Being a Severe Special Education Teacher for 10 years (and being in the field for 22 years now) I have mixed feelings about IEP’s. In one sense, as a teacher, I find it to be the evil step-sister of the Special Education field. You know, that relative you hate to invite to functions because you know what an idiot they will make of themselves but you have to out of obligation to your family. If I had any idea just how much time would be taken from me teaching my students to do IEP paperwork I probably would have seriously reconsidered being a Special Education Teacher, not that it would have stopped me but I would have reconsidered it. Like maybe I might have become a tax auditor because the paperwork would have been less. But I also feel it’s the necessary link, as well as one of the strongest, in the Special Education field when it comes to protecting your child's education and their accessibility to everything they are entitled to when being offered a free appropriate public education.
Whether you are going into your very first IEP (or 504 Plan, don’t mean to leave you, folks, out!) or you are meeting to discuss your child's continued IEP that is already effective, there are certain protocols as a parent I believe you should follow and be aware of. For the most part, I believe school districts want to do what's right for children with Special Needs. And sometimes it just comes down is money and where the administration is willing to spend it. Sometimes money is spent in these classrooms to better assist students with new technology and curriculum that their General Education peers have access to. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. My experience has been with the latter and as a teacher, I had to be careful what information I relayed to parents in regards to this which was a very fine line between working together as a team and me being fired for looking like I was an advocate for a child instead of an employee of the district. The following information is a list of things I, as a former teacher, want all parents to know when walking into your next IEP.
1.) Have you received a copy of the Parents Procedural Safeguards? How familiar are you with them? These have been written to specifically protect you and your child and your rights so please, oh please make sure you at least glance at them! I have encountered more than my share of parents that roll their eyes when I have handed them over. I get it! If you're a veteran IEP goer you probably have over a dozen, but there is a reason your get them. It’s your right and IT’S THE LAW. There is so much information for you in this and it can only help knowing what your rights are.
2.) Understand the language used in your child's IEP. This can be done by quickly Googling, “IEP Terminology”. This will give you a whole host of sites that will help you understand the vocabulary that you will learn to and its importance.
3.) Do you have a specific request for your child's IEP? Make it in writing! There are timeframes for your IEP team to work within when a request by a parent is made and can vary from state to state, so learn them and understand them. Keep a file, either digital or physical, to refer back to. This will save you so much time and headache in the long run!
4.) It is ok, and within your rights, to request a copy of the IEP well before the meeting. This gives you ample time to look it over, get familiar with new and old goals, met goals, continued goals, the offer of FAPE (free appropriate public education), ESY (extended the school year, otherwise know as summer school), etc.
5.) Is there a service you think your child should have, but it isn’t being offered? You can push for it, but I wouldn’t recommend it. What I would recommend is that you ask for an assessment to be done to prove that the service you want is necessary. This will give you the reinforcement and proof if you need it down the road, as well as show your team where the student's weakness is as for students why they should be given the service. 6.) students goals written clearly? Is there a clear transition from the student's baseline ( the skill the student presently has) to the benchmarks (the scaffolding of the baseline that increases incrementally to help obtain annual goal), to the annual goal ( a goal that is written for the next school year)? If not ask the teacher for clarification. Remember, you are part of an IEP Team so you can work together to make the goals more fluid and your input is always valuable. 7.) Has your child been placed in the setting that is being proposed at the IEP already? This can happen sometimes, and it is premature. No placement should be made and no service should be changed until the IEP Team meets and you have signed off on it. In some cases, you can give a verbal ok if you're comfortable, but that isn’t customary. Make sure all goals and services are realistically taking the
6.) Are the students goals written clearly? Is there a clear transition from the students baseline a (skill the student presently has), to the benchmarks (the scaffolding of the baseline that increases incrementally to help obtain annual goal) , to the annual goal a (goal that is written for the next school year)? If not ask the teacher for clarification. Remember, you are part of an IEP Team so you can work together to make the goals more fluid and your input is always valuable.
7.) Has your child been placed in the setting that is being proposed at the IEP already? This can happen sometimes, and it is premature. No placement should be made and no service should be changed until the IEP Team meets and you have signed off on it. In some cases, you can give a verbal ok if you're comfortable, but that isn’t customary. Make sure all goals and services are realistically taking the child's skills, diagnosis, cognitive ability, and maturity level into consideration. Remember, your child might exhibit skills in front of you and not the rest of their IEP team. This has been known to happen and I always request some type of proof (written or recorded) so I can see the skill in action. If it is not a skill that is being exhibited at school then it’s ok for a goal to be written for it because your team should be working towards your child being flexible enough to exhibit these skills across settings.
8.) IEPs can be time-consuming as well as patience stretching. Tempers can flare unexpectedly and threaten to hinder the outcome of the IEP. All team members should be showing the utmost respect for each other and work to keep this relationship flowing in a positive direction. Fracturing the team only sets everyone, including the student (who’s the most important member!) up for failure in the end. That is why laying the groundwork leading up to the IEP is so important.
9.) A student has the right to be at their own IEP and give feedback. This being said, I want to make sure some clarifications are made. If your child is going to sit in on their IEP what is their cognitive level and is there any sensory issues that you should think about before extending this invitation? It’s important to remember that this team is working for one goal; the ultimate success of your child. But having that child there isn’t always the best idea. Is discussing the IEP parts with your child before the meeting a better idea, and then bringing their feedback in with you? Only you can decide.
10.) If you're feeling too overwhelmed by the IEP process you can set up a meeting with your child's teacher or team beforehand to discuss this. You have a learning curve so uses it to your advantage. It’s so important that you feel comfortable and confident during these meetings. If you need added support you can bring in a friend, family member, or a hired advocate. There are many ways your district can work with you to make sure it’s a smooth process.
I know I’ve laid down a lot of information, and I have a lot more to share, but this is a good starting point. This is my call to action for every parent of a Special Needs child; please do your research and make sure you have a basic understanding of what you will be a part of. One thing I wanted parents to know ( but couldn’t say as a teacher) was that as much as I adored my students I was their teacher only, not their families advocate. There is so much information out there for us as Special Needs parents and so many people who would love to share it with us to help us all become better educated. I would love to hear from you about your resources and I can put them on a future blog for other families.
My heart's intention is to leave this field better than when I stepped into it. I hope you all are having a wonderful week!