Special Ed. Student, VA
 
A few days later, Dave wrote to us about his Solution 

"I am a 15 year old high school student with an IEP.  I know better than to serve laxatives in refreshments, but I think many parents and students enjoy the fantasy of revenge.  This
whole business can be very frustrating."
 

Dave's Bio: 
 "I am a 15 year old with Asperger Syndrome and Tourette Syndrome. I am a sophomore at a public high school in Virginia Beach, VA. I'm in all regular ed classes with special ed support.  My mom and dad were very frustrated over what happened to me in middle school, but things are going pretty well for me now." 
 
"I attend my own IEP meetings and I'm learning how to be my own advocate. Last weekend I spoke on learning to advocate for myself and I was part of a panel at a Tourette Syndrome Association workshop." 
 
Solution #54 by Wayne Blankenbiller
As a school administrator, I believe that people who do not put the interests of children first should not be in education. These actions are illegal, immoral and unethical. You merely have to do what is right. If your situation with administration is as intractable as you believe, there are some other options. 
 
Discretely contact your state special education director and explain the situation to him/her. 
 
Discretely contact the parents. Talk to them about the parental rights booklet you should have delivered to them and point out parts from the booklet that are relevant in this case. Parents have strong rights because of such situations as you mention. 
 
You owe it to your school and to your continued employment to stay as close as possible to the chain of authority. Read your school policies closely, then pick the person you trust most in the upper echelons of administration and ask for a confidential meeting. Your school will lose a lawsuit based on these facts and should pay attention for this reason, even if they are not interested in doing the right thing. 
 
One last thing: Contact the attorney who represents your teacher organization. Tell them about the situation, what you are doing, and ask him/her to intervene in protecting your job when you mutually decide this is necessary. 
 
Wayne's Bio: 
Wayne is the Superintendent of Schools at Harding County School District in Buffalo, SD. During his three years at Harding County School, he has also been the Special Education Director. He worked for 7 years as an elementary teacher in South Dakota, Wyoming, and Nebraska, and 7 years as an educational administrator in South Dakota in BIA-funded schools and public schools.

Wayne's educational backround is impressive. He has a liberal arts degree from the University of 
Nebraska. He earned a Juris Doctorate from the University of Nebraska College of Law. He earned a B.S. in elementary education, and a M.S. in educational administration.From Chadron State College in Chadron, Nebraska. 

Wayne says, "I spent a few years in ranching and farming in Nebraska.  I spent 10 years as a military journalist with 4 years of active duty with the First Cavalry Division, and the remainder with the Nebraska National Guard."

Wayne has been married for nearly 30 years, and has six children and three grandchildren. His interests include bicycling, motorcycling, physical conditioning and weight-training, hiking, church 
service, his family, Lakota history and culture, and being on the advisory board for the Learning Disablities Association of South Dakota.
 

Solution #17 by Linda Moran 
I choose battles carefully. This is a battle that is worth fighting. Believe in it. We have to be creative to get help for parents. Here are some ideas:
 
1. Are you represented by an association? If so, talk to your representative. You will benefit by having someone in your corner legally. 
 
2. Parents bring change. Start working through them. Do you have a parent you have worked with whom you trust implicitly? Work through this parent. Have this parent get other parents together. Get the dads to ask questions. As one of my moms put it, “that chromosome makes a big difference in meetings.” Have your parents request a new IEP meeting for this school year. Let them know what to look for. Document everything - have a paper trail. 
 
3. Find a lawyer who works with special education issues. You need to document that your signature was forged. You need to document your concerns. In my state we have a group that works as advocates with families. A similar group in your area may be able to help you. 
 
4. Do any of your parents have contacts in the media? With the emphasis on standards and school reform, perhaps it’s time for reporters to look at what parents and students with learning differences face, how the law can work for them, and how the law can easily be subverted. Schools don’t like negative press. 
 
Another thought -- We ordered “Better IEPs” by Barbara Bateman and refer all our parents to this book. The revised edition is a wonderful “how to” manual about IEPs for parents. 

Linda's Bio: 

Linda Moran, a public school teacher of 23 years, decided to follow her dream and founded Academic Services, Inc., a nonprofit learning center for the Tucson community. The Center provides a range of academic services -- reading for dyslexic students, math for all ages, study skills assistance, and other services to help students succeed.

About her decision to found Academic Services, Linda says, "I decided if I had the chance to start this business, students would not be turned away from needed services because they couldn't pay." Academic Services, Inc. welcomes funding for tuition assistance.

Linda also has a book in press "It's the Journey - Helping Kids Succeed in Math." She has an M.Ed. in curriculum, and taught grades 2 - adult. 


Your Thoughts About the Creative Solutions Contest

What factors influenced people's votes? Here is a sample of email that people included with their votes. 

