Sunday, September 23, 2012

How did we get here? (Backtracking a little)

You may have read the bus nightmare posts and/or the school search posts, but so much happened in between.  I wanted to post a "brief" summary of how we landed where we did (at YAI Gramercy).   

I should preface this by saying that when you start to look for schools in CPSE, the same few names always come up as the "desired" schools and Gramercy is definitely one of them.  (we're lucky to be there!) I should also say that no two children are alike.  Just because some schools were not for K, doesn't mean they would not be a great place for another child.  This is purely a chronicle of my experience with the school search.  My hope is that it will be helpful to another parent looking for information about these schools or about a CPSE search in general. 

Our search for placement really began in January, although it feels a bit like a lifetime ago.  K was in early intervention for a blink (5 weeks), so when we had his IEP meeting, everything was very new to us.  Our perception of his needs definitely changed between diagnosis and today.  I imagine that is not atypical, but the timing was unfortunate.  

We looked at a LOT of public options.  Unfortunately, there were very few options for his IEP recommendation. (an integrated setting of 15:1:2).  He stayed at CP Kids until the end of August with his SEIT (our angel).  I can't say enough about the teachers there. They really went above and beyond for us.  They were extremely accommodating and have even followed up to see ho K is doing at his new school. 

Initially, I was hesitant to look at any non-integrated options, but as I got over the label of a special school, I realized that perhaps a special school would be great for K.  I went to the open house at the Child Development Center at the behest of one of his OTs.  I was blown away and it immediately became the front runner for me.  The setting is an 8:1:2 in a fantastic brand new facility.  Each classroom has it's own team (teachers, social worker, OT, PT, SLT) complete with an observation booth with a 1 way mirror.  They were very nurturing and the vibe was very calm and warm.  When I left,  I felt strongly that it was the place for K.  

There were a few issues at play:
- we had to see if CDC thought he'd be a good fit
- we wouldn't find out until very late (early May)
- we would need to change his IEP pretty drastically

I also looked at YAI Gramercy, which although was not anywhere near as nice of a facility, K's SEIT felt it was a better fit for him.  It also seemed more like a regular public school.  Still, my gut was screaming for CDC. 

We also looked at the following schools and these were my impressions as far as K was concerned:
-Gillen Brewer: children seemed to be lower-functioning than K, but the school was very impressive (also, by the time I toured in March, all of the spots were taken)

-Central Park West Early Learning Center: teachers looked like they were in jail, kids didn't seem happy and the director was very "new york" to put it nicely.  She also ended our tour with a story about how a teacher had lost a child in central park for a few minutes the year before and was fired.  Huh?  We did not apply there.  It was a shame because it was so close to where I work. 

-Kennedy Child Study Center: kids seemed lower-functioning, facility was awful, but staff was fantastic

-New York Center for Child Development:  kids seemed lower-functioning, facility was awful, but staff was fantastic.  I really liked the vibe, but it was clearly not for K. 

In the meantime, I also looked at some private options: The Quad School (small integrated classes for gifted kids with special needs) and Stephen Gaynor (as our advocate put it "the Bentley of schools").  

Initially, K was accepted to the Quad and Stephen Gaynor, but rejected from all public options (except CDC where he was wait listed).  The Quad came first and acceptance was contingent on us keeping his SEIT.  They even offered a 25% scholarship, but it still would have cost close to $18K, which we do not have!

The feedback from all public options was that he was too bright to be in the more restrictive classes, but needed too much attention to be in the larger classes.

Then came Gaynor (oh Gaynor!).  The whole process of admission to Stephen Gaynor is incredibly opaque.  There is a $150 application fee (which they very graciously waived) and you have to apply before they will let you in to see the school.  We did apply on a whim.  When we actually saw the school, we were blown away.  There was no question in our minds that it was the place for him.  Unfortunately, it made the Quad look like pocket change.  The tuition at Stephen Gaynor was $49,000!!!!  I will say you get what you pay for.  The school is incredible. 

Much to our surprise, K was accepted at Stephen Gaynor.  We met with two lawyers to discuss our prospects for suing.  Both thought that we had a strong case.  The second was recommended by the school and had never lost a case at the school.  We were all set to go and then.... YAI called with a spot that had opened up. 

