As an employee in private and public schools, I have attended many child study team meets. Too many to count, actually. I always looked forward to walking through the door, taking a seat at the table, laying out my data, and planning supports that I feel would be beneficial for a student.
When I became an administrator, the tension grew. I was not only there to advocate for the student, but had to balance the district’s responsibilities, as well. It was equivalent to having to feed 5 children a well-balanced meal and only having $3 to do so. When I was able to pull off the miracle, I was on top of the world!
To be honest, I did not look forward to all meetings with the same vigor because I knew that I would have to make hard decisions that would impact the life of a child. I knew that the parents would be worried and scared, and I didn’t always have the perfect answer. In fact, nothing ever seemed to work perfectly. At best, I was able to walk away knowing that the child would benefit from the services we agreed upon and that they would be successful in life after leaving our district. I often left meetings with a heavy heart or pure exhaustion.
These experiences did not prepare me for the ball of nerves that would overcome me the minute my child started the special education process. I am lucky to live in a district that loves children and does their very best to ensure that every one of them feels loved and is growing academically. The case manager is a mother, herself and she deeply cares about her job and wants to do what is right for my daughter. For that, I will be eternally grateful. This knowledge, however, did not stop me from frantically reading and rereading every evaluation that I could get my hands on. It did not stop me from losing sleep the night before the meeting and the utter feeling of losing control. I was a mess. My first time on the opposite side of the table was a true learning experience that I will never forget.
The reality is that I was able to understand the reports that were presented. I had the education and experience to identify a variety of instructional resources and ask the right questions. My understanding of special education law helped me to request meaningful, research-driven interventions and accommodations.
I thought that once I left the meeting I would feel better. Everything that needed to be addressed was discussed and the child study team and I were on the same page. However, I still felt sick to my stomach. I wasn’t sleeping and was still worried about my child. I will always worry about my child’s education and future. That is a reality for all parents.
I did realize that I must share my knowledge of special education with more parents. I went into the meeting understanding what was going to happen. Many parents do not have that luxury. Many parents are confused, scared, and don’t know where to begin when asking for help. They attend the meetings asking little, if any, questions and feel as though they are not part of the team.
I also wanted to share the perspectives of the people on the child study team. Tension rises easily in meetings where people are planning the future of a child and do not stop to consider why emotions or statements are made. My hope is that through this blog, educators, administrators, parents, and specialist can build empathy and patience for one another. I was once told, “No one every wakes up with the intention of harming a child”. That simple statement is very important to remember. Everyone must work in collaboration to develop a plan that will meet the individual needs of every child. With more information and kindness, the process can be much easier.
Please feel free to share your experiences and questions at any time. Be respectful of each other and let’s create an environment of growth and compassion.