Special Education/Transition to Middle School
I had felt that my son's school had done most things right in Elementary School for students with Autism Spectrum Disorders and was pleased that his Autism Consultant Teacher that he had from Kindergarten to 4th grade worked closely with the Middle School Autism Consultant Teacher and had her take over as the consultant for my son and 5 other students with ASD while they were in 5th grade. This consultant got to know the students and us and we have been pleased that our children will have a familiar face at Middle School, Now suddenly the school has decided impulsively to send the consultant that the students have had since Kindergarten to Middle School with them! Both of the consultants are dismayed by this decision. We feel that this is taking away a natural transition for our child. The Elementary Consultant has been working with younger students for 24 years and has no Middle School experience! She told us that this was not even discussed with the consultants before the decision was made. WE as parents feel that our children will not see this as a new stage in their development. How should we approach the school district about this? Thank you for your suggestions.
I really appreciate you writing to me and using this service. This is a great question--You feel that the school district has placed an Autism Consult teacher at the middle school unexpectedly, while another teacher was being groomed and prepared for the position.
I can tell how strongly you feel about this change. Not only does it seem that the parents were not involved, the elementary teacher herself seems to have communicated some discomfort to you. I was in the school system for 10 years before starting my consulting practice 15 years ago. So I understand from a staff and a parent perspective how upsetting staffing changes can be.
I wish I could simply say that there are things you can do to change the situation. But I don't think it's that simple. The district will likely say it can make any staffing changes it feels is needed. And who knows. Maybe there is something going on with the 5th grade teacher who was planning on going to middle school with the children.
Either way, to make an issue of it, I feel that I can provide three ideas. One is whether the elementary specialist/consult teacher is highly qualified to consult with the middle school age. SHe may not be directly teaching a subject, in which case, however, her teaching certification may not matter. You have the right to know your child's staff credentials. If she is not qualified, it's possible you could advocate for a change, but you may ruffle feathers in the process.
Two. Analyze the IEP. You told me she was great with the kids K to 4th grade. So maybe you could hold an IEP meeting defining the role of the consulting teacher. With a transition to middle school, making a plan of action about how she will directly teach your child, how she will provide support, how your child should access support as needed, etc. may help you feel empowered that the transition will support your child's independence. Is there anywhere in the IEP where her role and the issues of concern can be addressed? See the accommodations and services sections. Are her services defined in terms of time and location? Are the goals she is supporting listing her as a service provider? And maybe you could ask her to provide some parent counseling and training on the IEP so you are in great communication with her before the start of the year and especially in the first marking period. Maybe she and the 5th grade teacher could meet together with you, or meet together with the middle school staff to discuss ideas and frame her roles and responsibilities. Also, be sure the behavior intervention plan, attached to the IEP, spells out exactly what your child needs, and the consultant role.
Lastly. Any concern you have will need to be tied to your child's FAPE for you to effectively advocate for a change, I believe. A free appropriate public education is your and your child's entitlement. This means that your child makes meaningful progress, learns the curriculum, and generally the IEP is written in a way to benefit your child. So whatever changes you request should be tied to FAPE. "My child needs X in order to receive a FAPE because..."
Even though this link compares IEP and 504, it contains some relevant info. Here is a nice article about FAPE:
My gut is to put some things in place this summer, have open discussions, be sure the training at the start of the year does happen and is planned for the new staff, and be sure the IEP contains proper data collection methods, so that your child's progress monitoring is data-driven.
We offer an IEP Audit service, which may help you either improve or feel comforted about the IEP following your child to middle school.
I do hope this answer has given you some ideas about how to address your concerns. I truly hope the transition to middle school is exciting and positive for both you and your child! Thanks again for writing to me. I wish you all the best!