One thing is certain: by the time Kaitlyn starts kindergarten next month, she will be one of the most evaluated/observed/tested children in the school district. In our seemingly endless attempt at getting her placed in the best possible learning environment, we are faced with another round of observation/evaluation.
I’ve written numerous times about our ongoing battle with the school district, including our partial win in getting Kaitlyn to a school where we feel she will be the most successful. I’ve written about the “experts” at the school district having to do their observation (here), and how I felt that observation went (here). Since her observation by the school district in late May, we have patiently been waiting for our call to come review the results.
Finally last week, I got a phone call from the screening office. I let myself think that we were finally moving toward a conclusion, and I was wrong. Margo, the nice woman that called me, informed me that Kaitlyn required even more in-depth observation before they could make a determination. Luckily for us, they referred us to people who will have more of clue of what they are doing; we were referred to the Multidisciplinary Center at FSU. Once we finally agreed on an observation date (tomorrow), I was told that Amber and I would be receiving in the mail a pre-screening form to fill out about Kaitlyn. The form was similar to the one we filled out before our initial diagnosis, and our answers did not change. One part of the form struck both Amber and I as somewhat comical, and that was the back page that listed 300 or so words that children Kaitlyn’s age should be able to say spontaneously (for the most part); it asked that we circle the ones she knew and could recite, and left 5 blanks for any additional words. I was really not in the mood to circle the words individually, so I went ahead and circled the whole page…I hope they get the message that she has quite the expansive vocabulary.
Anyway, tomorrow is round three of observation/testing for Kaitlyn in the last few months (her initial diagnosis and the “experts” being the other two). I am not expecting any sort of groundbreaking news to come from tomorrow’s testing, at least nothing more than was in our original diagnosis back in February. My biggest fear about the testing is that they will go over the results with us and tell us that Kaitlyn will be in third grade next month. In other words, they are not going to tell us anything we don’t already know, and will hopefully affirm our original assertion that she does in fact require additional services. I think that the school district is wasting my time in an effort to get out of having to put her on an IEP or 504 plan and then be required to provide transportation for Kaitlyn to school. Maybe I am wrong about that, but in my dealings with them so far, nothing leads me to believe that I am too far off base.
Yesterday was a strange day news-wise. The news started off bad when I checked the mail during lunch. We received some mail from the CARD center at FSU, so I eagerly opened it, thinking it was a schedule of upcoming events, etc. Boy, was I wrong. The letter, from the Executive Director, outlined that their budget for the upcoming year had been slashed by 20.2%. Wow.
What this means is that the CARD centers, centers that help families like us start the process of receiving an evaluation, and offer continuing services through a variety of educational programs, will have to significantly reduce the services that are offered. This is a tremendous blow to individuals with autism and their families. A significant reason for the reduced funding is Florida’s governor’s disdain for people with disabilities. He has made plenty of efforts to reduce or elminate funding to pretty much anything that has to do with disabilites (and also education). The 20.2% budget decrease is just another example of how little he cares for those with disabilites, and I suspect he even knows that autism is a disability. Because of the tremendous people at CARD, I suspect the budget reduction will have very little impact on those that come there for services. Sure, some of the educational stuff will be self-paced online sessions, but losing the interaction with the staff by those receiving services will hurt. We have had nothing but positive experiences with CARD, from Kaitlyn’s initial evaluation to them helping translate some of the clinical diagnosis into English for us. They will still rely heavily on students that are studying psychology to come there and help out, and that aspect won’t be touched by any budget reductions.
There was, however, a bit of good news yesterday as well. Given the governor’s disdain for both people with disabilities and education, I held out little hope that he would sign HB 1329 into law, even though it cleared both chambers during the legislative session this year. HB 1329 expands eligibilty for a McKay Scholarship for students in Florida from requiring an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) only to allowing students on a 504 plan to be eligible as well. What this means is that a a student will no longer have to be receiving services from a school district to be eligible for a McKay Scholarship to attend a school that can serve them better. Previously, a student was only eligible if they had an IEP in place. There are a significant number of students on a 504 plan in Florida that had been left out. I am excited by this because it will open up more opportunities for more students in our state.
Tomorrow is a big day for Kaitlyn. We will be up bright and early so that she can be evaluated/observed by the people at the school district. While we have already achieved part of our desired goal, there are still some obstacles that need to be overcome.
Kaitlyn will be tested in three areas tomorrow, with each test scheduled to last about an hour. At least that is what they block out for most children. When we received confirmation of the observation, the person I spoke with told me that I could plan on it taking a little longer because Kaitlyn’s clinical diagnosis shows her to be quite complex. I guess that is a good thing.
I’m not sure quite how long it will be before we get the results, and how long it will be before it is determined whether or not she is eligible for ESE services next year. My first instinct is that they will study the results and agree with what I have been trying to tell them all along, that she will benefit from receiving additional services and will excel in a small, structured classroom setting. But then there is the realist in me that remembers that we are dealing with a segment of the population that makes their own rules, regardless of federal laws, and has proven themselves to be both difficult and incompetent on several occasions. When I remember that, I don’t get my hopes up at all.
As it stands now, we have made tremendous progess in our battle with the school district, but there is still more to be done. No matter what they determine, I will be sure to be a thorn in their side because of what are unjust and unfair policies. I do not plan on going away if we are able to successfully convince them that they dropped the ball big time. I am also hopeful, but not optimistic, that the governor of Florida will sign into law HB 1329 that will open the door to McKay Scholarships to students on a 504 plan (the current scholarship rules require an IEP, which is more complex to have put into place).