We won.

posted Wednesday April 6th, 2011

Have you ever had your own lawyer?

Before we hired one to advocate at Sophie’s IEP meeting, I never had. I’ve written about lawyers, I’m related to lawyers, I contemplated becoming a lawyer. Some of my best friends are lawyers.

But until today, I really had no idea what it felt like to have a lawyer. I like it. I like it a lot.

I like it so much, in fact, that for the last couple hours — since I walked out of the meeting — I’ve been contemplating hiring a lawyer who can follow me around 24/7 and make my arguments way better than I can make them. Not to mention scare the crap out of people with her mere presence.

Debates over parking spots, negotiations over bedtime, employees who don’t make deadlines? This could all be handled by the lawyer.

Of course, today’s luck could have been beginner’s. I hope not, because I fully intend to bring Sophie’s lawyer to every school meeting from now on.

“What’s wrong?” she asked as we walked out of the meeting. I made it out the door before my eyes welled up. I could barely get the words out.

“This is what I’ve been trying to do for three  years,” I choked.

For three years, I’ve been trying to get Sophie some help in the classroom. Not even a full time, one on one aide —  just some help. As third grade approaches, it gets more vital each day. And today was the day to ask one more time.

The IEP meeting lasted two hours. The topic didn’t come up til an hour and 45 minutes in. By then I was a complete wreck — and I have the cuticles to prove it. Finally, every other goal had been discussed, every i dotted and t crossed and the lawyer announced that there was just one more thing.

Sophie needs some help in the general education classroom, she said. Not in the resource room or with her therapies, but in the classroom — where it’s typically 25 kids and one teacher.

The principal interrupted — that’s exactly what she’s been planning for months! she announced cheerfully.

If they lawyer hadn’t been there, that would have been the point where I would have dragged my hard-bitten nails down the principal’s face. But instead I was almost respectful. Okay, at least I kept my mouth shut. Mostly.

In the end, they actually wrote into the IEP that Sophie gets this extra help. If you’ve ever been around the IEP process, you know that’s huge. At least, at our school it is.

So will this help start this school year or next? Sophie’s current teacher asked. Someone looked at a calendar and realized the new IEP takes effect Friday.

Can you wait til Monday? someone asked.

Yes, we can wait til Monday. After three years, we can wait til Monday.

The lawyer and I walked outside. A cool rain was falling. I wanted to hug her, but we both had our hands full, and it seemed sort of weird. Instead I thanked her about a million times and we both got in our cars.

I texted Ray.

We won!

I hit send, then I thought about that exclamation point. It was too much. We won. We did. But there are no guarantees. As I drove, I remembered the quiet caveat from the district’s special education coordinator, about how third grade would be really big — they want to keep their eye on Sophie. They want to make sure she does well, or it will be time to look into “other options”. The other options aren’t good.

I started to get upset. And then I remembered the lawyer. Phew.

It’s not fair, the whole lawyer thing. It’s the definition of unfair. Some families can’t afford to do it, or don’t know they can. Sophie will get advantages from this that other kids won’t get. Besides that, someone somewhere will lose out on something because of the money the district will spend on that parttime classroom aide.

And you know what? I’m just going to have to get over that. We won.

Sophie won.

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Tags: Filed under: Down syndrome, public school by Amysilverman

12 Responses to “We won.”

  1. Well thank goodness cause I can’t take time off to fly out there to kick their asses! We got exactly the same third grade speech.Congrats!

  2. smiling and exhaling for you!!

  3. “Someone somewhere will lose out on something because of the money the district will spend on that parttime classroom aide.” O.K., you are killing me. Are you serious ??? I absolutely believe that we all benefit from having a population that is educated and living to its fullest potential. No apologizing needed.

    Congrats !

  4. Hooray for Sophie. So glad she will get the help. It is infuriating that it takes having a lawyer to get her needs met. I have a 16 year old sister on the Autism spectrum and it seems every semester, my mom has to rally and prepare as if she were a lawyer to make sure Emily has the support she needs at school. Glad you are able to breathe, now that someone has your back.

  5. I agree with Noan (and so many of the comments on your previous post), but don’t know that I could have earlier in my teaching career when I was so focused on some crazy kind of hyper equality in the classroom (“When we know better we do better”). Just last week in a meeting a colleague suggested that something wasn’t “fair to the other students,” and I shot back that the other students don’t have to live at home with this particular kid’s parents. There is no fair — in the you get six and I get half a dozen sense. There’s what we need as individuals and what we can offer as institutions, which become much more gracious with a lawyer present. Brava!

  6. Woohoo! or, as Abby says, YayHoo!

    seriously, awesome news.

    I agree with you about the unfairness. My best thought is that the people who can throw money/time/effort at this stuff, do, and maybe the systems will change. The schools get sick of people bringing lawyers and just offer the damn help in the first place. Eventually. Rising tide lifting all ships, etc etc. Right?

    most of the time, though, it really, really sucks.

    but today – victory! yayhoo!

  7. yay! Thank you so much for sharing all of this (so far). It’s really helpful and sanity-retaining to know that other people are going through these things. And not only that, but supremely educational to those of us who are a little farther behind on this path.

    now go celebrate!

  8. Amy, yay, yay and tripple yay!

    It’s never about winning or losing. I love your ponderings and maybe Sophie (and her team) will be educated through this imperfect system and grow up to be the one to give back and innovate and re-invent the system to make it better for all. This is only a step towards a win/win.

    Keep pondering. Keep visualizing. Sophie is so lucky to have chosen you as her mommy!


  9. Amy,
    I’m so happy for you. What a hard, long struggle. I’m sending healing and positivity your way — she WILL get the help she needs!

  10. I know life isn’t fair and all that but I really hate that for something as fundamental as the education of a child compromises have to be made. Sophie and every kid who needs some help to make their school experience a success should get it, without a fight and without a lawyer. I wish we lived in that world. Instead of the one where people spend their time arguing about where our president was born or funding NPR.

    You shouldn’t have an ounce of guilt for ensuring that your child gets what she SHOULD have.

  11. Amy – I’ve struggled with what to say here because I’m so worked up over my own girl’s testing tomorrow & her (first!) IEP two weeks later. She’s not even 3 & she’s going into the early pre-K special ed program so intellectually I don’t anticipate any conflicts. The whole program is JUST for kids like her and then they made it inclusive w/random typical neighborhood kids – so bonus for us.

    But it’s been crushing watching you struggle to get just a little extra help. That you had to hire counsel -just to get an aide- is gut wrenching. But also inspiring. That we live in a country where we have the legal right to pursue a full education for our kids is tremendous, but that we still have to hire someone to make sure it’s granted is, well, it sends me to a dark place so I can’t imagine what it does for you, as Sophie’s mom.

    I don’t want to just be grateful for what we have, especially when doled out grudgingly. I don’t want you, or me, or my neighbor to have to think about what that aide will cost, what else that money could buy for the schools, or what the differential is for the town’s property taxes.

    I’m thrilled you got what you were looking for. I wish it were not one skirmish in a longer (not war – struggle?). I wish more people thought like Noan & Cate. But lest this be too dour I do want to stress the CONGRATULATIONS bit! Hope your champagne is extra bubbly this weekend.

  12. wow – that was a long comment. Sorry!

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