It may seem like the summer has just started... but the new school year will undoubtedly sneak up sooner than we'd like. And you know what that means?
...packing more lunches
...navigating the homework drama
...sitting in the carpool pick-up line
...welcoming new members to your child's IEP team!
You'll likely see a few new members on your child's IEP team with every new school year. Whether due to staffing changes, a move to a new school, or just moving from grade to grade, your child's special education teacher, general education teacher or related service providers may switch from year to year.
And it can be hard to acclimate to a new team and to build rapport with fresh team members.
How do I know this? Because my subscribers told me.
I asked parents (in a recent survey) what they found to be the most frustrating part of the IEP process.
You know what they said?
It wasn't the number of meetings they had to attend.
It wasn't the paperwork, the signatures, or the reports.
It wasn't even the sometimes-spotty communication from their school team.
It was that they felt like they had to explain, and convince, and TEACH their child's team about their child and his or her challenges. This is true year after year, with every new therapist or paraprofessional or special educator. Parents are tired of educating their child's educators about their child.
In order to alleviate this issue, I created a FREE resource to help you get a new IEP team member up-to-speed on what your child needs in order to be successful at school.
Enter: The One-Page Plan
This is a short, single-page document that includes the most important information about your child's needs. Sometimes called a "cheat sheet," "student summary," or "student resume," this document does the educating for you whenever a new member is added to your IEP team. And contrary to your student's IEP, it features what is most important to them and includes a list of their strengths. Because this is what defines your student, not their challenges.
Want a blank copy of this tool to use with your student? If you're already on my email list, it's already on its way! If not, use the SUBSCRIBE button below to sign up. I'll send a copy your way in the next few days.
Here's hoping you have at least two more months of summer before you have to use this :)
Welcome to week 3 of our ABCs of SPED series! Today we're talking about consent.
It seems like it should be obvious that you, as a parent, have a right to give or withdraw consent on behalf of your child. After all, they're a minor!
But do you really know, within the special education process, what you must give consent for and what the school is able to do without your approval? And what you need to do to withdraw consent?
After this post, you will!
First and foremost, please know that all of your rights and responsibilities surrounding consent in the IEP process are outlined in your Procedural Safeguards packet. I'm going to use this as yet another opportunity to state the obvious: you must read your procedural safeguards. Read them, know them, love them. Nothing will help you more in the IEP process than knowing your rights. I also need to include a disclaimer that I am not a lawyer, and that the content presented in this blog post is solely meant to be informational.
So what is consent in this context? It means that:
1. You've been fully informed of a proposed action (in your native language)
2. You understand and agree to the proposed action in writing
3. You understand that your agreement is voluntary and may be withdrawn at any time
Simple enough, right? Nevertheless, it's a great starting point to understand the definition and how it applies, particularly the fact that consent must be given in writing.
So what are you required to give consent to before it happens?
This means that the school cannot evaluate your student for a disability, provide any sort of specialized services, or conduct a follow-up evaluation without your written permission. Most importantly, it means that your child's very first IEP will NOT go into effect unless it is signed. This is unique to that first IEP-- after that, it can go into effect without your signature (i.e. without your consent) after a certain number of days (check your procedural safeguards for the exact number in your state).
What the school can do without your consent:
Additionally, there are circumstances under which the school may proceed with an action without your consent so long as they have made a "reasonable effort" to obtain your consent prior to proceeding. In this case, the school must keep detailed written records that show their attempts to secure your consent via phone calls, emails, home visits and even visits to you at work.
You can also withdraw consent if you no longer wish to have a certain service (or any services) provided to your child. Any withdrawal of consent must be given in writing! Did you know that it is possible to refuse to consent or revoke consent for just a part of your child's IEP? Wrightslaw discusses this point succinctly here.
And lastly, my favorite little-known tidbit surrounding IEP consent: you can make a written request to change (or amend) your child's IEP without having a full meeting (provided the annual IEP review meeting has already been held). That's right, you can waive your right to another meeting and request that the changes you suggest be reviewed without a meeting. If the team agrees, you'll be given a new consent page to sign.
That's it for this week, folks! Have you ever had any issues with giving or revoking parental consent during the special education process? Share your thoughts over on the IEP Guru Facebook page!
We're bringing back the basics today, folks! I realize that some of our subscribers are totally new to this world of special education and if that's you-- this post is all yours!
Let's say that you've been through the referral process already. You (or someone at your child's school) is concerned that your child may need special education services. Some data was collected. An evaluation was conducted. An eligibility meeting took place where the team (including you!) looked at the eligibility criteria (typically a checklist) for the disability category being considered and decided that yes, your child is eligible.
What happens next?
The team will write up a rough draft of your child's first IEP and then you'll have your first IEP meeting!
