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LA parent voice: What do I do when educators don’t believe my child can learn?

Esmeralda Fabián Romero | March 7, 2018

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Every week, we sit down with Los Angeles parents to talk about their students, their schools, and what questions or suggestions they have for their school district. (See our previous interviews.)

When Elizabeth Gómez was told by school administrators that her fourth-grade son can’t and won’t learn because he has Down syndrome, she made it her mission to find the right supports for her son to demonstrate that he can.

She knew he could learn, because he had learned math concepts at a private preschool in Santa Monica, and later a tutor affirmed he was learning. But since he moved to Grand View Boulevard Elementary as a first-grader, then to Mar Vista Elementary two years ago, she says he has not been learning.

He has an Individualized Education Program, speech therapy, and access to an iPad to help him communicate. But what Gómez wants most of all is for educators to hold high expectations for her son and believe in his ability to learn.

“When I walk with him wherever I go, Down syndrome is what people see and they immediately think he can’t learn. People at school had the perception that to get him to read, to learn other things is just a waste of resources and time,” she said.

“It is frustrating when you as a parent follow the checklist to support your child and it still doesn’t work.”

What’s the current situation with your son and what’s your biggest concern?

He’s not expressing verbally, so he needs support to communicate. The school has my son placed in an IEP and now has a one-on-one support teacher, but I know it’s not helping him with inclusion. The school also provided him with an iPad so he can communicate, but I don’t think it’s working. They tell me it’s a behavior issue, but I think it’s a communication issue. He’s receiving speech therapy, which I had to fight for him to get. All I want is that they do their best with my child.

My biggest concern is time. Every time I request a change to better accommodate my son’s needs, I have to face a lengthy process and in the meantime my son is regressing. And on top of that, his self-esteem is getting really hurt.

Why do you think your son was learning in other settings and not at his current school?

The fact that they don’t believe my son can learn. When I showed them what he was learning before, alphabet, math, they just tell me that those are unrealistic goals. The low expectations are a big problem. The expectations went down and never came up from there. And my son knows that. At the IEP meetings, they have told me my goals are unrealistic and that my son can’t learn.

What’s on your wishlist for your son’s education?

The wish is to get out of the box and duplicate in the schools a student-centered model, where the child is the most important person and each is treated with love and respect. That would be my wish!

LAUSD responds

Beth Kauffman, associate superintendent of LA Unified’s Division of Special Education, responded in an email with information for Gómez and other parents of children with special needs:

“It is essential that when a parent feels that their child with a disability is not receiving the special education supports and services they feel their child should be receiving, the parent should contact the school and discuss their concerns with the child’s teacher. If the parent is not satisfied with the response from the teacher, then the parent should speak with the school principal or assistant principal. If the parent still does not have a satisfactory response, the parent should put a request in writing for an IEP team meeting for their child to formally discuss and document their concerns and requests so that the school can address the student’s needs through the IEP process.

“Once a parent submits a written request for an IEP team meeting, the school has 30 days to hold the IEP team meeting from the receipt of the written request, if no assessment is being requested. If an assessment is being requested, the timeline to hold the IEP team meeting extends to 60 days from receipt of the signed assessment plan. Parents and students are protected by federal and state laws to ensure the parent has a voice in their child’s education. Following the IEP process is the most appropriate way to ensure the parent has full participation in the decision making process to ensure their child receives appropriate supports and services. Individual student needs should be documented in the student’s IEP so that the school staff and the parents are aware of what those needs are and to ensure that the IEP is implemented.”

Kauffman also shared the parent guide to special education services, available in different languages, and the “IEP and me” brochure, available in Spanish.

Nick Melvoin, the school board member for the district where the schools are located, responded in an email for parents of children with special needs:

“There is no one-size-fits-all answer when it comes to the unique needs of each individual student. The best way for you, as a parent, to advocate for your child is to engage in the process and use your voice — ask questions until you truly understand the answers that you have been given. If you ever feel that your needs are not being met, know that there are people and resources both inside and outside the District who can provide help and support until you feel that your child is receiving an appropriate education.”

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