It is October. That time of year where days get shorter, nights get longer, and we are all a bit more aware of what goes bump in the night.
October was also the time of year my family would go through the Individualized Education Plan (IEP) process. It was always a stressful, and sometimes scary part of our month. As we focus on things that are scary this month in the lives of of our kiddos, we are going to tackle how to be successful at this.
IEPs can either be a Godsend or the worse hour(s) of your life that year. We have been through both. High Roads School in Maryland is excellent! California and Florida, we had some significant struggles. We have had successes and failures.
Background: IEP’s are designed to make the learning experience beneficial to all students. After all, we are different children with different needs. A team of administrators, teachers, specialists, and parents work collaboratively to help the child succeed academically. When it works, it is a phenomenal process.
Problem: IEP meetings seldom work collaboratively and, for a parent unaware of the bureaucracy of the district can be very overwhelming and frustrating.
How do we survive these necessary yearly meetings, while ensuring our children thrive? Here is what I have learned having done IEPs in three different states across America.
1. Track Progress: If you have been following me, you know I believe in data collection and how it can be beneficial to us in all areas of our lives. In regards to behavior, this has been essential to us understanding our son’s behavior and what effects it. We track his progress socially, behaviorally, and academically. Journaling, goal setting, progress reports, report cards, all help a parent understand the multiple levels of a child a better. This is essential to know how to help your child in the school system.
2. Review progress reports: It is really easy to lose track of progress reports in the chaos of what comes home (or emailed from school). But progress reports are a great way to see what your child likes, doesn’t like, struggles with, or excels at. We need to know where we have been to know where we are going. This is a vital tool for preparing for you IEP. This is also a great way to stay in touch with teachers throughout the year.
3. Research IEP Goals: Typically, a month to three weeks prior to a scheduled IEP, I research IEP goals. This is easily done using a Google search of “sample IEP reading goals” or “sample IEP math goals.” Do this for each subject. I cut/paste the ones I think my kid will enjoy and have success with.
4. Be realistic: Select realistic goals. You cannot set realistic goals without the above steps completed. More importantly, you need to choose goals that can be accomplished in the timeframe provided, while leaving room to grow. Have faith in the child to meet expectations and goals. Children are resilient and can do way more than we think they are capable of.
5. Prep teachers/communicate early: Teachers are a strong voice in the meeting because they spend a lot of time with the child. Don’t wait for an IEP to communicate your concerns, joys, and goals. They will be more likely to advocate for the child if they believe the parents are working on the same team and not against them. The education team will likely meet a week or two prior to your scheduled meeting. Give the teacher your views and goals. This will help incorporate your ideas prior to the meeting scheduled (and save you time in the long run). I usually explain this in person and then do a follow-up email to the teacher.
6. Include social goals: This is really easy to forget when you are surrounded by teachers and administrators who want to focus on academics only. But school is more than just academics. Social goals are essential to classroom management, lunch, recess, PE, games, turn-taking, and so much more. Include social goals in the IEP and see how much your child grows both academically and as an individual.
7. Get rough draft: Most districts will send a rough draft of their meeting home in order to streamline the meeting with the parents. Go through this with a fine-tooth comb. I used a highlighter system to show what I agreed with and what I did not. I also tabbed the pages I wanted a further discussion on. Most IEPs are lengthy, so this made it quick to refer to things for discussion and help ensure the meeting focused on the more important issues. I also make changes.
8. Return revised draft with your changes/edits: Return the changes you made in writing to both the teacher and school prior to the scheduled meeting. This will ensure the school has time to make the needed changes, or prepare for why they disagree.
9. Bring any medical information that supports your views: If you have a doctor’s evaluation, therapy notes, and recommendations, etc. bring them with you. Make sure those evaluations address academic recommendations. Some districts do not look at medical information when determining goals because they are not academic. However, almost all those specialists, are qualified to address academic goals and likely know how to help your child the most.
10. Bring and be an advocate: You know your child the best. You are their best advocate. Don’t be afraid to be their advocate. The school is not always right. Just because they are professionals, does not make them a professional regarding your child. If you disagree with a plan or part of the plan, you have the legal right as the parent to address that. If the school does not agree with your plan (which happens a lot), it is ok to take it up to the district level. If you do not feel you can be an advocate, invite an advocate with you who is willing to step out and address your concerns.
11. Take notes: During the meeting, it is essential to take your own notes. Multiple times things discussed to be included in the IEP were conveniently left out and official meeting minutes did not reflect the discussion. Keep your own written record of minutes. This will be essential as the school year goes on.
12. Know your rights: Contrary to what most parents think, the school is not the final authority on an IEP. Parents have significant rights. You can request a meeting whenever you wish. You can join a meeting via phone/zoom. You can invite anyone you wish to the meeting. You have the right to agree or decline the school evaluating your child for services. In some areas, you have the right to a private education paid for by the district. You have the right to request an evaluation for services (due this prior to requesting the service and save yourself a headache). You have the right to ensure the goals and assessments are measurable. You have these rights and more. Know them and be empowered.
13. Do everything in writing: All requests for IEP’s and evaluations need to be done in writing. Any time you have questions, do it in writing. Any time you disagree with how things are being done, do so in writing. Email is excellent for date and time stamps. We also time-stamped and date all mailed and a student brought home correspondence. This has saved us in multiple instances. Legally and inter-personally this will help in preventing issues, miscommunication, and problems as the school year continue.
14. Keep copies of everything: This is essential. We once had a school who was supposed to do speech therapy with our son pull the page out of his folder in order to state they did not have to provide services. We luckily had a copy of the signed IEP on hand and were able to inform them of both their breach in contract and the following needed changes in order to avoid further issues. Every email and mail correspondence needs to be maintained.
IEP’s do not have to be scary. They do take time, but ultimately, they can lead to some amazing growth in your child and in your community.
For more ideas on how to help with IEPs, take a look at my Facebook page.