A few things you'll need to know:
1. Who is going to be there
2. What is going to happen
3. What you'll cover in the meeting
First, there may be any number of people in the meeting. Legally, the meeting is required to include at least one of each of the following (unless excused in writing by the parent and district):
Additionally, the meeting may include:
As such, these meetings tend to be pretty crowded-- especially when you're sitting around a table meant for 8 year olds with tiny chairs, which is often where these meetings take place!
Once you're all there, you'll start with introductions. Each team member will give their name and their role-- write this down! You'll want to keep a log of who attended each meeting so you have this documented if you need to pursue next steps at some point.
After intros, someone on the team should present you with the Procedural Safeguards handbook (or a digital copy). If they are doing things right, they should offer to go over the handbook with you. You need to take this booklet and you need to read it! The procedural safeguards are your rights and responsibilities as it relates to the special education process. Read it and make notes about timelines, procedures, consent-- all this stuff is important. I've written a brief overview here, but you still need to read the full packet!
Next you'll review your child's demographic info and diagnosis, followed shortly by things like whether your child has a visual or hearing impairment, whether their behavior impacts their learning, and whether they need any assistive technology (such as speech to text or other software).
There will also be a discussion of parent concerns. A few notes here! Write down your concerns and bring a copy to the meeting. Ask (and demand, if necessary) that they are included VERBATIM in the Parent Concerns section of the IEP. Again, we want to keep a record of everything. These concerns can include academic, social, behavioral concerns about your child's current progress, concerns about the future, concerns about the school team (how they're handling discipline), concerns about your communication with the school-- ANYTHING that concerns you should be included.
Next you'll discuss Present Levels of Performance (also called PLEPs or PLOPs). This section should include data-- not just observation! -- about how your student is currently doing (academically, behaviorally, therapeutically) and an assessment of how their performance impacts their ability to master grade-level standards.
After this discussion, the team should use the Present Levels to inform the goals that are set for the student. Reminder here-- YOU are an equal part of the IEP team! The teachers alone don't get to decide on the goals! You get to have input here on what's decided. Goals should be SMART (specific, measurable, action-focused, relevent/realistic, and time-bound). Goals should be broken down into smaller objectives or benchmarks as necessary or as required (for example, in TN if a student is taking an alternative state assessment their IEP is required to include short-term objectives). Annual goals should support the larger, future goal of further education, independent living, and employment.
Following the discussion of goals there will be a conversation about program supports, modifications, and accommodations. Check out this post about the differences between accommodations and modifications! Accommodations can include everything from reduced distraction testing environments, to preferential or alternative seating, to a specific kind of pencil grip, to instructions given visually and orally to literally anything else.
We're nearing the end, I promise! (This is also why IEP meetings typically take at least 2 hours.) You'll then discuss testing options, which will mainly include a conversation about whether or not your child will participate in state-wide standardized testing. You may discuss whether certain transportation options should be considered or whether your student is eligible for extended school year (ESY).
And then finally, FINALLY you'll all sign a statement saying that you were in the meeting (though sometimes this is passed around at the beginning to sign during introductions, as it just is a signature of attendance).
Typically at the end of the meeting the school team will also ask you to sign the document saying that you agree with the IEP as written and authorizing the school to implement the IEP. My advice: do not sign right then. Ask for a copy, take it home, look it over, think about or research the suggestions, ask a friend or advocate to review it. If you want changes-- ask for another meeting. If you agree, THEN sign and return. Know that for your first meeting nothing can go into effect until you sign, but that doesn't mean you should sign if you don't feel good about it! It's okay to take your time.
Phew-- did you get through all of that? Now the good and bad part: you get to/have to go through this process AT LEAST once a year until your child is at least 18 or as old as 22.
If you're totally overwhelmed about how to make sure you get all of this right, our IEP Digital Coursehas everything you need to become an excellent advocate for our child. Don't wait! Our Winter 2018 cohort starts on February 5th! Learn more here!
Just five? Sometimes it feels like I could write a list a mile long about the ways that IEP meetings could be improved. While I typically write from a positive angle, I think it's worthwhile to step back occasionally and offer constructive criticism about the process before providing suggestions for improvement. If you've been in one or 100 IEP meetings, I'm sure these complaints will resonate with you!
1. Team members approach the meeting through a deficit-based lens. I know what you're thinking: "Well... the whole point of an IEP is to create goals that the student needs to meet. To set a good goal, you have to know and discuss the student's struggles." That's true, but the entire meeting does not need to overshadowed by only the student's needs. In nearly every meeting I attend, the team blows past the Present Levels to get to the goals. And you know what that means? There is no celebration for the skills the student has achieved since the last meeting. In addition, the student's gifts should be acknowledged and leveraged to help the student overcome deficits. A great IEP meeting should be heavily focused on how the team can utilize the student's strengths to help him or her meet the agreed-upon goals.
