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How I Got the School to Change My Son's Program & Placement
by Debbie from New York

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Kevin and Debbie Larson hold Regents Diploma Note: In July, 1998, Debbie had a 7 year old with autism. This article includes a series of six letters. The first letter is from Debbie about problems with the school that led to her request for a due process hearing; then a quick letter from us; and a letter from Debbie after the school board agreed to grant her request that Kevin be placed in a different program and placement.

Over the next twelve years, Debbie sent updates about Kevin's progress, his transitions, the Regents test, the National Honor Society invitation, graduation, and... college enrollment.

Update: Be sure to read to the end of the article where you will find the updates on Kevin's success twelve years later.

July 5, 1998

Dear Wrights,

My 7 year old son has autism. I have been trying to get the school district to change the placement they intend for Kevin next year. The help and advice from your web site has been invaluable.

Kevin has been in a "regular ed." first grade. I requested standardized testing in reading and math this year. He tests a full grade level behind in both areas, yet his teacher describes the "good progress" he has made.

I knew that Kevin's progress next year would hinge on his placement in a visually rich program.

Fortunately, there is just such a teacher/room in our district. I approached the CSE chair about this concern. He told me that which teacher Kevin has is completely out of the CSE's hands because Kevin is in a "regular ed" program. Over the last 3 months, I met with Kevin's (then) teacher, the elementary school principal, the district superintendent, and the Board of Education. All refused to place Kevin in the visual program, instead deferring to the recommendation of his teacher for this year.

I consulted with an area education law attorney who sent a letter to request an impartial due process hearing. She said that my organization of the material, the fact that I had taped meetings and that I placed my concerns in clearly written, civilly phrased letters would make our case much stronger. (Thank you Pete & Pam!)

At the meeting with the Board of Education, I handed out my document, clearly stated what I was asking from them, cited supporting test results and quotes from meetings, and ended with the request for the change of placement.

The Board president commented on how well written it was. He described it as "superb." And I have it on tape.

We do not know what the future will bring. I cannot foretell what a hearing officer will do.

But I know that our chances are much better because I had and used the excellent information you have so generously provided. I will keep you informed.

July 6, 1998

Thanks for taking the time to write and update us. We often wonder what happens to families with whom we communicated.

Your situation shows what a big role parents can play if they know how to go about it. You made good use of the advice in our book, From Emotions to Advocacy.

You organized your son's file. You educated yourself about test scores and the kind of program he needs in order to learn.

You made a clear request in writing about what you want (many parents have a hard time with this step, they know the child's program is not working but they do not know what to suggest).

You taped the meetings. You wrote letters. You didn't make idle threats. When you ran into a brick wall at the lower levels, you made your case to the school board.

Your letter will give other parents hope and a sense of direction when they wonder "what do I do?" - and the nudge they need to get started.

Many thanks!

Pam Wright

July 14, 1998

Dear Wrights,

The school district received the letter requesting an impartial due process hearing on Monday, July 6. On Wednesday, July 8 there was a Board of Education meeting. I found out that the letter was brought to the board after that meeting.

On Thursday, July 9, the district superintendent called me and said the district was "not interested in pursuing an impartial hearing."

In other words, we won.

Kevin will be placed in the visually based class next year. I have already spoken to the teacher (she called me). She is enthusiastic about what she and Kevin can together accomplish next year.

I'm very glad we did not have to go through with the hearing although we were prepared to do so if necessary.

I feel we gave the district a way to change position yet still save face (their lawyer made them do it). It can be characterized as a "win-win" solution.

Thanks again for all your great suggestions and advice.


August 29, 2007

Dear Wrights,

Kevin is no longer 7. He is now a strapping and handsome young man of 16. 

Kevin's latest successes are the reason for this update.  He has continued in an inclusive setting.  When we moved to a new district 5 years ago, the preparation I was able to do with the new district brought wonderful results.  The transition was very smooth.

Then as the district started to see the benefits to all (district, Kevin and his peers) of effective inclusive education, things really came together.

Last spring, Kevin took the New York State Regents test in Global History.  I was told afterward by teachers that it was a particularly difficult test.  Kevin scored 88.

He is starting to make friends in his classes and is accepted in all of his classes.  He reads chapter books for enjoyment.  He tells us he has two books and three movies in his imagination.  And you know what?  I believe him!

We are deep in transition, with college on the horizon.  And much of this success started with my learning effective advocacy skills from you.  Once again, thank you both.  His is just one of the lives you have forever changed.

March 29, 2009

Dear Wrights,

I've been reading the questions and comments on the Wrightslaw Way Blog. Once parents comprehend that their children (and they) have actual RIGHTS in the process, they gain confidence. Confidence reduces the need to be confrontational. Calm, professional, confident behavior puts parents on the equal footing that is so essential to true collaboration at special education meetings.

A principal once asked me why I brought the state regulation book to every meeting. I replied that they were the rock on which I stood. He asked how long I was going to stand alone on that rock. My answer was immediate. As long as there was a storm raging around my son’s special education needs, the safe and sure rock was where I would stay.

Kevin just received an invitation to apply for National Honor Society membership.

July 16 , 2010

Dear Wrights,

One more update on Kevin.  On June 27th, he graduated from Batavia High School with a Regents diploma!  I cried when he walked across that stage!

We have come so far from the child who could not read, did not participate in class discussions, or know how to make friends.  He is now greeted by his friends all over town.  He has started typing what he has written thus far of his first book.  The first sentence uses the word eidetic (correctly).

Kevin wants to take an English class at the local community college in the fall.  On his final report card, the Social Studies 12 (Government and Civics) teacher noted, "Is a pleasure to have in class."  The teacher remarked to a colleague one day, Kevin really adds unique and profound insights to the class discussions.

He is focusing right now on the independent skills he needs to live on his own.  I have no doubt that he will be successful.  From the bottom of my heart, I can never thank you enough.  You put me on the right track to advocate for him.

The local paper ran this article, Mom, City Schools Never Gave Up on Student Diagnosed with Autism.


The chain continues.  "Each one, teach one."  Your work has made a huge, positive difference in the lives of thousands.  I will always read the newsletter and blog, and share when it may be helpful.  but my thanks to you will be never ending.



Note: Kevin is working hard this year (2011), his 2nd semester as a full time college student.

Debbie continues to work as an advocate and as a trainer to both parents and professionals. Debbie answers more of your questions on the Wrightslaw Ask the Advocates page. You will often find her helpful advice and creative solutions to problems on the Wrightslaw Way Blog and Wrightslaw on Facebook.

Created:      07/05/98
Last revised: 03/01/18

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