Jeanette Prather knew she faced an uphill battle getting help in school when her son was diagnosed with ADHD. This series documents her struggles and the help she received, and yes, it has a happy ending. You can read part 1 here and part 2 here.
Short of forfeiting or strongly amending Luke’s Individualized Education Plan plan, my search was not being met with much success. He was on the waitlist of every charter school in the area, with principals and directors of programs expressing empathy towards our situation but also explaining that their hands are tied. “There are too many kids in this district with IEPs now. We just don’t have the resources to accommodate anymore,” they would regretfully tell me.
Thank goodness that one of the principals of an alternative program, Ocean Alternative, went out of her way to help me. She spent an extended period of time on the phone with me mid-summer while I was on a shopping trip in Target. “I’m sorry that we can’t help you, but I do think there’s some sort of independent studies program offered through the SVUSD. Don’t you and your family live in Scotts Valley?” She asked. “Yes!” I replied.
She was at her computer so she told me she would look up the program and let me know if it’s still offered. When she confirmed that it was, the first thing I did when I got home was pop my computer open and start the research.
At this point, it was July 2022 and time was not on my side. I reached out to the SVUSD immediately and was met with prompt responses.
HOW SVUSD IS SUPPORTING LUKE’S NEEDS
Luke attended the in-person meeting with me, the Director of Curriculum, Instruction & Assessment, Alexandra Friel, and the Director of Special Education, Amy Churchill. After I riddled off the past six years of struggle that I’ve witnessed and experienced as well, they told me about the independent studies program. None of us were certain that we could pull off an educational model that would support Luke’s pretty extensive IEP requirements while in some sort of independent studies program, but they understood that I was a “hard no” on putting Luke in full-time, mainstream middle school. I didn’t feel strong-armed like I had in previous meetings, and in fact, felt like they were putting Luke and his needs first. Especially Churchill, who emphasized the importance of helping Luke succeed in whatever model that looked like.
“Our top priority is that whatever model we come up with, supports Luke’s needs as best as possible,” said Churchill.
After Churchill and Luke’s former IEP team connected for his transitional IEP meeting, almost less than two weeks before the start of school, I heard word that his former IEP team didn’t think he would do too well in some version of an independent studies model. Needless to say, I was freaking out a bit.
When the time came for a final meeting with Churchill to go over her proposal for this year, I was nervous that they were going to pull the plug on the entire thing and he would end up at his default neighborhood school full-time, Scotts Valley Middle School. Not to say there is anything wrong with that middle school, but a full-time mainstream program in any form had failed us on multiple levels in the past.
That last meeting was pleasant, however. My husband and I sat at our dining room table on a zoom with Churchill waiting for the inevitable news of Luke not making it into the independent studies program, only to find that Churchill was able to draft a sort of hybrid model for Luke that provided in-person services at SVMS that meets the number of hours he’s allotted in his IEP, as well as participate in the independent studies program. It was the best of both worlds!
In just a little over a month into this new schedule we had developed our flow. The SVUSD has worked tirelessly to help accommodate Luke so that he’s no longer the kid falling through the cracks. A hybrid model is not something offered to the masses, but they dove into a very personalized education approach for us, which is exactly what Luke needs.
This overt accommodation of Luke’s needs by the SVUSD may be an indirect influence of a current California lawsuit ruled winter of 2021 that lifted some restrictions placed on students with special needs not having access to independent studies nor in-person educational support.
According to EdSource.org, Assembly Bill 130 was past July 2021 that required California schools to offer in-person classes and services to all students except the few who qualified for independent studies.
“Some students in special education — such as those with severe cognitive or developmental disabilities that prevent them from wearing masks, or students who were especially vulnerable to Covid — could not attend in-person school for health reasons, but were shut out of independent study because it wasn’t specified in their individualized education programs,” wrote a November 5, 2021 article titled, “California Students with Disabilities Can Enroll in Independent Study, Judge Rules” by Carolyn Jones. “As a result, those students have been at home, receiving little if any formal education.”
While this situation didn’t apply to my family, the result and subsequent fall-out of the ruling has provided Luke many more options that were not available to him in the past. The SVUSD does not offer this hybrid model to every child, but they have been very clear that they will do their best to accommodate and make arrangements per child, per situation. And the fact that they took so much time trying to curate the best educational fit for Luke, was refreshing.
He works with his independent studies teacher and me in the morning doing math, science and social studies, which he happily completes each morning. His sense of accomplishment and self-confidence has increased exponentially because of this. Then midday, he attends his in-person Resource Specialist Program class and Physical Education at SVMS.
Every 30 days we have a zoom check-in to make sure that things are still working out well for him after wrapping the first one at the beginning of September. The feedback from Luke has been like night and day compared to the O.G. full-time in-person model of mainstream classroom education. He says he actually enjoys school now (a first!) and walks with a little pep in his step.
“I felt like I was trapped at my old school, and it was not that fun because we had to do a lot, a lot of work,” said Luke. “How I feel about my independent studies and in-person school situation is great. It’s a good mix for me and I feel successful now. I actually understand what I’m learning!”
Do you have stories about how to handle special needs and special abilities students? Have you found successful alternatives you can share? Please write to [email protected]