I won't go into a huge amount of detail about the ARD meeting procedures because that could fill a book and become pretty dry. If you are unfamiliar with ARD meetings, basically, they are committee meetings made up of parents, school administrators, general education and special teachers, a diagnostician, and any other specialists necessary to discuss the special education needs of individual students. At today's meeting, for example, we had a large group: Tom and I, a physical therapist, the school principal, the diagnostician, the special education teacher, an adaptive PE teacher, Troy's teacher, a special education counselor, and a school psychologist were all in attendance. We were missing the occupational therapist.
Each year, progress on previous goals is reviewed, any new assessment data is reviewed, and new goals are developed. Accommodations and services that the student needs are discussed, and plans are put in place. Brief ARDs can be held at any time of the year if necessary. That is the bare bones explanation. If you want further info., please let me know, and I'll do my best to answer your questions. I've sat in too many to count as both a parent and an educator, so I can offer a pretty well-rounded perspective.
Before an ARD meeting occurs, a draft of the reports and proposed goals are sent home so that parents have time to read through it thoroughly and prepare for the meeting. When we received Troy's draft, we combed through the data--and there was much to dissect. I made notes throughout, indicating areas I disagreed with or didn't fully understand. The draft was probably about 25-28 pages long. I agreed with almost everything I read--with one pretty large exception--the occupational therapy portion. I had serious concerns about that portion of the report. You may have skimmed over my list of attendees at our meeting today--the OT was the one person I really wanted to be in attendance today, and she wasn't.
Troy has poor fine motor skills. He always has. He has an official diagnosis of dysgraphia, he can't tie a shoe, he struggles with zippers and buttons, he can't use scissors, etc. His handwriting is horrible -most of the time. He has gotten better and is capable, at times, of good writing, but it is laborsome, and he tires easily and quickly. So, the report that came home said that he had not made progress from his direct services, recommended he use a word processor for his written activities, and completely stop his OT services. It made no sense to me. I could understand and support the introduction of assistive technology, I agreed that he isn't making progress...but I could not support the discontinuation of the therapy. It made no sense to me.
When we got to that portion of the meeting, I was a bit nervous to voice my opinion. For one, the OT was not there. Also, I was afraid the other committee members were all going to disagree with me. (34 years old, and still worrying about peer pressure?!) I was starting to question myself and whether my concerns were justified. But-I thought about the advice I gave recently (Click here for more on that.) I knew I had to advocate for Troy.
So, I cleared my throat and inched forward in my seat and said, "I have some concerns with that." Everyone turned to look at me, and I stated my concerns. I could feel my heart thumping a bit harder as I voiced my disagreement. I finished and held my breath for a moment, wondering what they would say.
What followed could not have been more perfect or comforting! Several of them agreed immediately. They said that they also had those thoughts and concerns when reading the report AND had already discussed their thoughts amongst themselves beforehand. I was told that had I not mentioned it, they were going to! The principal reminded me that we were a committee, and, as a committee, we can determine that that recommendation was not in Troy's best interest. I must have had a huge grin on my face when I heard their agreement and support of what Troy needs. What a sense of peace I felt at that moment and immense gratefulness that this committee of people does care about my son.
The meeting finished-eventually, and we all signed in agreement. The finalized copy of the minutes and IEP goals is 39 pages long! That's quite a bit of information to digest.
I cannot stop thinking about the importance of advocating for our children. I am not just talking about my three special needs kiddos--I'm talking about every single parent and every single child--typical or not. Thankfully, most parents will not have to attend ARD or 504 meetings. But that doesn't mean all parents don't have to advocate for their kids.
A co-worker sent me a text message just last night, upset about an app her son was told to download and use for school. The teacher had very noble intentions, but my friend was upset when she saw some of the other content on the app. It went against her religious and moral beliefs. She had written the teacher an e-mail but reached out to me before sending it. What advice did I give? "Voice your concern! You have to advocate for your children." And she did.
I've been thinking about how nervous I was to speak up in the ARD meeting. I have been in at least 100 ARD meetings-on both ends of the table in the last eleven years. I am comfortable discussing assessment and achievement data and understand standardized testing and can even hold my own when discussing standard deviation. I like the staff that work with my children and believe they are qualified and do care about the kids they work with. And yet-I was nervous to voice my justified disapproval to a room full of these wonderful people.
I started to think about all my fellow parents and the never-ending stream of situations that come up that require us to speak up for what we believe is in the best interest our children. It is sometimes difficult and even scary to do so, and, yet, we do it.
If you are a parent, I know that it can be exhausting and time-consuming and stress-inducing and even terrifyingly nerve-racking to advocate for your children. Do it anyway!
You don't want to wonder what would have or could have happened if you had said something. Believe me when I say that I worked professionally with incredible educators and specialists who genuinely care for the kids they work with. As a parent, I'm thrilled to see it from this end, too. That being said, even when they're doing their best, they don't know your child the way you do. Remember that, and speak up when you feel you need to. I think you'll find that you will be listened to, and you will feel a sense of peace, knowing that you have done your best as a parent.