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Seeking Insurance: Autism and Education

Posted Mar 01 2011 12:00am

Our_miss_brooks By Cathy Jameson

I don’t recall where I read this or if I overheard it. I’ve managed a few Google searches to no avail on the topic, but I thought I heard that public school districts have access to insurance money for potential special education due process (lawsuit) issues. Fancy that. In case a school district is guilty of not complying with federal or state laws, insurance protection is available to cover them for their “oversight”. 

If I am wrong, I do apologize for getting you stirred up.  If I am right though, I want to know this: is an individual special education student insurance fund available to parents and caregivers? Who knows when one might have to make a complaint to their state board of education or worse, file a lawsuit against Goliath, I mean a school district.  Isn’t it better to be assured that the time, funds and energy it will take to protect a child’s special education is readily available to that child and his education?

The autism and special education community is no stranger to news of children being hurt, maimed and even killed while under a school district employees’ watch.  In light of the increase in stories I read last year about that, insurance to protect special education students is a no-brainer. Maybe it’s because of “better reporting” in mainstream media that this insurance makes sense to me.  Just when I think I’ve gone a week without reading a horror story, I read a headline like “Student forgotten on bus, Dies” or “Allegations of abuse for district, Again” or “Bus monitor abuses little girl, Pleads not guilty.”

I thought our children were entitled to a free appropriate public education provided by individuals who want to work and care for children, not come close to scaring, belittling and harming them.  It’s not the physical abuse being reported but also emotional abuse that will take just as many years to heal. Once happy children now become introverts who cower at the sight of school buildings. They fear certain school staff because of their injuries. That, as well as their emotional trauma, will certainly not make for a productive learning environment.  If children are fending off adults and are left with bruises, broken bones, handprints and poor egos as souvenirs maybe therapy to combat the abuse and post traumatic stress should be ordered for the Individualized Education Plan (IEP)!

In my search to understand more about the news of special education abuse in schools, I came across a website that I hoped would help me. Imagine my shock the further down the webpage I read.  This page popped up after my Google search of “special education and insurance”: (HERE)  At first glance I thought I should check this out even though it’s marketed toward a school district. My son currently requires extra academic assistance and I always like to stay familiar with current school news.  I didn’t read too far before the hairs on the back of my neck stood up.

“Created expressly for non-special ed teachers, it’s content-rich, wonderfully convenient, and exceptionally affordable. It will help you:

  • Educate your teachers.
  • Improve IDEA compliance.
  • Protect your school and district.
  • Better serve the needs of special ed students and their families.”

Sure this product is intended for school staff, but look where the student comes into play:  dead last.  It’s whimsically wonderful and it will help (I couldn’t help but think, “Help you, the district against me, the parent”).

My anger pushed me to read further. Eight mighty fine topics on special education law are listed for a school-based employee on that website. I’ve heard of many of the topics since I do read as much as I can, but sub-groups in Seminar #7 under “Working with the district insurance carrier” struck a chord.

Where is my son’s special education insurance carrier? Can I too be offered the chance to pay a monthly fee that is affordable that will assure my child the education and safety he deserves is delivered by his teachers and therapists? I’m still doing Google searches to find such insurance coverage.  So far, I have found nothing for my son that compares to what districts are entitled to with their insurance plan.

If I could share my eight super convenient comprehensive topics of special education themes with other parents, I’d want to share these topics with you:

Topic # 1 Know the law.  It may be difficult for some to wrap their heads around the legal jargon of IDEA and NCLB (Individual with Disabilities Education Act and No Child Left Behind) so start reading now.  Both documents, as well as information about the 504 Plan (which is available to students requiring accommodations and modifications while in school), can be found on the internet. You can and should find books written with parents in mind about these three topics. If you’re not sure which titles to pick, your local community or college library should be able to assist you in finding the books. Seek out a local parent support center who presents workshops about IDEA, IEPs and your child’s rights. Attend conferences and ask questions on how your child’s IEP is created from the mandates in the law.  Make sure what you want, and what your child needs, is written in the IEP because the IEP is a legally binding contract.

Topic # 2  Evaluate your local school district before your child starts school. Request a tour of the classroom(s) or set up an interview with the teaching staff.  You know your child best so take this time to share your expectations and helpful information about your child’s individual needs.  Meet your child’s school team and learn about the program(s) they offer. This will hopefully open the lines of communication for those teachers and therapists who will interact with your child.  It will also give you a sneak peek at what you might expect as far as the learning environment, the professionalism of the staff and how other children are being taught and treated at school.