2. There's a lack of agenda. You know what I see over and over again? Parents and teachers who go into meetings with totally different ideas about the purpose of the meeting and what would make the meeting successful. This is a one-way ticket to misery for everyone involved. It's a good idea to start each meeting with an overview of what is going to be discussed and what needs to happen-- even if it's just an annual IEP review. Some teams like to follow the IEP in order, going section by section, while others want to start with parent concerns which can lead directly into goal setting before you know it's happening. Ask for a true agenda or bring your own (which is what I suggest!), and don't be afraid to direct everyone back to it if you veer off-track.
3. Students aren't invited to their own meetings. Gosh, I could write forever about this and I already have. Feel free to jump on over to this post to read all the good insight about having students join their own meetings starting EARLY.
4. Ideas are prescriptive rather than creative. I hate, hate, hate when school teams present parents with a few options and want them to pick one, or worse, tell them that their student must be placed in X class/group/placement/program of study because that's what they offer. Repeat after me: That's not how it works. That. Is. NOT. How. It. Works. The purpose of an IEP is to create an individualized educational program that is based around what the student needs, NOT based around what the school offers. It's great if what the school offers serves the student! But if it doesn't, it's the responsibility of the school to provide the staff, services, therapies, supports, or accommodations that will. Anything can be on the table if you can demonstrate that the student needs it to be successful in school.
5. Nothing actually ever changes. Have you ever been to an IEP meeting that felt great? That felt like everyone was collaborating, that your concerns were heard and validated, and that you finally had new strategies in place to make things better? There seems to be a disconnect at times about what people offer and what they can follow through with. You can have the best plan in the world...but if it's just a plan without any action it's worthless. Make sure to follow up in writing after an IEP meeting to reiterate your understanding of the changes that will be made. Ask the school team to provide their agreement in writing as well. A great IEP will have designated "check-in" times-- if the IEP says that your student will be evaluated on a goal monthly, ask the school team for their report when the time comes. Accountability is key to making sure changes are made and not just discussed.
So there's the list. What are your biggest concerns and frustrations with the IEP process?
Leave a comment below, or share on Facebook @TheIEPGuru!
I get this question a lot because I tend to work with families that are beginning the transition planning process. I'll give you my answer up front: Do NOT wait until age 16 to invite your child to attend their own meetings!
We're not raising children-- we're raising future adults. We need to prepare students to advocate for themselves one day. Just like we can't suddenly expect a student to tie their shoes or use the bus without weeks, months, or sometimes years of training, we need to give our students as many opportunities as possible to see us (parents and teachers) model good advocacy and to teach them how to self-advocate.
By attending IEP meetings:
1. Students will learn the language. This means sharing with students the name of their diagnosis, the symptoms or expressions of their disability, the names of the accommodations, tools, or supports they need, and the vocabulary that's used to describe these things. If we want and expect our children to be able to manage their own case at some point, these are the words they will need to be able to use. Expose them early and often. But won't my child feel embarrassed or uncomfortable if s/he hears us talking about deficits or areas of weakness? This leads us to our next point...
2. Students will see their needs as normal, rather than viewing deficits as shameful. You know what happens, as humans, when we realize that certain topics are approached with whispers and secrecy? We start to believe that there's something embarrassing about the topic. This is what we unintentionally teach kids when we don't invite them into the conversation. By opening up a dialogue, we communicate instead that having needs is a normal part of life. That asking for help is something that EVERYONE does. That having things that we're good at and things that we're not so good at is a typical part of the human experience. Shielding our kids from these realities does not help them-- it makes it seem like their autism, or their dyslexia, or their depression is something they should be ashamed of or "can't handle." This isn't true, and it will prevent them from being able to live authentically and successfully in the future.
3. Students will get comfortable sharing about their needs and preferences. Once our students know what their needs are and have the language to talk about them, attending IEP meetings gives them the opportunity to practice expressing those needs. Advocacy, or standing up for what you need or what is important to you, works like a muscle. It can be painful at first, but the more you do it, the easier it becomes. Do we really want the first time our children ask for what they need to be at a job with a stressed-out boss? Of course not! Start early, and start often.
4. Students will provide ideas that we may not think about. Have you heard the phrase,"Nothing about us without us"? We don't like the idea of someone talking about us without our input, and neither do our kids. By having students attend their own meetings, they learn that their voice matters. We often worry about our kids being taken advantage of, and a great way to prevent that is by teaching them, through our actions, that they have a say and that their ideas and boundaries are worthy of respect. In addition, our children know better than anyone what helps them. Perhaps your child has an idea of how they can participate meaningfully in a certain class or manage their anxiety in a crowded lunch room better than we can. By inviting students into the meeting, we show them that they can and need to be part of solving the problem. In addition, the solution will likely be easier to implement with student buy-in from the start.
So what age am I thinking? The earlier the better. Even a kindergartner can join for 10 minutes to share (verbally, with pictures, pointing on a choice board, etc) about their preferences and what helps them at school. Prepare by talking in advance about what an IEP meeting is, how it can help them and what they may want to share. You may want to assist them with writing down their thoughts and questions. Build up stamina and increase from there as the years go by. I can promise that you will not regret it.
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