Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Not even actionable

One of the things I am finding hard is that the Canadian system is so different from the US system. My first thought when I started having trouble with the school was to get an education lawyer. Unfortunately, they do not exist and, in this province, neither do professional or volunteer advocates.

I spoke with the head of instruction at the school board, who had lived in the States for a long while and she explained that the big difference is that there is no solid legal underpinning to school obligations in Canada. There is nothing like the the Americans with Disabilities Act to tie it too. Also, an IEP is not a legally binding contract here. It is just a plan, but there are no consequences for not following it. To make things more difficult, the Principal has very little instructional authority over the teachers. This is a union issue. So nobody in the school is in a position to ensure that an IEP is implemented, which makes an IEP much less of a high-stakes deal.

There have been class action suits against school boards, but individual-level litigation is apparently unheard of, at least in this province. I'm Canadian, but I have to say I am much more comfortable with the US system. I would much rather have an advocate or an attorney with me at our upcoming IEP meeting. We didn't need one in NY, because the school did things really well, but it was nice to know we had the option. And it was nice to know that the school knew that we knew that we had the option. (How's that for a theory of mind exercise. )

But even if we had a lawyer, I don't know how much it would help. The real problem with the school is not so much that they are withholding services as that they are doling out services in an almost random manner that seems to be doing at least as much harm as good. They keep dragging him out of class for behavior classes where kids with self-control issues learn not to swear and not to hit people. Our guy would never, ever swear or so much as raise his voice. One of his main problems is that he is extremely shy, self conscious, lacking an confidence and over-compliant. But for the school, a social behavior problem is a social behavior problem, and kids with social behavior problems get bundled off to learn not to swear.

Likewise, they pull him out of class for what they think of as remedial reading help. In this class they work from a text book published in 1973 (I am not kidding) and write out lists of words in alphabetical order in the hopes of boosting vocabulary. The guy has been getting individual speech therapy for years, where therapists work very hard to get him to take a flexible and communication oriented approach to language. The last thing he needs is someone telling him to memorize lists of words. But here again, if kids have trouble with reading (and, by the way, the standardized tests show that he doesn't particularly, he just has troubles *talking* about what he has read) then they get pulled out of class to memorize words.

Meanwhile, what they won't do is help him keep up with what is being taught in class because they see that as too much of a strain on the poor little guy. The poor little guy, by the way, got 3s on all his independently graded statewide tests last year. But for his teachers, kids who talk funny are stupid, and parents who say otherwise are unrealistic.

On the up-side, we've got a number of outside school things going on now. He's got a very good SLP, he's just started a real social group for ASD kids, where they learn things like how to start conversations and joke telling, and he's going to an after-school tutoring place, which he likes.

On top of that, today I spoke to a guy who does the computer systems for a local bookshop and the person who works there is a former school board trustee, whose (now 18-year-old) son had/has special needs, and who is a key member in a local association of parents with special needs. She wasn't there when the fellow took me round to meet her, but I'll go in again in a few days time. One thing that we are considering is changing schools, and this person/association sounds like a good place to start getting info on where is good and where is not.

So, there we are: not where we want to be, but perhaps moving in the right general direction.

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