Playing Chicken

chicken-976279_1280-2The school district and I are playing a high stakes (at least for my daughter) game of chicken. They want me to sign an Individualized Education Plan (IEP)—read annual contract—committing my daughter Katie to the generic, for-profit, non-public school (NPS) in Oakland that has space. I don’t want to sign anything until a spot opens up in a school focused on autism spectrum disorder. Experience has taught me that once I sign, I lose all negotiating leverage. So until the NPS I want is written on the blank line, I’m trying my best to avoid the situation.

Or at the very least, stall.

Twice this summer we’ve had meetings, and twice I felt pressured to sign a document I didn’t want to sign. [Interestingly, not the triennial IEP that was started in December 2015, and left unfinished when the suspensions began in January 2016. Rather a whole new IEP that will include little but the placement plus draft goals that Katie more than mastered this summer.]

When the district tried to schedule a third meeting last week, I couldn’t attend due to a legitimate conflict. Feeling guilty, I told them I could call in for the alternate time slot but not attend in person due to a lack of childcare (also more or less true due to the last-minute timing of the request). Seeing how stressed I was, my boyfriend Nate said, “What’s the deal? You act like they plan to roll you.” He paused to consider. “Would they do that?”

Yes, I fear they would, although I’m sure the district wouldn’t call it that.

We had the conference call with the Program Director of the Oakland school and Katie’s would-be teacher who regaled me with details of their new sensory gym—which “will have” plenty of equipment that my school district could have provided to Katie but didn’t. In fact, this summer, the district’s occupational therapist drafted a comprehensive list of sensory equipment which begged the question: why didn’t anyone bother to try this before my child was suspended and then kicked out of school?

business-962354_1920Only the district can answer that question. For now I am focused on getting Katie the education she needs and deserves.

After the conference call, district staff tried to pressure me into signing the IEP once again. I told them I had scheduled a visit to Open Mind School (OMS), the new autism school that I had discovered. They asked when I would return from Redwood City. “We’re working late tonight.”

I thanked them for their dedication and said I had planned to attend a rapid prompting method (RPM) workshop that evening and wouldn’t be home until 9:30 p.m. or later.

“We’re working this weekend too.”

I thanked them for the information and said I needed to run.

250228_465261366867616_1625140658_nThe visit to OMS went well. The facility is beautiful and borders the San Francisco Bay. It’s tiny and innovative, and even better, the Director asked all the right questions. I actually got nervous as I toured the airy, spacious classrooms. Katie wold either thrive in this setting or crash and burn. Could she make the transition? Buckle down and work after years of boredom and low expectations? I wasn’t sure. But if they had space, I wanted to try.

The Director didn’t say no, which was huge, but she didn’t say yes either. She wasn’t sure if she could pull it off in a week. Which made sense. She said she wanted to discuss the situation with staff and would get back to me.

My school district backed down a bit after that, but I knew they would continue to push for the school they preferred.

So now I am waiting. For OMS to decide of it can take Katie. For my school district to make a move. For someone, anyone, to blink.

While I wait, I debate with myself. Will the commute to Redwood City be too long? Will the indoor swing suffice? What will I do if OMS can’t take her? What then?


Yes, what then?

Until next time,

About Cynthia J. Patton

Writer, Editor, Advocate, Speaker, Special Needs Attorney, and Autism Mom. Also the Founder and Chairperson of Autism A to Z, a nonprofit providing resources and solutions for life on the spectrum.
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