The IEP (Individualized Education Program) process can be confusing and intimidating. Parents often feel like they are alone and up against a team of school district employees. It is important to remember that as a parent you are actually an equal member of the team. You must be vigilant, know your rights, and stand up for your child's needs. As much as possible, you should also build a positive relationship with the rest of the team to create a plan that will be best for your child.
Here are a few things to remember and some tips for going through the IEP process and being the best advocate for your child.
1. Focus on your child's needs.
When planning every part of your child's IEP, the most important thing to keep in mind is what they need to help them gain functional skills and what will allow them to learn in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE).
2. Develop a positive relationship with the evaluators and other school staff.
If you view the school staff as impediments rather than partners, they will view you as difficult. This does not help your child. Remember most school professionals are caring, hard-working, and passionate about helping children. It is a very difficult job with little support and pay. BUT also remember that they work for the school district. Keep an open mind and don't make negative assumptions.
The key piece information in the eyes of the district is the evaluation that is completed by their employees. Try to develop a relationship with the evaluator before they complete the evaluation and share your knowledge of what you child can do and what they struggle with at home and in the community. Try to meet them in person, talk on the phone, or send a letter with your concerns about your child.
3. Ensure the program is ready by Fall.
Request the IEP evaluation in winter (February or March) to have the meeting in April/May and complete everything before Summer.
Parents are entitled to an IEP meeting when you feel one is needed- when you have concerns with the program or if you feel a placement is not working.
4. Know your rights.
Request copies of the federal and state statutes, regulations, relevant policies, and parent guides to understand your legal rights. Familiarize yourself with your state's special education advisory commission, which is composed of educators and parents. Also familiarize yourself with IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act). See links below.
5. Gather information.
Request and become familiar with your school's IEP form. You have a legal right to obtain any educational record relating to your child and you can request any false, inaccurate, or misleading information be removed from the school file. Make a binder with all relevant information: relevant school work/material, health and medical records, all school evaluations, independent evaluations, programs/services outside the district, special education contacts, legal information, calendar of events, all past IEPs, all school correspondence, notes from the teacher, samples of work.
6. Prepare for evaluations.
Prior to evaluations, familiarize yourself with the tests to determine if they are: culturally appropriate, given in the child's primary language, normed on children similar to your child (age, language, etc.), appropriate for measuring your child's suspected disability, given by trained and knowledgeable staff, given in accordance with the assessment instructions, and evaluate all areas of suspected disability (health, vision, hearing, social/emotional, general intelligence, academic performance, communication, motor, behavior, cognition, physical, developmental abilities).
7. Come to the meeting with a well thought out plan
for what you would like for your child as far as goals, program placement, related services, etc., considering what would allow your child to make the most progress. Goals should be functional and measurable and they don't have to only be academic. They can relate to physical education, socialization with peers, how they move around campus. Track your child's progress at home to see what changes are being generalized.
8. Consider outside help.
You have the right to request an independent evaluation by someone outside the school district and the district must consider the information when making decisions. The school MAY pay for it or file for due process if they believe their own evaluation is appropriate. If they refuse to pay they will give you written notice.
Under IDEA, any personal with knowledge or expertise about your child may attend the IEP meeting.
Outside professionals' opinions may be very helpful to present during IEP meetings. Request that they write a letter that you can submit rather than attend the meeting if possible. This way you will have the letter in the file and you will not be expected to pay them for their time. Have them explain who they are, how they know your child, and their conclusion about your child's eligibility/program etc.
9. Don't be intimidated.
You know your child best. Ask questions if there is anything you are confused about or don't understand. Record the meeting. There will be a lot of information presented and it will be difficult to take notes on everything said.
10. Don't feel pressured to agree or sign.
Once signed by a parent and the school district, the IEP is binding and the district must provide everything included. By law, no part of the IEP plan can be implemented without parent approval. Don't feel rushed into making a decision and you don't have to sign the IEP on the spot. You can take a couple days to think everything over and have another IEP meeting. You can agree to some of the plan and explain your disagreement in the parent addendum.
11. You can file for due process up to two years after a dispute with the school district
if you have a disagreement that cannot be resolved with another IEP meeting. You can also resolve disputes through informal discussions and negotiations before invoking due process, which may save you stress, time, and money.
These are just a handful of important things to remember.
For more information please visit the websites below.
Information on IDEA
U.S. Department of Education
California Department of Education
California Advisory Commission on Special Education (ACSE)
Written by Rachel Troccoli, M.A., CCC-SLP
Rachel is a Speech-Language Pathologist and the founder of Skyrocket Pediatric Therapy Foundation.