Welcome to IEP Season. What’s Under That Slide?

My daughter was late getting home yesterday because her school bus was in a minor accident. There are no more than a half-dozen special needs students who ride this bus, and there was a substitute driver. Apparently one of the kids slapped the driver, causing the bus to drive off the road. There were no injuries, but enough damage to the bus that a replacement was needed.

I’m just happy to have heard about it. They don’t always contact us when her bus is going to be late getting home. More than once they have had to pull over to safely deal with behavior issues, and I never feel completely sure what’s going on. Or how qualified the driver and aids are in handling these situations.

In the past, her school has been quick to notify us of any incident taking place during the school day. At least, as far as I know. Do I know? I have received phone calls over simple bumps and bruises; or an occasional assault from another student. And of course we all remember the time she managed to escape the school entirely.

(Reading all that makes me feel more than a little nervous.) 

Teghan loves going to school. Her class is an all-autism room where she has a teacher, and a one-on-one aid. This week we will have our annual IEP meeting, and she has been making regular progress in all areas. We never have to fight for services, or wonder if her placement will change. But while I gather my thoughts about what developmental and behavioral goals we want to work toward over the next year, I am also wondering how her school can better meet her safety needs.

In September, one of her classmates was discovered chewing on two used condoms under the slide on the playground.

Think about that.

None of us are surprised that a student chose to chew on used condoms found under the slide, right? We already understand that part. Immediately accepting that as the believable part of the story is one of those things that bonds us as autism parents. But it was a real scandal, because it was not reported to the nurse or the parents of the child for two days. When the nurse found out, she of course considered the possible health risks. And so a nine year old went for an HIV test, and a few staff changes were made.

Not that we were informed of this. We learned about it in the newspaper.

Was there a meeting we missed? Maybe. A letter would have been nice. For a while the principal took over the class. I only know because when Teghan fell on the playground, the principal called me directly. But she sure didn’t call me directly about the new “snacks” that were lurking around the playground equipment.

At parent/teacher conferences we learned that Teghan’s daily routine had changed. The good news is that we like the changes, and Teghan appears to be thriving…but they know Teghan can’t tell us any of this. It’s a small class. Couldn’t they have requested a meeting before the changes? You know, to keep us informed and make sure we weren’t freaking out about all the other stuff we may or may not have heard on the news?

And a few of you, I know your heads are exploding. It makes me wonder: Am I just too laid back about things? Well, probably. The parents of the condom-chewing student went to reporters. Would I have went to reporters? I guess not, because my daughter is supposed to have a one-on-one aid watching her at all times, and she managed to wander right off of school property. I was interested in knowing what the school was going to do to make sure it couldn’t happen again, but I did not call the press or demand anyone lose their job.

So what do we do with all of this? What changes can we reasonably expect going forward, and how can we use our upcoming IEP meeting to get what we want? I know her behaviors. I know her strengths and weaknesses. I know what to ask for when it comes to developmental needs. But sometimes I wonder what I am missing when it comes to her safety.

What else might happen that we haven’t prepared for? What questions aren’t we asking? I never would have thought to ask for details on just how thoroughly the janitorial staff inspects the playground each morning. Truthfully, we can never prepare. But it is IEP season, and this is our week. So it’s what’s on my mind this month.


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