To the SEPRC… and beyond!

This is my second post regarding the process I went through in order to get Oliver and Owen placed within the Toronto District School Board (TDSB). The first post can be found here and is an outline of the services we accessed and steps taken up to and including school registration. This next step would be a big one – the SEPRC meeting. A SEPRC is a Special Education Program Placement and Review Committee and it appears to be what the TDSB is using instead of an IPRC, to determine where to place exceptional children who are just starting school. The meeting was convened at another school and in addition to me, the following people were in attendance:

  • The principal of the school the meeting was held in
  • The boys' home school principal
  • The boys' supervising therapist from their IBI program (at my request)
  • Board liaison
  • Board educational psychologist

Here's an outline of my experience, together with my tips for surviving it. I think these tips are relevant for dealing with all school and school board personnel whether it's a SEPRC, IPRC or IEP meeting.

Tip #1: Prepare in advance a list of your child's strengths and challenges

At the SEPRC we were given a total time allotment of 20 minutes per child (I ended up using 25). This isn't much time, so you need to walk in with a clear, concise list of the strengths and challenges of your child that are relevant to determining where they should be placed.

Tip #2: Be polite and demonstrate that you understand the pressures these people are under

There's a photo collage meme that shows different people's perspectives on what special needs parents look like. In this meme, the school district supposedly sees all special needs parents as versions of Sarah Connor from The Terminator. Bear with me because I'm going to discuss the importance of firmness next but I'd like to share first how unhelpful I find the 'warrior' image to be when used in this context. Yes, we often have to fight for our children, but we need to do it in ways that are smart and we need to recruit as many allies to our cause as possible.

At an advocacy workshop I attended we were told about a study that sought to determine the most important factor in successful educational outcomes for exceptional students. Where the child lived or their socio-economic background didn't matter; the biggest predictor of success was whether or not the child had a person advocating on their behalf and the more advocates, the better the outcome.

The boys' supervising therapist and their home school Principal both attended the SEPRC with me. I had by this time met the Principal three times and corresponded with her frequently via phone and email. I went into that meeting with two firm allies who understood the boys' needs. My intent was to come out of the SEPRC with more allies than I went in with. I find the following recruitment techniques to be effective:

  • I initially assume that people want to do the best for my children.
  • I make it clear that I understand the restrictions they are working under and recognize that those restrictions are not self-imposed.
  • Budget constraints are real so expect them to be mentioned and don't get angry when they are.
  • Find common ground – when someone says something I agree with, I let them know.
  • Don't get angry. It won't change anything and it will likely have the effect of alienating people that you want on your side.
  • Show people you know your stuff. Take copies of the Regs with you – highlighted and annotated. Display them prominently and refer to them at least once. They will know you are informed and are then less likely to try and pull the wool over your eyes.

Tip #3: Stay calm but be FIRM when they say something you disagree with

During the meeting, the Board liaison made two statements that I strongly objected to. I immediately voiced those objections:

  • She stated that the boys might be offered a place in an autism program “if there were spaces left”. In my response stated my understanding of the purpose of the meeting – to determine the best placement for the boys; period. If we determined that special programs was the best place for them but they were not offered a place due to financial constraints, then in my view the Board was not in compliance with the law. The Education Act refers to needs, not money. I made it clear that I knew she had no control over these issues but that I would become a thorn in the side of both my Trustee and MPP if budgetary constraints prevented my children receiving supports they were legally entitled to.
  • She referred to the possibility that Owen might have to be 'parked' at his home school for a little while until the best place for him could be determined. Special education placements are reviewed every 3 months so this interim situation would likely not last long. I made it abundantly clear that my son was not a vehicle and that I would not accept him being 'parked' anywhere.

Tip #4: Be clear with respect to the action you will undertake in response to negative outcomes

The above statements from the board liaison caused me a lot of anxiety regarding the SEPRC's outcome but I had made clear in the meeting what I would do in the event that placement offers were made which did not meet my sons' needs. I knew I had recourse and they knew I would not lie down and accept an offer I found unacceptable.

Tip #5: Pick your battles

As mentioned in my first post, the closure of primary diagnostic classrooms seems to have thrown everyone into a state of confusion. The board psychologist was fixated on how to determine the boys' level of cognitive development. She suggested that Owen's Bayley assessment (conducted when he was 3 years old) might be useful in that regard. I didn't understand why she thought that a developmental assessment that was 3 years old would be any use in determining Owen's current cognitive level, however, I agreed to get a copy of the report from Owen's pediatrician. You may think the people you are talking to are clueless, but if doing what they're requesting does no harm then there's no sense in making a big deal about it.