Aleta wrote: I chose #3. I am a parent. Believe it or not, this exact situation occurred to one of my friends. Many of the answers were too soft -- either demanding that the parents take all the action, or explaining how to work with your union (over the course of years?) to resolve the situation. If your name is forged, you must take action--or like they said in #50--you will become the "object" too soon--and may end up in jail.

I chose #3 because it was the only answer that gave protection against higher level instigators. 

==============
Anita wrote:
#87 got my vote because it suggested actions that were reasonable, direct and energy-efficient. I could see myself carrying out the steps suggested. 

As a parent of 2 kids in Special Ed. I liked this solution because it did NOT rely on the already beleagered parents to straighten out a mess they did not create. 

#84 was a close runner-up and gets my vote for BEST PRACTICES. Thanks for the helpful ideas. 

=============
Avis wrote:
I liked VOTE 5 best due to it's informal "human" strategy.  Teachers are people, parents are people, and kids are people (I'm not so sure about many administrators).  A network of caring individuals can become a powerful grassroots force! 

I am an LD parent and a Volunteer Parent Advocate.  Many things led me to take Parent Training, among them my own angst over my children's lack of FAPE, the "hostile environment" in which Special Ed Kids & Teachers must exist, and the advice of my own sister - a teacher for more than 30 years. My sister and I have witnessed many illegal, immoral, and unethical acts by administrative personnel (and sometimes teachers) over the years. 

Not all parents are so great, either.  However, those of us who DO care and want to right the wrongs of the system must band together . . . even if it is "underground! 

==============
Barbara wrote:
I am a parent of three children, two of whom have special education needs.  I agree with this former teacher that parents always bear the ultimate responsibility for their children.  It is with the parents that this teacher should ally herself.  By informing them of the special ed. process, she will ensure that her students needs are met long after her students leave her classroom and even after she retires from teaching. 

==============
Colleen wrote:
I'm a certified psychiatric RN, currently full-time, stay-at-home Mom. I have 3 sons, ages 13, 11 & 4. The 13 & 11 year olds have ADHD. I voted for #43

The parents of ADHD kids are typically assumed by the educational team to be "normal." Suggestions for interventions/support in the home (by the parent) generally consist of admonitions to provide a distraction-free homework space, help the child become better organized, manage time better etc. Although these are reasonable suggestions, they assume that the parent does not struggle with these issues themselves. 

As an ADD parent, I find it overwhelming to be told that I must do for my child what I cannot do for myself. Given that ADHD is be hereditary, it's time educators consider that it's likely the apples are falling pretty close to the trees -- and modify their messages accordingly.

===================
Cindy wrote:
I vote for 00.

I am a parent of 2 children with disabilities in the State of Florida.  I have also served as an advocate for families of children with disabilities in Florida.  I have participated in due process hearings and several mediations.  I average 1 IEP meeting a week. 

The reason I cast my vote for no solutution is:

1) There is no accountability currently in violations to IDEA;

2) There is no enforcement of violations at the LEA, SEA or nationally.

I have seen ALJ's look the other way when they are presented with IEP's thata were created "after" the IEP meeting.  I have seen the Florida State Department of Education agree with the ALJ. I have seen OCR decide not to get involved. If there is a way to stop these violations, please let me know.  I'll try it out in my home state. 

==================

Shelley wrote: I am a parent of a child with Aspergers Syndrome.  I keep up with IEP issues and legalities, and have lunch with an attorney in my building who specializes in suing school districts.

This was an interesting story, and quite perplexing.  I personally think the IEP should be enforced by the parents in order to be effective, but from the teacher's point of view, I think 87 was the best way to handle the situation and keep the job

Thank you for your website and e-mail updates.  I just attended a conference on aspergers/autism and saw your book there.  I grabbed myself a copy and spoke to other parents about it. 
==============

Cyber wrote
:
I vote for #94. This sped student shows a sense of humor and good grasp of what happens in IEP meetings.  I'd like to read his views on other things, too!

================
Deb wrote:
I voted for 94 because I would love to try it!! I just pictured the meeting in my head and got a good laugh!! 

==================
Melva wrote:
I voted for #5. I found most of the entries would lead the teacher into'blind alleys'.  Every district has its own special groups and it's hard to know which approach would work best. And, only time will reveal that - and that is the sadness, because the child always loses when time is wasted 'running the gauntlet.' 

We are parents of a 14 year old PDD child who has regressed for six straight years due to lack of just about everything an LEA needs to provide services to special kids. Before the last IEP was finished, we got definite vibes that the LEA want a residential placement (this certainly isn't very 
creative on their part).  I am almost 60 and I may not survive this ambush by a system that receives so much money for special needs kids, yet never seems to want to spend  any of it for my kid. 

Thanks for your incredible website. 

