Easy Ways You Can Create a Comprehensive IEP/504 Plan Home File
By now you (and your child) are probably breathing a sigh of relief that you made it through another school year. Most likely the last thing you want to do right now is to think about the next school year. That’s perfectly understandable. It’s okay to allow some time to decompress and forget about it all for a couple of weeks. So, rest for now but mark your calendar for when you will begin working on creating a comprehensive Home File for each of your children who have an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or a 504 Plan.
Allow plenty of time (several weeks) to work on this because it is a time-consuming task in the beginning. It may feel overwhelming at times, but having a deadline and short work sessions may make the task feel more manageable. Plan your work in shorter chunks of time. You will get busy—more interesting things may come up, and it may be hard to keep yourself motivated. But, once the Home File is established, you’ll save a lot of time and frustration when searching for a specific needed document. Making an effort now to get your child’s documents organized will be well worth it later on.
Which Supplies Will I Need?
- Extra-Large 3-Ring Binder
- Color-Coded Dividers and Tabs
- Markers/Crayons/Ink Pens (colored if desired)
Creating a Comprehensive IEP/504 Plan Home File
It may be helpful to read over all of the steps prior to beginning to create your child’s comprehensive IEP/504 Plan Home File.
- Gather all of your child’s important documents. At a minimum, this should include the following: evaluations of any kind by the school or by a private provider:
- IEPs and/or 504 plans
- Behavior plans
- Progress reports
- Disciplinary reports
- Attendance records
- Class schedules
- Health care plans
- Written notices
- Medication lists
- Educationally relevant medical records
Note: If you have a medically complicated child, consider making a separate Medical Home File Binder organize medical documents and store it nearby the IEP/504 Plan Home File Binder.
2. Organize your child’s documents by type. For example, put all of the IEPs in one stack, all of the Progress Reports into a different stack, and all of the Disciplinary Reports into yet another stack.
3. Arrange each stack of documents into chronological order. It may be easiest to put the most recent ones on top and the oldest on the bottom. You will likely need the most recent information before you will need the older. Do what makes sense to you so that you will know where to find the information you’re looking for later on.
4. Create a tabbed divider to make a section for each type of document and insert them in whatever order you have chosen to use. Alternatively, you could establish the sections by meeting. For example, if you had an IEP meeting on May 4, 2018, you might wish to include all of the documents that are pertinent only to that meeting in the section such as Notices of Case Conference, the IEP, any other related documents like a separate Behavior Plan, Health Care Plan, Written Opinion, or Parent Rights (tip: Always take these when offered.
Write the date on the top edge of the document to indicate for your records when you received the explanation of your rights. Consequently, if the school didn’t offer this, but they should have, then the absence of the document serves as a reminder). Work samples (date them) and other miscellaneous documents can still have their own sections behind the IEP document groups, so you don’t need to create an additional binder.
5. Type out an index sheet to insert into the front of the binder and list all of the sections naming each type. If you chose to group by IEP meeting, then list each section by the date of the IEP (or a range of dates of the documents from start to finish). Take it one step further by creating an index sheet for each section and inserting it at the front of the section if the section is lengthy and contains a lot of various documents. Add dates to each document to make it faster to find.
6. Ask your child to create artwork with his or her name on it and insert it into the front cover pocket. Explain to him/her what you are trying to do. This will help to make the child feel like he/she is part of the project. After all, this is all about your child, and sooner or later he/she will need to learn self-advocacy and organizational skills in order to live, learn, work, and play independently. Try to actively involve your child as much as possible in the process.
7. Create a label with the child’s name and dates for the upcoming (or current) school year and insert it into the spine pocket (ex. Billy’s Home File 2018 – 2019). Store the binder in a designated place and always return it to that place when you are finished using it or adding documents.
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Why Is Organization So Important?
It’s a regrettable but well-known fact that often parents and schools disagree on what is best for a student when it comes to supporting his/ her special education needs. You may feel like you are being manipulated or intimidated when you disagree with a school. Taking the IEP/504 Plan Home File Binder with you to use as a reference when you have an IEP or a 504 meeting or if you have an expulsion or due process hearing is empowering. Having your child’s documents organized in a way that allows you to easily locate needed information in the heat of the moment helps validate your position—and it can help to support your argument and inform others.
Regularly maintaining the binder by adding in new documents and sections as documents are collected ensures that you don’t fall behind, you don’t get overwhelmed, and you don’t abandon the binder altogether.
Creating and maintaining a comprehensive IEP Home File for your child will strengthen your advocacy skills and self-confidence. Involving your child and talking with him/her about the reasons behind it as they are assisting you throughout the process will help to do the same for him/her. Additionally, assisting with the project will help develop and strengthen the organizational and planning skills which are difficult for many kids on the spectrum to master well enough to live as independent adults. And, starting and completing a project together with your child will instill a work ethic inspired by your investment in supporting your child and your expectation that he or she will someday complete tasks independently.
Finally, factor in the extra bonus of getting to spend some quality time together and building a stronger relationship with your kiddo and there you have it—a job well done and definitely worth doing. Make a plan to get started today!
Sandy Fields is a parent of a child with severe disabilities and assisting families has been a lifelong passion. She has worked as a professional special education advocate for a federally-funded Parent Training and Information Center for over 18 years and was a Parent Support Volunteer for several years prior. She has served on several boards of directors for disability organizations, on state committees, as a local Long-Term Care Ombudsman, has founded a parent information group, and has helped to establish a recreational horseback riding program in her local area. Sandy has a great knowledge of special education rules and disability regulations as well as a wide variety of general parenting, autism, and other disability-related resources. She holds a BS in psychology from Indiana University and regularly engages in ongoing professional development activities.
IEP: a written education document designed to meet a child’s learning needs created through a team effort and reviewed at least once a year.
504 Plan: a written document that helps a child with special health care needs fully participate in school.
This article was featured in Issue 78 – Back to School Success