Working With Schools : IEP and Other Solutions
Individualized Education Plan (IEP) and section 504 meetings should be, and can be, a collaboration between you, your school system, and others (doctors and therapists) who are supporting your child. The goal of this team is to provide your child with the supports they need to have the best educational experience possible.
And this is where conflict can arrive. As a parent, you want your child to have every advantage available to them. Under the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA), Congress set forth certain protections for children with special needs. IDEA is designed to ensure that disabled children have access to a "free and appropriate public education" in the "least restrictive environment".
On the other hand, school systems must ration their finite limits of people, time, and other resources to assist as many students as possible. The United States Supreme Court has been relentless in their insistence that IDEA may not be used to force a school district to "maximize" a child's "potential". If a child is getting a "meaningful educational benefit" and making progress that can be objectively measured, then most courts will conclude that IDEA has done its job - even if most parents would consider the results basic or minimal.
The strategy for both groups is to prioritize your child's need and be creative in finding solutions – at school and at home – that can help your child succeed academically and socially.
When you’re working with your child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) team, you’ll want to make sure every detail and concern is addressed. Here are some suggestions to help you feel more at ease and able to participate as a full member of the team that plans your child’s special education program.
Before Your Child's IEP Meeting
- Obtain independent medical and/or developmental assessments for their disabled children! Without clinical data, there is no reliable starting point for the journey.
- Plan ahead and put your thoughts down on paper, so you won’t forget to mention what’s important to you during the meeting. Have in mind the top three outcomes you want from the meeting.
- Know the purpose and format of the IEP meeting and who will attend. That way you won’t be surprised by the number of people around the table or the process being followed.
- Try to get to know and personally connect to the other team members. Whether or not we personally like our child's teachers, school psychologist, school social worker, principal or other administrative personnel, you are stuck with them unless you move. Such a relationship will help you feel more comfortable and know someone else hears your point of view.
- Help the team to know your child. Send them copies of any private assessment reports so they can be familiar with the data before the meeting, rather than take valuable time from the meeting to review them.
- Review current reports, last year’s IEP (if applicable), and Parents’ Rights and Responsibilities sent to you annually.
- Ask before the meeting what other assessments the school district offers and then ask for the paperwork to be filled out at the meeting. Additional assessments may include augmentative communication systems, other technology such as using an AlphaSmart, bringing in disability specialists, or doing a functional behavior assessment.
- Request that all reports and assessments be given to you at least 24 hours before the meeting.
- Before you make any demands on a team member, ask ourselves, "Am I asking of this person something I have not done, or am not willing to do?"
During Your Child's IEP Meeting
- Keep focused on achieving your top three priorities for your child. Make sure the goals are realistic, specifically stated, and penned in layman's terms. IDEA requires that the IEP goals must be something that can be objectively measured. Avoid generalized goals, as "Johnny will be able to attend in the classroom with increasing frequency". This phrase leaves Johnny's progress open to subjective evaluation. Don't get distracted in a discussion of how the professionals will help your child achieve their goals. They can do this in staff meetings or during their own planning time.
- Anything you can do to make yourself more comfortable in this meeting will help you to participate more actively. Wear comfortable clothing, bring snacks in case the meeting runs long, feel free to take breaks, and so on.
- Bring a trusted person with you - spouse, relative, neighbor, friend - so you’ll have a support system and another set of ears to hear what others have said. If you decide to bring a friend or advocate, you should inform the school whom you’re bringing. Be prepared for them to ask who the person is and why you have decided to include them in the meeting. If no one is available to go to the IEP meeting with you, you may wish to record the meeting so you can listen to the conversation later. However, you’ll need to notify the district ahead of time of your intentions; in that case, it’s likely the district will also record.
- Find a way to personalize your child. Remember that you know him best—strengths, talents, interests and needs, so take in what the professionals have to say, but add your perspective also.
- Be prepared for district staff to present assessment data and their professional opinions about what they’ve observed and feel is appropriate for your child. This may be different from your input but just as valid.
- Don’t hesitate to ask questions and seek clarification, particularly if people use jargon you are unfamiliar with.
- Ask to take the IEP home to review if you’re unable to make a final decision at the meeting. You can agree to parts of the IEP or all of it. However, you should agree to sign where it shows you attended the meeting.
After Your Child's IEP Meeting
- Place all of your meeting notes in a file or binder for future reference. If you can download recordings form your recording device, place them in a single folder on your computer. Also, keep follow-up e-mails in a separate folder or print them and add them to your binder. Again, keep a collaborative mindset when thinking about your child's IEP, but keep records as if you were preparing to go to trial and needed to prove your case.
- Review the agreed upon IEP to make sure you understand it. If not, talk to the trusted person you brought to the meeting, or contact one of the other participants for clarification. Remember you can always change your mind and withdraw permission for any or all of the parts you agreed to.
- Return the unsigned IEP to school as soon as you have made your decisions and placed them in writing. If you have serious doubts or concerns, contact one of the team members or request another IEP meeting.
- Talk to your child, in terms he’ll understand, about what was discussed at the meeting. Be sure to discuss the progress he’s made. Review goals and objectives so he’ll know what he's going to be working on during the coming year.
- Develop a collaborative relationship with the professionals who interact regularly with your child. Meet with his special education teacher to learn how you can reinforce the skills and strategies being taught to him.
More IEP Preparation Tips
- If your child has tantrums when frustrated, do not demand that his day be frustration-free. Provide and document solutions how the frustrations and tantrums should be handled.
- Imagine yourself in the shoes of your child's teacher, social worker, and other professionals that work with him. To make workable suggestions, you need to understand how the people involved can do their job within the context of their day, training, and budget.
- Spend sustained time at the school. Volunteer in your child's classroom and other classrooms. Watch the kids on the playground and in the lunchroom. Observe what does and doesn't work for your child and what triggers adverse reactions. You will probably observe something that the teachers and para-professionals have missed.
- Every year, discuss the best way for the teachers and parents to communicate. Could use written daily logs, weekly emails or bi-weekly phone calls.
- Have faith. Again, IEPs occur where parents want the best for their child and schools have to work with the resources they have. As much as possible , build positive relationships with the school staff and be as affirming and encouraging to them as possible.
Downloadable IEP Checklists
- From the National Center for Learning Disabilities (requires sign-up form) -http://ncld.convio.net/site/Survey?ACTION_REQUIRED=URI_ACTION_USER_REQUESTS&SURVEY_ID=2967&s_src=iep-parents-checklist-tout
- From the Statewide Parenting Advocacy Network -http://www.spanadvocacy.org/sites/g/files/g524681/f/files/IEP%20MEETING%20CHECKLIST%20FOR%20PARENTS.pdf
- From the Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD) -http://www.chadd.org/Understanding-ADHD/Parents-Caregivers-of-Children-with-ADHD/School-and-ADHD/Preparing-for-an-IEP-or-Section-504-Meeting.aspx