Setting up an IEP; It’s Okay To Ask For Help

I want to thank La Comadre, for letting me share my story. I am a mom of two boys: Saul Antonio, who is 17 years old, and Aaron Demetrio, who is 7.  We live in the Montebello Unified School District (MUSD). I am also a full-time manager of a government office. 

In the summer of 2019, my son Aaron was diagnosed with absence seizures and nephrotic syndrome, a kidney disorder.  He missed the first couple of days of kindergarten because he was hospitalized. During this time, the school was very accommodating. My son was taking medication for both conditions. One of the medications was steroids. His emotions were all over the place, and he gained about 10 pounds in 6 weeks. He was very hyper and placed on a 504 plan to help with his behavior and outbursts. During the winter parent conferences, his teacher informed me that Aaron was likely to repeat a grade. As a parent, I felt like I failed my son. I was having a very difficult time figuring out how to help him. I think the reason for my hesitation was the labeling kids get in the schools. I talked to a close friend who is a social worker and she helped me see beyond the labeling. I remember her telling me, “we need to do whatever it takes to help our kids.” That said, the schools must do their part as well.

As a result, I requested an Individual Educational Plan (IEP) for my son as soon as he returned from winter break in January 2020. I submitted my request and called about two weeks later to ask what the next steps would be for my son, because he was struggling. I was informed the school psychologist would be contacting me. I received a call a couple of days later to let me know that the assessments would soon start, and that she would be submitting her report in a few weeks. Around this time, my son was also diagnosed with ADHD. I waited and waited for Aaron to be assessed, but it never happened. Then the pandemic hit, and the school closed. We were told that kindergarteners would not be receiving Zoom classes and all classwork would be posted online. Like many full-time working parents, this totally freaked me out! When was I going to find the time to not only teach the lesson, but also, to help him with his homework? Somehow, I managed. The school year was coming to an end, and I still had not heard from the school. Since my son was falling more and more behind, I requested summer school. Summer school was very productive for Aaron because it was a smaller class.  

The new school year came, and Aaron was still struggling. There was no communication from the school in regards to his IEP status. I informed the teacher that we were trying different medications, and Aaron needed extra help. She then started tutoring a small group of students for a couple of months. But Aaron was still falling behind. I continued to send emails and was told time and time again that the school was ‘not authorized to do assessments at this time.’ I asked for alternatives, but none were offered. I was contacted in March 2021 to schedule assessments for Aaron. Several weeks passed, and once again I received no information regarding the next steps. I contacted the school psychologist about the status and she responded that she would look into it. I was told I would receive the results in a couple of weeks. But that day never came.

By this time, I was upset and frustrated. I contacted my friend Alma to see if she could guide me in the right direction. This was the best thing I could have done for my peace of mind. She put me in contact with Lisette, and she was a breath of fresh air. She shared her story and lots of resources. After the phone call, I felt validated and empowered. I could not believe that one phone call and several follow up texts could do so much for my state of mind. Until this point I had been very patient and understanding, but obviously that had not worked. I contacted an advocacy group that works for advancing the educational rights of students with disabilities. I was offered an appointment within two days. The information and advice I received was invaluable. After the appointment, I knew that it was not my fault my son was not getting the help he desperately needed.  

It’s been a long and hard two years for Aaron (and myself) but I am feeling very optimistic that things will turn around. Although this process has been frustrating, connecting with moms that have gone through similar situations truly helped me. I learned it’s okay to ask for help and rely on others, no matter how difficult it might be to do so. My son deserves a good education and all the services he needs to help him be successful in school. The bottom line is keep fighting and don’t back down. Our children deserve it. We are the best advocates for them. I will not rest until my son gets the help he needs. I hope to have good news soon.

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Rosa Ortega

Rosa Ortega

Rosa Ortega, is a 47 Latina mother of two boys. She has lived her entire life in the southeast area of Los Angeles county (H.P., South Gate and Bell Gardens). She is a UCLA (Class of 1997) and Whittier Law School (Class of 2000} alumni. She has worked for the federal government for over 25 years and loves her career. She enjoys spending time with family, reading on her kindle and trys to stay healthy by exercising.

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