**********

The meeting's over and after all that you probably need a drink and it's hot here so I'm making a pitcher of margarita on the rocks we can share while we discuss next steps.

Tip #4: Follow up

Always follow up after meetings to ensure things are moving forward in a timely manner. In this case, the fact I had an ally in our home school Principal worked hugely in my favour. She called the Board nearly every day, reiterating key points and emailing me updates. She didn't understand why it took so long to offer the boys a place – it turned out that the Board liaison was working to ensure that the boys were both placed in the same program.

Tip #5: Visit the school and classroom you are being offered. Take your home school Principal with you if possible.

I took the Principal with me because by that time I trusted her opinion and she had seen more TDSB schools and programs than I had so I thought her input would be useful – she confirmed my initial impression that the placement we were offered would be a great fit for the boys.

How do you assess whether you think the placement will be a good fit?

  • How do you feel when in the school? What vibe do you get? If the place is calm that's a great sign but you don't want it to feel sterile either. Do you feel comfortable there?
  • Are the staff willing to show you the whole school, not just the program your child would be involved in?
  • Ask how behavioural issues are dealt with.
  • Get them to describe the IEP process. Do they seem comfortable discussing their processes with you?
  • If your child's a runner, what policies and procedures do they have in place to ensure your child stays safe?
  • If you think that the placement is unacceptable, you do not have to accept the offer. In that case you are either going to have to fight hard for them to get a place in a different program or for sufficient support to be provided in the home school environment. Remember, your child's entitlement to support is determined by their needs, not how much money the Board has.

The things that appealed to me about the school were:

  • The boundaries were fenced completely.
  • It was easy to access via public transit.
  • It didn't feel cramped, it was light and airy and there were no features I could find that would cause problems from a sensory perspective.
  • They had a room full of equipment for gross motor and sensory activities that was being used by a student while we were there.
  • The library and computer lab facilities were great.
  • Recess was a time for independent play but they also had equipment for helping kids to learn life skills like bike riding.
  • Recess, as well as music and gym classes were all inclusive.
  • They were extremely open and flexible with respect to planning for transition. I brought the boys to the school with me the next week so they could meet everyone and we could take pictures. They gave me complete control with respect to planning the boys transition from IBI during their first 6 months of school.

In terms of the program, I liked that:

  • The class size was compliant with Ontario Regulation 298 – no more than six pupils.
  • The adult to child ratio was very good – the class has a teacher, an EA and a child and youth worker.
  • Communication books are used for day-to-day information sharing between staff and parents.
  • The teacher had been a therapist at Surrey Place before starting to teach so she understood the boys' current programming very well.
  • In talking about the IEP she described it as a 'working document'.
  • She was very open to using technology – she had a Smartboard in the classroom and welcomed the idea that the boys could use their iPads for school work.
  • She gave me her email address so I could send her information over the summer which would help her hit the ground running in terms of being aware of what the boys likes, dislikes and must-haves are.
  • In addition to the Primary Autism program the school also has a Junior Autism Program so if the boys continued to need extra support they could get it at the same school, up to and including Grade 5.
  • If the boys were doing well and needed less support they could be partially or fully mainstreamed in the same school. For example, one of the boys in the program does Math classes with his typical peers.

I'm looking forward to September. I know our journey with the TDSB has only just started and it's a long road ahead, but the initial outcome has been better than I expected. I am, as the saying goes, cautiously optimistic.

 

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5 Comments on “To the SEPRC… and beyond!”

  1. Barb Waller July 28, 2012 at 5:22 pm #

    Well done my friend… 🙂 I’m cheering for you at the start line…. Go…….. 🙂

    • OMum22 July 30, 2012 at 12:40 am #

      Thank you Barb, you’ve been a big source of encouragement, support and information.

  2. cmarieg July 30, 2012 at 2:13 pm #

    This is one of the most helpful blogs I have ever read! It is full of wisdom and knowledge. There were a few acronyms that I had to look up since they are not used in the states but I learned what they were in the process:) Thank you Deanne for always writing with excellence! You help many not only through your words but your actions.

    • OMum22 July 30, 2012 at 2:34 pm #

      Thank you so much C! I think I did define all the acronyms in my first blog post but you’re right, I should do them in this post as well. I will edit and update later. Thanks again, I’m so happy to hear that you found it helpful.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Disability News Canada August 2012, Vol. 1 | Sask Voice - August 16, 2012

    […] in order to get Oliver and Owen placed within the Toronto District School Board (TDSB)…  Small but Kinda Mighty Matt Gurney: Every Canadian, even the disabled, deserves the chance for a job The federal […]

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