While there are many available ‘tips’ for parents to read up on before going to their child’s Individualized Educational Plan (IEP meeting), the focus of this article will be what the school is obligated to provide you, the parent, prior to, during, and following the IEP meeting. Keep these important points in mind to ensure your child receives the quality education he/she deserves.
1. The IEP should be a collaborative process
Your child’s IEP must be uniquely designed to meet his/her needs and must be an accurately individualized document. The development of your child’s IEP creates an opportunity for teachers, school administrators, direct and related services personnel, AND you and your student (when appropriate) to work together to improve educational results for him/her. The IEP is the cornerstone of a quality education and should always be developed in a collaborative process of team discussion and decision-making. However, most times the school will develop a draft IEP prior to the meeting. The draft should be provided to you a few days prior to the meeting, allowing you to benefit more meaningfully during the IEP meeting.
2. Steps to be followed prior to IEP Meeting
- Before you have the next IEP meeting, school staff must:
- Contact the participants, including YOU;
- Notify YOU early enough to make sure YOU have an opportunity to attend;
- Schedule the meeting at a time and place agreeable to YOU and the school;
- Tell YOU the purpose, time, and location of the meeting;
- Tell YOU who will be attending; and
- Tell YOU that YOU may invite people to the meeting who have knowledge or special expertise about YOUR child.
-You should never be discouraged from bringing a person of your choice.
-You should be informed prior to the meeting as to who will be invited from the school and school district. Any required member of the team who is unable to attend must be excused by you.
3. The IEP must be complete and followed
The school has an ongoing responsibility to make sure that your child’s IEP is being carried out as specified in writing. You will be provided a copy of the final IEP. Each of the child’s teachers and service providers should have access to the IEP and know his or her specific responsibilities for carrying out your child’s IEP. This includes the accommodations, modifications, and supports that must be provided to your child in keeping with the IEP.
4. You must be regularly informed of progress
Your child’s progress toward his/her annual goals is measured, as stated in the IEP. You have the right to be regularly informed of your child’s progress and whether that progress is enough for him/her to achieve the goals stated in the IEP by its annual timeline. These progress reports must be given to you at least as often as neurotypical children’s progress reports are released. This means that you may specify in the IEP that you wish to have more frequent progress monitoring. As a parent, you have the right to have on-going progress monitoring data provided to you at appropriate intervals so that you are aware of growth or lack of growth in order to be in a better position to advocate for revisions to the IEP. If a goal is mastered, it should be replaced with a new one. If a goal has not been met over the course of a year, then perhaps you should be asking questions regarding instructional consistency and teaching methodologies. Something has obviously gone awry!
5. The IEP should be reviewed and revised at least every year
Your child’s IEP is reviewed by the IEP team at least once a year, or more often if you or the school ask for a review. Each year, the IEP should be revised to reflect actual progress being made. As a team member, you must be invited to attend these meetings. You can make suggestions for changes, can agree or disagree with the IEP goals, and can agree or disagree with the placement. If you do not agree with the IEP and placement, you may discuss your concerns with other members of the IEP team and try to work out an agreement. There are several options, including additional testing, an independent evaluation, filing a state complaint, asking for mediation, or filing due process.
If you are confused or feel overwhelmed, consult an advocate and he/she will guide you through the maze of special education. Believe me, it is a full-time job just keeping up with all of the changes and developments, not to mention the emotional cost to you and your family.
6. Your child must be reevaluated
At least every three years your child must be reevaluated. The purpose is to find out if your child continues to be a child with a disability, as defined by IDEA, and to identify your child’s educational needs. Nonetheless, your child can be reevaluated more often if you request it in writing. You may also share any private evaluations completed on your student with the IEP Team. The school district is required to take into consideration any and all private evaluations completed on your child.
7. Your child should be educated in the least restrictive environment (LRE)
The LRE is not always the general education classroom. Generally, a student’s level of need shapes what the individual placement should be. Inclusion means that a student is receiving education in a general education regular class setting, reflecting natural proportions and age-appropriate, heterogeneous groups in core academic, elective, or special areas within the school community. A student with a disability is a valued member of the classroom and school community. Teachers and administrators support universal education and have knowledge and support available to enable them to effectively teach all children; students are provided access to technical assistance in best practices, instructional methods, and supports tailored to the students’ needs based on current research. In providing for the education of exceptional students, the district school superintendent, principals, and teachers shall utilize the regular school facilities and adapt them to the needs of exceptional students to the maximum extent appropriate.
To the extent appropriate, students with disabilities, including those students in public or private institutions or other facilities, shall be educated with students who are not disabled. Segregation of exceptional students shall occur only if the nature or severity of the exceptionality is such that education in regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily.
8. The school must provide Notice of Refusal for refused services
Whenever a parent requests a specific service, placement, or support to be added to the student’s IEP, and the school based team refuses to provide it, the school district is obligated to provide the parent with a Notice of Refusal. Often times, the notice will be provided at the conclusion of the meeting, but other times it is sent later (generally within 10 school days) following the IEP meeting. Once a parent receives the Notice of Refusal, if the parent continues to believe that the requested service, support, or placement is required in order for their child to receive an appropriate public education (FAPE), they can respond by filing a state complaint, requesting mediation, or filing due process.
You are an influential member of the IEP team. You know your child very well and can talk about his/her strengths and needs as well as share valuable details for enhancing his/her education. You can offer insight into how your child learns, what his/her interests are, and other aspects of your child that only you know. You can listen to what the other team members think your child needs to work on at school and share your suggestions. You can elaborate on what skills are being transferred and what areas need a different, or perhaps more individualized, approach to securing benefits for your child. You can bring your child’s private providers to the IEP Meeting so that they might offer suggestions. Remember that the team needs YOUR membership and participation in order to carry out its assignment, which is to prepare your child for further education, employment, and independent living.
Debbie Gelinas’ passion has been about making the world better for all of our children. Her background includes advocating for children who have been abused and/or neglected, and for the past one and a half decades, her focus has shifted to being a voice for children who cannot speak for themselves due to disability and/or a condition that impacts their holistic learning. Debbie is Founder of IEP Coaching & Advocacy, an organization that strives to provide professional and expert services to parents of children who have a need for a Section 504 plan and/or who require an individual education plan, within either the public or private school settings. Debbie has been a wife for over 35 years to the father of four incredible blessings, and their fourth blessing is now a teenager with Down syndrome. Debbie’s love of her work is evident, and she considers it a gift to participate alongside parents as their child’s Advocate. Please visit www.iepcoachingandadvocacy.com and IEP Coaching & Advocacy’s Facebook page for solid information that can help you advocate successfully for your child.
This article was featured in Issue 57 – Conquering A New Year