We’ve all heard them, pat phrases that are used to dismiss or deny disabled students equitable education. These IEP sayings, like “We don’t do that here”, are so common. But it’s time to debunk and reframe what you’re hearing so that your child can succeed at school.
Lies You Might Hear at IEP Meetings
Just a reminder: nothing on this website or in this article is considered to be or should be construed as legal advice. I am not a lawyer and am not qualified to provide legal advice. Any action you do or do not take when advocating on behalf of your child’s education is, as always, your own.
We Don’t Do That Here
Raise your hand if you’ve ever heard this saying at your child’s IEP or 504 meeting. Yup, me, too.
I heard this used on a client years ago when I was starting as an advocate. They wanted an agenda book to keep track of assignments and tests. Just a paper planner or a notebook. Instead, the school replied, “We don’t have agendas here and cannot offer this accommodation.”
I was flabbergasted! No agenda?!
Now, what the school was saying was, “We see that this might cost us time and money, so we will deny it.”
As I’ve progressed as an advocate, I’ve learned that when “we don’t do that here” is spoken, it typically means that there is a lack of willpower to try. It might also mean that your request has never been seen, done, or heard of before. It’s scary, might cost money, and could require additional staff training.
However, none of those are reasons to deny a child access to services or supports.
That’s Only Offered In…
This is another big one! I’ve been hearing this for quite some time, too. Recently, it’s popped up in relation to inclusion and course modifications.
You might hear “that’s only offered in…” when you ask about:
- inclusion in the general education classroom
- additional support, like a 1:1 aide
- modified curriculum
- specialized small group instruction
- behavioral supports, like Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)
However, for a school to stipulate that a service, program, or support is only offered in specific physical locations smacks of predetermination. And that’s a major no-no under IDEA – the federal law that regulates special education.
We Don’t See That At School
Right, okay. And that’s because they’re holding it together by the skin of their teeth all day long. They are trying so hard to be “normal” that there is a total collapse after school.
A lot of times, schools will roll out “we don’t see that at school” after hearing about a child’s diagnosis. Often, it’s in response to a parent explaining how that condition manifests itself for their child.
Parent: My child gets distracted, but quietly. So it looks like they’re working, but really they’re day dreaming.
School: Oh! We don’t notice that behavior here.
Parent: *sight* Right, because I just told you that it’s very quiet and they look like they’re working.
This might happen for a few reasons.
First, the child’s symptoms are atypical and are going unnoticed. This is often true for girls with ADHD and ASD; boys are the primary benchmark for symptoms in these conditions and girls present differently.
Second, the symptoms are not disruptive to the class or teacher. Often, these are the daydreamers – kids who are looking at their book but not actually reading it. Or maybe it’s the child who is going to each math center, but just sits there and looks busy.
Third, the impact on the child isn’t noticed. Kids who are twice exceptional, or highly intelligent and have another condition, usually fall into this category. The child is doing okay in class, usually in the middle of the pack, and so they are assumed to be fine. However, they’re also quietly brilliant and could be doing much better if proper support were put in place.
Push Back to Make Change for Your Child
Truth time. The school, the teachers and the admin, are likely repeating phrases they’re hearing from the district. And the district staff are trying to meet metrics set by the state and federal government while on a budget and without enough school staffing. They’re doing their best to keep things going.
However, often the interpretations and applications of policies are, well, wrong.
When you smell something fishy at your next IEP meeting, pushback quickly and professionally.
Could You Show Me the Policy?
Now, everything a school does should be backed by policy. They have codified it all for public consumption, too.
When someone tells you “we don’t do that” or “that’s only available in…”, ask them to show you the written policy outlining this decision.
Posing this question can stop the meeting in its tracks. Now, the school team has to dig for the policy.
For bonus points, ask for a printed copy for your records.
Should the school be unable to provide you with a written policy statement about what they are denying, then the ball is in your court. Your next phrases are:
- Since it isn’t against policy and the data indicates that X is a need, how can we make this happen?
- I’d like your reference to a non-existent policy recorded in the meeting minutes, please.
- Can you explain how X will be implemented and what staff will provide this?
Could You Explain How This Complies with IDEA?
IDEA is pretty clear about many things. One of these things is the LRE, or the least restrictive environment. IDEA specifies that students with disabilities should be educated to the maximum extent possible with their typically developing peers.
This is something I like to ask when the district is denying inclusion, saying that X or Y is “only offered in…”.
I also like to bring this up when districts deny 1:1 aides. If the child requires additional adult support to be in the general education setting, then why are they being denied this opportunity?
Every single policy the school has regarding what, how and where special education services are offered should comply with both federal and state special education laws. If it doesn’t point that out!
Could You Explain More?
Often, statements will be made about what is or isn’t available, based on what is or isn’t being witnessed at school, and how a diagnosis is or isn’t impacting academic achievement. And when this happens, I like to ask follow up questions, like:
- If this child wasn’t diagnosed with X, what kind of achievement might they be experiencing based on your observations?
- What else has been considered in the general education setting? And in the special education setting?
- What research-based interventions are available or able to be considered?
- I’d like this to be put in writing, exactly as it’s been explained in this meeting.
Those last two points are the most crucial, honestly.
A simple “why” can often catch people off guard. It causes them to rethink and regroup, assessing their initial stance and possibly reconsidering the “final” answer.
Finally, asking them to put the decision or conversation in writing means that it REALLY happened. I mean really in the legal sense. As I’ve said before, nothing ever really happens unless it is in writing.