When your child has an Individualized Education Plan, each new school year brings a unique set of challenges. While this post is primarily for caregivers who are new to the IEP process, it never hurts to review some of the basics. I will refer to guardians in this post, as it encompasses anyone who has a legal relationship with a child. (I may do a separate post about IEPs for children in state’s care.) Please note that I am not a lawyer, and this post is primarily for students in public school in Kentucky. (I may also do a post about children with IEPs in private schools, but I will have to do my research first!)
Top Ten Tips for Caregivers of Students with IEPs
1. As the guardian, you can call an ARC meeting any time you want. This is the “big meeting,” and involves not only the parent and teacher, but the school counselor, occupational therapist, speech therapist, physical therapist, behavior coach, and anyone else who might be involved in your child’s school life.
2. Put things in writing, especially requests for meetings. The school counselor (or, if you’re lucky, an ECE clerk) is usually responsible for coordinating the meeting, meaning getting all the players together, but ultimately, it is the school principal who is on the line if there’s a legal dispute.
3. You can bring anyone you want to the meetings. If you request district personnel to attend, do so in writing. (I once heard about a parent bringing their pastor with them for support. The school assumed that he was their attorney, and (not coincidentally!) were very cooperative that meeting!)
4. You don’t have to sign ANYTHING at the meeting. You can request a copy to take home and look over. These meetings can be really overwhelming!
5. An IEP is a living (meaning it has to be updated), legally binding document. No matter the school or classroom, the IEP dictates the services your child is legally entitled to under IDEA and FAPE.
6. If your child needs to be reassigned, you have the right to refuse the reassignment! However, you need to be aware that refusing an assignment may make your life (and, by extension, your child's life) more difficult. Your best bet is to learn why your child is being assigned to another classroom or school. Ideally, any reassignment would be to better meet a child's needs.
7. However: If the school or district is telling you that your child needs a different school or classroom assignment due to his or her behavior, you need to request a Functional Behavior Assessment, or FBA. Now, this is my bias as someone who works with kids and their behavior for a living, but if behavior is keeping someone from participating in the environment, it doesn't necessarily matter how many times we change the environment--the behaviors will still exist. The last thing you want to do is to change teachers, schools, etc. every time a challenging behavior pops up!
8. Remember that you ultimately know your child better than anyone else will. Your job is to support and advocate for your child.
9. Some parents find it helpful to have a binder with their child's picture on it, to remind everyone at the meeting of who they're talking about, and that the data is attached to an actual human being. This binder should have sections for past IEPs (Note: A big red flag to me is when a goal has not changed (e.g., no progress has been made, nor has the goal been modified) for at least six months. Look over your past IEPs before you go in for your annual meeting.), one for assessments, and one for your notes. This is where you can write down your questions for the meeting ahead of time, to ensure that you're getting all your questions answered.
10. Above all else, remember that there are many teachers and other professionals who care about your kids, want them to succeed, and are on your side! Don't be afraid to reach out and ask questions!