========================

I vote for #94. I like the kid's spunk - future sped atty, I'll bet.

===================

From Sue: I vote for 3. We have had terrible struggles with the school district to get help for our child.  We have learned that "you" have to go a few levels above the team members to get the help you need.  If you don't step over these team members during a conflict - they will bury you for MONTHS. You have false hopes and get the run-a-round.

===============

From Vicki: I recommend the teacher find ways to remedy the problem through an internal network . . . and beat the Administrators at their own game . . . checkmate! My vote, because it has worked successfully is #81 (mine, of course)!

Thank you for offering this contest as a way to "air" my concerns as a Special Educator. In my district, I seem to be one of the few who dare to take a stand against these regularly occuring violations - sometimes a pretty lonely place to be.

================

Heartfeld wrote: I vote for # 8 because it is a very simple, and it is documentation. It also would raise concerns for the parent and help them to understand that "things" can happen, so beware!  The parent would feel that *someone* was helping  them and cared!! (what a great feeling :) )

===================

From J: I voted for # 5 because I found it to be exceptionally thought provoking and creative.  It goes with the saying, "You can give a person a fish and he can eat for a day, but if you teach a person to fish, he can eat for a lifetime."

==============
jkf wrote:
I vote for 1-97. I'm the parent of a 4 year old with severe multiple disabilities. I read each and every response but am unable to pick only one so I cast my vote for the "experience."

Reading all the solutions and hearing individuals' personal experiences was sobering and depressing.  I realized that this nightmare will never end. I have to follow-up, follow-through, get educated in the law, get educated in special education, PT, OT, speech, and vision services, trust no one, and question, question, question. 

=============

From John: I looked at this from all angles, having been at various times a special education grandparent, teacher, evaluator, college instructor, and administrator.  Frequent firings have broadened my experience.

#94 was the most fun and I certainly liked all the solutions that included some means of ruining the forger's life, or at least the forger's career.  The solutions that involved parents were certainly the best long-range plans. However, for immediate results, I favored the solutions that initially went to the Superintendent in a show of loyalty to the district: the only way to protect our beloved district is to do the right and legal thing. I vote for #96.

=================

Carla wrote: I vote for #53. I am a parent of a special needs 9th grader and am a special ed. advocate in a Court. I like this Solution best because it's succinct and what I might do in the situation. You can choose to be a loud whistle blower or a discrete one.

===================

JS wrote: I vote for numbers 3 and 68 which are nearly the same. I don't believe in tiptoeing around a problem.  Facing this head on is the best solution. Arming yourself with background and support, documentation and persistence, confidence and belief in what is right is the only way to present and resolve the problem. 

Schools must provide services and people assume all is ok if they never hear anything.  It is time to speak up and make them accountable.  Our children are our future, someone has to care. 

==============

From Karen: I vote for #17. I am the parent of a twenty-four year old man with autism who received special ed services. I also have assisted more than a hundred families individually and have authored several successful class action 504 complaints.  Forged documents, lies, harassment of caring teachers, etc. are certainly not new to me. 

My experience has taught me that sometimes the best response is obtained by going to the media and getting fair coverage of the situation. State Compliance Units, hearing officers, and OCR are too easily coopted otherwise. Even well informed, well meaning parents can't obtain the desired results solo. That is one of the reasons I cast my vote for #17, although there were several close runners-up.

My hat also goes off to the educators who believe that persons in the position of being role models and who are supposed to teach kids to do the right thing. It's preferable to move or get into a different profession than to go along to get along, or to put it in the parents' lap.

Thank you for creating this opportunity for dialogue and brain-storming a sticky and all too common problem.

=====================

Thanks to this teacher, we parents will sleep better knowing we are not imagining things! This gives us the courage to fight when we are feeling hopeless and intimidated. As parents, we often say, "Why don't the teachers lead us in the direction we need to go?" Our reply is always, "She'll lose her job." 

Teachers enter the field in good faith, their intentions were to educate, not get rich. I have often wondered why school personel don't get support from their unions when facing this kind of problem. Unions can help in many ways, aside from  wage issues. 



What We Learned from This Contest

We did receive a few complaints about this Creative Solutions Contest. A few people expressed unhappiness that their emails were not included - we made judgment calls and did not include emails that didn't offer Solutions. At least one individual felt there were too many Solutions -- that we should have edited and pruned.

In fact, Pam spent more than 40 hours editing and pruning the Solutions content - reducing the content from more than 100 pages to 28 pages. She has advised us that this is not a good use of her time! She's right. 

In subsequent contests, we'll probably implement an arbitrary word limit. 

So this is the final chapter to this Creative Solutions Contest.

We want to thank each person who voted. And we believe that each participant who took the time to reflect on this difficult problem and devise a Creative Solution is a Winner!

Thanks from Wrightslaw!

 

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