Least Restrictive Environment
Over the weekend I started reading a book all about IEP’s and the laws that govern them. I also read some court cases concerning Deaf/HH kids in California Public Schools. My brother is a lawyer, but he practices advocacy for the Oakland Homeless population and his girlfriend is studying Law at Harvard, her practice is working with inmates, especially Juvenile offenders. Karen, my brother’s girlfriend has the most experience with laws concerning disabilities. They have forwarded me some cases to read about Deaf Kids in public School and their moms trying to get services like interpreters for their kids. Danny and Karen understand the struggle Fiona will be going through as she gets older.
This piggy backs on my conversation with the Deaf/HH advocacy lawyer last week. This person is a soldier for equal rights of special education recipients.
When I woke up this morning, I realized that the reason it feels like I’m hitting my head against a wall is because I really am. I thought Least Restrictive Environment meant the environment Fiona would be able to understand everything that was being taught and have a good chance at understanding what the other kids were saying. But that’s not what LRE means, it only means that Fiona’s mainstreamed, which is part of LRE, as opposed to being in a class separated from typically developed kids. LRE means that she can function “good enough”, that she hears or understands most of what’s being said and that she can pass her classes. Fiona gets just enough to function in a mainstream classroom.
I thought Least Restrictive Environment meant she had exactly what she needed to perform optimally. The classroom Fiona is in currently is an optimal setting for her. It’s a small class size, it’s taught by a teacher of the Deaf/HH, everything that’s said in the classroom Fiona has time to confirm she understands or ask the information to be repeated, even with her peers.
Yesterday our family went on a hike around Bon Tempe lake. It was the longest hike yet for our kids. We were sitting on a log and Alan said look at the Blue Heron. Fiona was right next to Alan, it was super quiet, and Fiona said “What”. Alan’s face was turned slightly from Fiona. That’s all. Just a slight turn. I tried to explain what Alan said but I had a bit of food in my mouth. Fiona didn’t understand. I had to finish chewing to explain. This happens ALL the time. I am assuming even when the teacher or another student will be using the FM system this will be the case. The slightest turn of the head for example, or last night at story time I said something, and I was laughing a bit, Fiona couldn’t understand me.
I thought LRE in a classroom would take these limitations my daughter has into consideration and try to accommodate her needs. But now I know this is not the case.
I truly believe the schools expert is inline with my thinking. I feel she is an advocate that has been working for the rights of the Deaf/HH community just as long as the Advocate Lawyer I spoke with. I believe her initial recommendations were truly trying to create a better than LRE that the law requires. The expert knows the limitations in understanding what people are saying Fiona has. The expert knows that the only way to teach LSL is in a super quiet environment. But the expert was asking for accommodations that are possibly above what is normally given as services in a special ed students IEP.
My goal from the start was to get Fiona set up to have the best education she could get, on par with her bionic hearing brother Jack. And as I’ve said, I know how to do that, I know what conditions Fiona can hear and understand in and what conditions she can’t. The expert knows this, and maybe even some on the IEP team know some of this.
In some ways I wish I would have been more familiar with LRE, IDEA, and the laws around IEP’s before I started this process. I wish I would have known the bar was set low for my daughter, that “being fine” and passing her classes was the goal. Not creating a perfect learning environment for Fiona. How could I even expect that for one little girl? The stress, insomnia, depression, this whole process has caused really sucked. But maybe I had to go through this one way or another. Maybe the reality of life and the hard life Fiona is going to live had to be learned. I think even though, like I said this process totally sucked, good things have happened. My family is closer than ever. My husband is on my side about living local, and he’s going to take a sign language class in the Fall!
So, at the end of all of this, all these ideas, all of this research, I understand why I never feel aligned with my IEP team, or the school district. We are at different ends of the spectrum. The IEP team, the Special Education Department are doing their job and I’m doing mine, just as we should be.
It is my job to make sure Fiona can reach her full potential, just like any parent.