Friday, January 18, 2013

It's called FAPE and its Fair

Yesterday, in the news, and in light of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings, I was very happy to hear that President Obama has has called for a new initiative, which would need congressional approval, that would provide mental health first-aid training for teachers. It would also set up a referral system for children with mental health and behavioral problems. The president's plan centers largely on training teachers and others who work with children, teens and young adults to recognize mental illness as it's developing. There will also be a separate initiative that would bolster support for older teens and young adults — ages 16 to 25 — in need of help who can get lost in the tumble of college or a first job.

It is important to remember that the government and the teachers in your child's school district can only do so much. Perhaps training will help them to see patterns in development that may lead to tragedy. In my opinion, the people who really matter in this equation are the parents. As parents, we have more of an intuitive knowing of what's going on with our children, and we must stand up for their needs when their teachers won't or can't, or even refuse to help them.

Last year, when my then 15 year old son started down his path towards drug addiction, we were many years into the struggle with our school district attempting to get help for what we thought might be a learning disability. We started asking for help for him when he was in the second grade. The school put us off year after year, and said his problems were due to "poor nutrition, and that he needed brain boosting vitamins" or "He needed to sit up near the teachers desk so he could pay better attention to the lessons." Once in high school, and when he began to self medicate with drugs, it was easy for the school to say he had a drug problem, and he didn't qualify for aid.

We were certain that this was not the case, and that his problems had been in place for a very long time, and possibly since birth.

Here in the United States of America, each child is entitlted to have their special needs met. The Advocate you hire(d) can help explain what a FAPE, or Free Appropriate Public Education is, and exactly how it works. All qualified persons with disabilities within the jurisdiction of a school district are entitled to a Free Appropriate Public Education. The following is taken from a document published by the US Dept of Education, which you can also view by clicking here: U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights, Free Appropriate Public Education for Students With Disabilities: Requirements Under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Washington, D.C., 2010.
The ED Section 504 regulation defines a person with a disability as “any person who: (i) has a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities, (ii) has a record of such an impairment, or (iii) is regarded as having such an impairment.”
How Is A Free Education Defined?
Recipients operating federally funded programs must provide education and related services free of charge to students with disabilities and their parents or guardians. Provision of a free education is the provision of education and related services without cost to the person with a disability or his or her parents or guardians, except for fees equally imposed on nondisabled persons or their parents or guardians.If a recipient is unable to provide a free appropriate public education itself, the recipient may place a person with a disability in, or refer such person to, a program other than the one it operates.
Getting the necessary help for a child's disability is something that parents can achieve, and it is possible without spending buckets of money. Talk to a special education attorney, and find out what your rights are. If you don't know where to start, visit your state's Learning & Disabilities Association, who will likely have a referral system. Alternately, the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA) can also give you guidance. Go online and do some investigating. You can help your child. 

Time is of the essence, so go and do it NOW. Before something really bad happens. And if the Really Bad has already happened, as it did in our case, you can still get help. We finally learned our son was having microscopic brain seizures, which were caused by medication given in utero. So no amount of brain boosting vitamins or sitting near the teachers desk could have helped him do better in school. When the bottom fell out of our world, FAPE is what saved us, and helped us get the help for our son that he desperately needed.

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