Topic # 3 You and your child have rights. The key to your child’s education is a solid IEP that tailors to your child’s unique needs. Be the captain of the IEP team and learn how to contribute to the meetings. When preparing for these meetings learn the wording of goals, benchmarks and objectives before the actual IEP meeting starts. You can do this when you request in advance documentation that supports any new progress or any changes to current goals. Measurable, data-driven goals are a must.  Highly qualified and trained staff to deliver those measurable data-driven goals are also a must for your child.  Share parental input that will assist your child’s school team and bring a picture of your child to the IEP meeting. That will remind everyone who it is they are working with and for.

Topic # 4 Discipline yourself to continue to read and research. Once a solid IEP is in place, your child should be working toward mastery of the goals the IEP team created.  You’ll need to stay up-to-date with the daily, weekly, quarterly and yearly progress monitoring as well as know what is and is not working for your child.  Be mindful that the IEP is a constantly-changing document according to your child’s needs.  Being informed and aware of what your child’s strengths and weaknesses are will guide you in what you’ll need to research for future IEP discussions.

Topic # 5 Transitions from early intervention through college are important milestones that bring extra preparation.  You may not know everything about the law in one sitting, but over time you will most likely read or be presented with many topics on special education.  Remember that books, websites and articles are readily available (and updated as the laws change) for you to reference. Transitions in your attitude and emotions may accompany these developmental transitions as well. These attitudes and emotions might depend on how appropriate your child’s education is, how meaningful schooling is for your child, how professional the IEP team is toward you and your child’s needs and how you individually manage the paperwork, filing, conferencing and supervising of your child’s education.

Topic # 6 Private time is a must! Not just for special needs parents but for all parents. Take time to sit down amidst all the special education information that will trail home with your child. Look around that pile and know that the time it takes to understand and respond to the notes and evaluations is important, but so are you. It’s critical to take care of yourself even if your plate is very full. If you are facing a school battle or are blessed with having a caring IEP team, your input is always necessary. Try to schedule quiet time to reflect on the past to make a better future for your role as captain of your child’s IEP team.

Topic # 7 Assure that your child is receiving the free and appropriate public education he is entitled. Keep all documents, emails, phone calls and other school-to-home and home-to-school communications stored. File all papers you receive from the school and the school staff in a binder.  If you are responding to any requests or reports date stamp the original copy. Having a paper trail of your child’s educational records is key in organizing the many documents that will accompany the meetings, parent teacher conferences and conversations you will have.

Bonus Topic # 8 Pat yourself on the back for finding the time and emotion to navigate the special education world. New topics and even more vocabulary will be thrown at you in several conversations during your child’s school career. When you have questions or concerns, write them down before you approach school staff and look for resources to answer them. Do not be afraid to keep asking questions if you do not get the answers you need. Audio record your IEP meetings so you can listen to them in a more comfortable and less stressful setting. You might have good years and bad years when you reflect on your child’s education. You might witness good teachers and bad school staff. Take notes along the way as you journey with your child because if you’re ever able to share your past with a new parent who has just walked into the special education system, your input must might assist that families’ future. 

[Of course I’ve missed some topics.  I welcome input from other successful parents and professionals who have walked the halls of the schools servicing all ages and abilities. I haven’t learned everything there is to learn nor am I a trained legal expert. I am a parent who continuously pushes myself to keep reading, observing and learning in order to make my own child’s schooling successful.]

I started writing this with such a big chip on my shoulder.  Half way through the post, I stopped being angry, and I focused on what could help another parent like me.  Instead of being negative and offering eight topics dripping with sarcasm as I had planned, I realized that as much as I wanted to attack the broken school systems that do exist, being destructive toward such an important topic as special education would cause more negativity. I’ve already felt enough of that negativity and sadness reading about children who have been mistreated in school settings.

Children already suffered at the hands of the adults who should be better trained. My heart aches for those children who didn’t get what they rightfully deserved. Many of us did not expect or ask for the disabilities our children have. Special education school staff did get to choose their job and that was to help our kids. In order to find the assistance, secure the needs and protect the rights our children deserve, it will take changes in attitudes, improvements made for an already overburdened school system and updated resources to steer a course yet to be mapped for the needs of special education students. 

Hopefully I’ve started a “you are here” dot on your special education map. The only insurance I have that my child receives the education he deserves is from the thorough reading and planning I do. Practicing my pain in the ass question asking skills I’ve acquired over the years helps as well. I am still on an info-seeking ride, but I feel that I am helping plot the course for my son’s school needs with one reachable goal at a time. 

Cathy  Jameson is a Contributing Editor for Age of Autism.


Posted by Age of Autism at March 13, 2011 at 5:45 AM in Cathy Jameson Permalink

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