Sunday, January 20, 2013

Initial Placement

            “Our testing shows that your daughter has a disability and is in need of additional services.”  The school psychologist turned to the last page of her report.  “Do you have any questions?”

            I looked to my right at Amy’s mother, Mrs. Sanderson.  She appeared bewildered and began slowly turning the pages of the report backwards staring at the tables of data.  Mr. Sanderson sat next to his wife, but he was leaning back in his chair, his arms folded tightly in front of him.  The muscles in his jaw tightened, but he didn’t say anything. 

            I’ve been reading these reports for 25 years and I still think they’re confusing.  How do we expect parents to absorb it all in 30 minutes?

            The room was quiet and we waited as Mrs. Sanderson turned to the last page again.  It contained several blank lines.  At the end of each line it read “Agree / Disagree.”

            “We need to complete this last page,” the psych said holding up her copy of the report.  “If you agree with our findings, sign your name here and circle that you agree.  If you don’t agree with the findings, sign you name and circle that you disagree.” 

            The school psych picked up her pen and signed her name on the first line, circled “Agree,” and handed the page to the principal sitting to her left at the end of the table.  The principal signed, circled “Agree,” and then handed it to Mrs. Sanderson.  Mrs. Sanderson took the page, but made no move to sign.  We all waited quietly again.  Finally, Mr. Sanderson unfolded his arms, leaned forward, and took the document from his wife.  I watched as his jaw tightened again.  He stared at the pages as though a foul stench was emanating from them.

            Out of the corner of my eye, I saw both the school psych and principal looking at me.

            My turn to speak.

            “Mr. and Mrs. Sanderson, let me explain what your signature means on this,” I said leaning forward.  “You’re not giving permission for any change whatsoever in Amy’s school day. Our tests show that Amy is struggling with reading comprehension and math.  We believe she’s struggling because she has a learning disability.  Agreement on this document would make Amy eligible to get some extra services.”

            “Special Ed services,” Mr. Sanderson snapped.  “You want to put her in special ed.”

            I paused a minute.  No sense playing around with words.

            “Yes, we are talking about special education services,” I said.  “I have a draft of an individual  program outlining some additional services we can give Amy to help with her reading and math.”

            “What if I don’t like your services?”

            “If, after I present the program, you don’t want it, then you shouldn’t sign the document that I’ll be giving you that says you give permission for Amy to get the services.”   

            “Well what’s this document then?” Mr. Sanderson said shaking the half-filled signature page. 

            The school psychologist took over again.  “This document is saying whether or not you agree that Amy has a learning disability and needs additional help in school.  Before we discuss an individual program for Amy, we need to know if, based on the information we’ve given you, you and Mrs. Sanderson also believe Amy has a learning disability and needs extra help.   

            Mr. Sanderson's jaw and fist were clinched now.

            “Jack,” Mrs. Sanderson said softly, “Amy’s having a terrible time in school.  She needs help.”  Mrs. Sanderson picked up the pen on the table next to her. 

            Mr. Sanderson took a deep breath in and slowly blew it out.  “I know,” he said handing the document back to his wife.  “I know she does.”


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