CEG had a fantastic first day of business. Mikel ran our first support group for parents of special needs students in Southeast Volusia, while I went to my first IEP meeting as an Educational Planner. If these two events are an indication of the future, it is bright, indeed. The topic of Special, but not enough for an IEP was a great choice for our first support group meeting; if interest remains high we may need to expand to two meetings a week. The door prizes were a lot of fun and brought some laughs to a rather serious subject. Thanks to Bert Fish Hospital for sponsoring this vital group.
It was exciting to participate in an IEP meeting as a private consultant. I was a little nervous, but an involved, informed parent and fluent educational professionals made me feel right at home. The only down side was when I went to sign the IEP, and next to my name was the word “Advocate.” I gently explained that I am not, and never will be, an advocate. CEG doesn’t advocate, and it was a rookie mistake I won’t make again in this new venture–not clarifying my role at the outset of the meeting.
But, this snafu and the ensuing discussion did make me think about the topic of advocacy, and who acts as an advocate in an IEP meeting. I always think of advocates in the professional sense; individuals trained to deal with legalities in the public education system. That’s not, and never has been, my role. One of the reasons I decided to leave my current position with the Center for Autism and Related Disabilities is frustration with the local school system absolutely refusing to believe CARD doesn’t do advocacy. ESE top brass not allowing me (or any of my colleagues)–in seven years!– to do a training for principals and administrators called What is CARD? resulted in huge wastage of taxpayer dollars. I had to explain, hundreds of times to hundreds of educators, what CARD does and doesn’t do. Every time I did, my salary was clicking through my brain like numbers going up, up, up on a ticker; what a time (and money) saver it would have been if I’d just been allowed to take twenty minutes at a principals’ meeting. I decided to quit fighting that battle. And here I was, running right into the same insistence on viewing anyone accompanying a parent to an IEP meeting as an advocate, with all the negativity that engenders! It made me think about what parents have been talking openly about in support groups; the defensive posture they run into at the IEP table.
It is so frustrating for families and other stakeholders in the process–tutors, behaviorists, doctors, and therapists–to experience this puzzling defensiveness. Imagine how frustrating it must be for students as they begin to participate in, and master understanding, the planning process! At CEG, we are determined to get everyone on the same side of the table; the student’s side. How wonderful to be working toward this goal we firmly believe in; parking egos and drawing from each team member those skills, ideas, and assets which build strong documents to support access to crucial educational goals. Along with a growing number of parents, I believe that this is a vital necessity in restoring Volusia schools to the focused, student-centered, community enhancing organization it used to be.
After we cordially cleared up the little advocacy misunderstanding, signed off on the IEP, and wrapped up the meeting, I walked out with the parent feeling that wonderful sense of peace which accompanies knowing you have done your best work.
And it felt pretty darn good to walk out as my own boss.
Mikel and I had a good laugh together while wrapping up the day’s paperwork and responding to client e-mails and phone calls; he won our little bet. He’d said, “They’ll try to make you an advocate, just watch!” I, ever the optimist, disagreed. Ah, well. How wonderful to be working with my partner, who balances and brings me back down to earth.
Overall, a beautiful first day of business.