November 21, 2019

Counting the Omer and our annual IEP

This year, for the first time in my life, we are “counting the Omer”, the 49-day period between Passover and Shavuot, which is traditionally considered to be a period of spiritual elevation and self-fulfillment. Every morning, Danny takes a marble from a large container and moves it to a small container and we say the bracha together. We consider this part of his “functional math skills”.

Each of the seven weeks of the Omer is given a separate emotional attribute that we are supposed to really focus in on. As it happed, Danny’s annual IEP (Individual Education Plan) meeting at LAUSD fell on Day 15 of counting the Omer, which begins a week of “Tiferet”, translated as “harmony” or “compassion”.

For those of you lucky enough to have missed the experience of an IEP meeting, it’s kind of like a cross between a very grueling job interview and a parent-teacher conference. There are usually many representatives of the school district, including the special education teacher, special education administrator, general education administrator, and the various specialists such as speech therapists, occupational therapists and physical therapists.

The stated goal of the meeting is to “design an educational plan to meet your child’s individuals needs” but invariably, there are attempts to remove or shorten services provided by the specialists, and we spend most of our energy as parents trying to keep the services we have.

As it turned out this year, the IEP team was a good one, with everyone providing mostly positive reports and suggestions, but when it came to the specialized services, it was all about cutting back services. The speech therapist said he was looking for a more flexible approach than once-a-week 60 minutes and proposed 30 minutes of consultation in the classroom. We were fine with being more flexible in how the speech therapy was provided, but pushed it back up to 45 minutes. Then the occupational therapist wanted to cut her once a week session from 30 minutes to 25 minutes. We said no way. Everyone present on the “team” knew that the real reasons for the proposed cuts was the state budget, but wasn’t allowed to say that, so we all did a delicate dance around the real issue of public education funding, or lack thereof.

Every one present was professional and kind, and showed a genuine interest in Danny’s education. We walked out feeling a sense of compassion, even if the money counting is the subtext for all of the other assessing and quantifying.