It happens every year like clockwork — the official notice, followed by 20-plus pages of scientific language and acronyms, and a meeting with as many as 10 teachers, therapists and administrators that can last more than three hours over multiple days.
All this for one person. And with all that information, with all those people, the Columbia School District won’t allow us to audio record the meeting so we won’t miss details.
My daughter has Down syndrome, which means she has difficulty understanding basic concepts, concepts that you or I would find almost innate.
So every year, my husband and I meet with a team of dedicated educators and therapists to map out our daughter’s next 12 months.
We go over everything — will she learn to tie her shoes? What math skills will challenge her? How much time will she have to interact with peers?
When will she see her speech therapist? What type of sentences will she learn to write? Is she learning how to type? Does she need extra time between classes to travel or use the restroom?
We do this because we want what every parent wants — for her to have a regular life. We want her to have a job, pay her taxes, enjoy a rich social life, laugh, love and learn every day.
Our “IEP,” or individual educational plan meetings, are scheduled at the end of the day. They are exhausting, everyone is tired and no official recording is kept of the meeting.
Why? Because the school district won’t allow it.
Missouri state law allows one person to record a conversation without consent of the other party. Yet if parents state to the IEP group that they are recording, the school district central personnel will stop the meeting.
How do I know this? It happened to my husband and me last year. We scrapped an entire meeting where more than 10 people had made time in their schedules because the district didn’t want us to record.
Because of school district policy.
The policy is not logical, and it’s hurting the relationship between parents and the district. Parents already often feel that they are second-class citizens on their child’s IEP team.
Depriving them of a valuable tool that can help ease the stress of one piece of special needs parenting only adds to that feeling.
This policy demonstrates the overall culture of the central administration special education office — an office dedicated to policy and not to parents’ concerns.
The district argues that the policy protects student confidentiality. But for a student under age 18, parents have the authority to give our consent for a recording.
The district also claims digital storage cost is a problem. It claims a recording is an educational record and that it would cost upward of $100,000 annually. With a small amount of research, it appears multiple options exist and that the actual costs are probably a lot lower.
We also have heard that many teachers and therapists believe this would be a good tool for them to use as children transition between elementary, middle and high schools. One year, our daughter’s teacher didn’t even know she had students with IEPs in her classroom until a few days before the beginning of school.
No time to prepare, no time to read a 20-plus-page document. How could we expect this teacher to oversee a classroom full of elementary students and know how to accommodate our daughter or others in her classroom?
The Columbia Public School District served more than 1,700 students with an IEP or 504 plan this past school year. Many parents of these kids struggle to take time off for these meetings or don’t have the resources to hire advocates or note-takers.
This request from parents is pretty simple and painless. It also implies a certain amount of accountability; a recording would eliminate “he said/she said” about what was said at an IEP meeting. It’s frustrating that the district administration continues to fight this request.
Kathleen Basi is the parent of a 12-year-old entering West Middle School and has attended nine individual education plan meetings that regularly last three to four hours.