This is my second post regarding the process I went through in order to get Oliver and Owen placed within the Toronto District School Board (TDSB). The first post can be found here and is an outline of the services we accessed and steps taken up to and including school registration. This next step would be a big one – the SEPRC meeting. A SEPRC is a Special Education Program Placement and Review Committee and it appears to be what the TDSB is using instead of an IPRC, to determine where to place exceptional children who are just starting school. The meeting was convened at another school and in addition to me, the following people were in attendance:
- The principal of the school the meeting was held in
- The boys' home school principal
- The boys' supervising therapist from their IBI program (at my request)
- Board liaison
- Board educational psychologist
Here's an outline of my experience, together with my tips for surviving it. I think these tips are relevant for dealing with all school and school board personnel whether it's a SEPRC, IPRC or IEP meeting.
Tip #1: Prepare in advance a list of your child's strengths and challenges
At the SEPRC we were given a total time allotment of 20 minutes per child (I ended up using 25). This isn't much time, so you need to walk in with a clear, concise list of the strengths and challenges of your child that are relevant to determining where they should be placed.
Tip #2: Be polite and demonstrate that you understand the pressures these people are under
There's a photo collage meme that shows different people's perspectives on what special needs parents look like. In this meme, the school district supposedly sees all special needs parents as versions of Sarah Connor from The Terminator. Bear with me because I'm going to discuss the importance of firmness next but I'd like to share first how unhelpful I find the 'warrior' image to be when used in this context. Yes, we often have to fight for our children, but we need to do it in ways that are smart and we need to recruit as many allies to our cause as possible.
At an advocacy workshop I attended we were told about a study that sought to determine the most important factor in successful educational outcomes for exceptional students. Where the child lived or their socio-economic background didn't matter; the biggest predictor of success was whether or not the child had a person advocating on their behalf and the more advocates, the better the outcome.
The boys' supervising therapist and their home school Principal both attended the SEPRC with me. I had by this time met the Principal three times and corresponded with her frequently via phone and email. I went into that meeting with two firm allies who understood the boys' needs. My intent was to come out of the SEPRC with more allies than I went in with. I find the following recruitment techniques to be effective:
Tip #3: Stay calm but be FIRM when they say something you disagree with
During the meeting, the Board liaison made two statements that I strongly objected to. I immediately voiced those objections:
Tip #4: Be clear with respect to the action you will undertake in response to negative outcomes
The above statements from the board liaison caused me a lot of anxiety regarding the SEPRC's outcome but I had made clear in the meeting what I would do in the event that placement offers were made which did not meet my sons' needs. I knew I had recourse and they knew I would not lie down and accept an offer I found unacceptable.
Tip #5: Pick your battles
As mentioned in my first post, the closure of primary diagnostic classrooms seems to have thrown everyone into a state of confusion. The board psychologist was fixated on how to determine the boys' level of cognitive development. She suggested that Owen's Bayley assessment (conducted when he was 3 years old) might be useful in that regard. I didn't understand why she thought that a developmental assessment that was 3 years old would be any use in determining Owen's current cognitive level, however, I agreed to get a copy of the report from Owen's pediatrician. You may think the people you are talking to are clueless, but if doing what they're requesting does no harm then there's no sense in making a big deal about it.
The meeting's over and after all that you probably need a drink and it's hot here so I'm making a pitcher of margarita on the rocks we can share while we discuss next steps.
Tip #4: Follow up
Always follow up after meetings to ensure things are moving forward in a timely manner. In this case, the fact I had an ally in our home school Principal worked hugely in my favour. She called the Board nearly every day, reiterating key points and emailing me updates. She didn't understand why it took so long to offer the boys a place – it turned out that the Board liaison was working to ensure that the boys were both placed in the same program.
Tip #5: Visit the school and classroom you are being offered. Take your home school Principal with you if possible.
I took the Principal with me because by that time I trusted her opinion and she had seen more TDSB schools and programs than I had so I thought her input would be useful – she confirmed my initial impression that the placement we were offered would be a great fit for the boys.
How do you assess whether you think the placement will be a good fit?
The things that appealed to me about the school were:
In terms of the program, I liked that:
I'm looking forward to September. I know our journey with the TDSB has only just started and it's a long road ahead, but the initial outcome has been better than I expected. I am, as the saying goes, cautiously optimistic.