Friday, December 6, 2013

Jaw Meets Table; Thud to Follow

names and indentifying information have been changed to protect the identities of those involved

Sitting in an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) meeting for a 3rd grade student with moderate disabilities is always a scenario with a variety of possible endings. Each meeting is different. Sometimes they are smooth, useful and a plan truly comes together to support the child. Other times they can be stressful and nonproductive. Either way, I was ill prepared for the course of events that would take place at this particular meeting.

We know going into a child’s IEP meeting to determine their special education eligibility, placement and plan that the system for children is flawed. Parents are not perfect. Teachers make mistakes. Schools are riddled with issues. The education system as a whole is internally flawed from start to finish. Nonetheless, we try to create a plan for the child that will last an entire year and will meet each of their needs regarding their disability and academic needs. Clearly, this is a near impossible task, but one that we try to approach with grace.

We gather all of the people that are part of the child’s life and we put them in a room. This includes, but is not limited to, teachers, a special education teacher, an administrator, parents, nurse, and other specialists as needed. The parent is allowed to invite lawyers, advocates and whoever they feel they need or want. Together we sit at a table and discuss the evaluations that were completed, talk about how the kid is doing in school and at home and what the plan should be for the next year. The concept is brilliant.

This particular meeting was nothing like I described above. In fact, this IEP is better described as disastrous and imperfect. The child was 9 at the time and he was struggling. The IEP should have been all inclusive and thorough. It was not. There were only three people in attendance, the special education teacher, the school psychologist and the child’s father. The meeting started as any other. Introductions were made and parent’s rights were reviewed which was then followed by an array of questions to make sure that the documentation had all of the correct personal information for the family. Dad was answering the mundane questions when I first took a long curious look at him. He was dressed down. He was relaxed in his chair with his hands casually folded across his lap. He was calm; his voice low and speech slow. He listened. He answered questions. He followed along as reports were reviewed. The meeting was moving forward as we discussed his child and the special education needs.

Then it happened.

As a report was being discussed, I sifted through one of the documents and noticed that there were 4 children in this family. Brian was listed as the oldest. I asked the father how old the brothers were and he stated that they were 3, 6, and 8. I made some comment about how having four boys must be overwhelming. Then I asked where they attended school and this is the sentence that was spoken to me.

“Brian’s 3 and isn’t in preschool yet. Brian 6 and goes to a charter school by our house. Brian and Brian go to school here.”

Generally, when in the professional setting, I am able to monitor the words that leave my lips and the facial expressions that I allow others to see. In that moment, I was not in control of my face or my jaw that hit the rectangular, tan table with an excruciatingly loud thud. My mouth, unfortunately, uttered some form of the word ‘what’ and I feared what body language I putting forth. Yet, the father was not fazed by the fact that my shock level was on full alert and I was looking at him as though he had transformed into a platypus while uttering the above sentences. I collected myself, to some degree and I spoke,

 “All four boys are named Brian?”

“Yep,” He stated while still sitting there, leaned back in his chair and with his hands folded across his lap.

I let it go.

Another team member tried to move forward and began discussing how Brian was doing in the classroom. She said a cluster of words that I did not process or engage in listening to.

Apparently, I did not let it go.

“Why did you name all four boys, Brian,” I stupidly asked and quickly regretted.

The father calmly gave me the following explanation:
When my girlfriend was pregnant with our first child, we sat down to talk about names. We decided that we had to pick a name that we really liked because we would name all of our kids the same whether they were boys or girls. We figured that this way, if they were ever taken by Child Protective Services and put in the foster care system they wouldn’t forget their sibling’s names, especially if they were separated. That way when they aged out of the system they could find each other since they would know one another’s names.

Please either reread paragraph 7, or insert your version of my inappropriate and involuntary physical and verbal response here.

All at once a flood of questions and clumps of words came to my mind. I am positive that my face looked like a collection of massive muscle spasms. Fortunately, this time, I did not speak. I did not speak. Yet, I had thoughts, many of them. They came all at once and in no particular order. I shall list them.

1.  What?
2. Did I hear him correctly? What? Wait. How?
3. How do you run a house with four kids names Brian?
4. He chose to name all four of his children the same name? He has an explanation for this?
5. Wait, TWO humans came up with this idea? Two humans agreed that this was a good idea?
6. How does someone consider CPS as part of their birth plan?
7. While in the process of having kids, you consider that they may be raised in foster care?
8. What was he planning on doing to these kids that they may be taken by CPS and put in foster care?
9. How the hell does it make sense that if they all have the same name that then and only then will the kids be able to remember their sibling’s names?
10. How is this man telling me this in such a matter of fact?

There, there are 10 of the million and a half things that ran through my head in that moment. I managed to not speak or allow any of my thoughts to escape my mouth.

 As we wrapped up the meeting and niceties were exchanged the father pushed back his chair and stood up. He reached across the table, turned to me, and outstretched his hand.  I stood, extended my hand and we shook. I did not speak. He spoke,

“Thank you all for your time. I have to get home; my girlfriend is 8 months pregnant with our 5th child. It’s a girl!”

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