It really took the wind out of our sails.  We knew it would weaken the case, but we could still fight.  The lawyer was convinced we would win.  Because the lawyer had such a strong connection with Gaynor, it felt like there were all kinds of side discussions happening.  It was big eye opener.  

Ultimately, we were accepted as a Connors Case (a rarity).  However, we would have had to sign a document saying that if we lost, we would be liable for the full tuition.  The lawyer did not think that would happen, but did confirm that they could "come after us" for the money.  It was enough to scare us enough to go with YAI. 

I agonized over this for weeks.  If I'm being honest, I still feel as though we missed out on a huge opportunity.  However, in the midst of all of the decision making, I was able to connect with a special needs advocate.  They suggested that by going with YAI, we would not be locked in to Stephen Gaynor for kindergarten and we'd have guidance through the process.  The biggest fear about Gaynor for me was what if it wasn't the right fit.  What then? Still, it was very rough and still bothers me. 

So, we were all set to change the IEP to put K in a 12:1:2 and CDC called.  They let us know that they were trying to get a 6th classroom.  They expected to get approval by late July, possibly late August and when they did, K was in!

In the middle of all of this, I had sent 3 letters via fedex to our new CPSE rep (since we moved in December, we are now in a new, and much worse district).  No answer.  Radio silence.  I left 3 voice mails, as well.  No response.  I didn't push too hard.  I was hoping that CDC would call and we'd just be able to change the IEP for them. 

By early August, YAI called to ask if we had our IEP meeting.  I explained that we had tried to reach our administrator, I had proof of delivery, but nobody ever called me.  They were able to reach out to schedule the IEP meeting for August 9th.  (The school closed on August 10th!!!).  

The Monday before the IEP meeting, I got a call from the district admin.  She wanted to work out the details over the phone.  The most important thing to us was the ability to keep K's ABA/SEIT (our angel).  I explained the whole CDC situation and the admin blew up, "You just want him there because they put kids in private school. I know why parents like that school."  I said, "Let me stop you right there.  We were in position to sue for placement at Gaynor and we dropped it as soon as the YAI offer came in.  We have a strong preference for a public option."

I think with that, I was able to win her over.  She asked me to strike a deal.  She told me that, if I accepted the YAI placement then, she would give us a dual recommendation.  With that, we were able to secure 8 hours a week with our ABA/SEIT, 2 outside OT sessions and 2 outside speech sessions.  This is in addition to the 2 OT, 2 PT and 3 speech in school!  This probably means nothing to a non-NYC special needs parent, but when I tell fellow parents here what we have, their jaws drop.  

The kicker:  CDC offered placement on August 14.  I suppose everything happens for a reason.

Overall, it was worth it.  So far, K loves school and I think we probably made a good choice.  I wish the school was a little more parent friendly.  I've only met the teacher once and we only have communication via a little notebook that goes back and forth. His teacher does provide a little letter detailing what the class did that day, which we appreciate.  The parent community is also very tight-knit which is really nice. 

As for the bus, we have a new bus company.  The driver is lovely, as is the matron, and they both speak English.  The company answers the phone, too!  They have yet to be on time, but I'm trying to be patient while they get the kinks worked out.  His new pick up time is much later than before.  

He is adjusting well, although he is super tired from school and therapy.  I can't wait to see how he grows this year.  

Now, we're on the kindergarten train.  We never got a break, really.  Although I'm very tired, the upside is, I'm still in fighting mode.  We started the neuro-psychological evaluation last week.  I'll write about that another time - it's another lovely perk of having to deal with the NYC school system and this extremely wasteful, screwed up special needs set up.  

The bright spot of all of this - K is happy.  THAT is really what matters most to me!


Bababoom said...

The Gramercy School strives to help children develop new skills by providing them with self-esteem, confidence and the ability to work independently and with others. Monthly themes are incorporated into activities that are developmentally appropriate for the class.

Allison (Dashiell's Mom) said...

I agree. So far we're pretty happy with the school. It has been a big adjustment from having a personal teacher with him every day giving us in-depth reports to minor communication via a notebook, but that is really just our perspective. Overall, we feel pretty lucky that we landed there!