Making the School IEP Process Easier

By Jeffrey Marler on April 16, 2015 in Blog with No Comments

Making the School IEP Process Easier

(complete with a 9-step guide for parents)

Getting a disabilities plan in place at school is often daunting for a concerned parent, to say the least.

With a maze of paperwork, specialists, testing and meetings to navigate, it can be downright disheartening for parents who are unfamiliar with the industry-speak and procedures that the teachers, administrators and specialists work with every day.

I’ve attended numerous Admission, Review and Dismissal (ARD) school meetings with families. I’ve spoken with my clients’ parents. In spite of the school’s credentials and the teachers’ and therapists’ degrees…aspire interventions jeff marler southlake

You, the parents, are the experts regarding your child, and therefore, their best advocate in the maze of the disabilities rights and education system.

I’d like to help make your efforts smarter, not harder. First, you’ll need to understand something up front…

There may be conflict between parents and schools when it comes to the IEP

Schools receive federal funding for students with Individualized Education Plans (IEPs). So even schools that do a great job providing special services have a primary goal of keeping that money flowing. Much like a business, they are trying to get the most “bang for the buck,” and their goals may not coincide with yours.

It will be up to you to make sure that decisions are made in your child’s best interest—not for the school’s convenience—so your preparation will be key.

If your child doesn’t meet the criteria for one of the 14 educational disability categories in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), you may want to pursue what is known as a “504 plan.” This name is derived from Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which is a civil rights law protecting people with disabilities.

Schools don’t get funding for 504 plans. You may have to intentionally pursue a 504 plan for your child.

Parents play a role in the success of studentsEven though there’s a legal requirement to have special accommodations in the school for students with disabilities, there’s not much financial incentive for them to make establishing 504 plans a priority. It may be to your advantage that there’s not a formal process, as there is with an IEP. You might have heard school officials tell you they won’t provide testing for certain disabilities or that your child doesn’t meet criteria for developing a plan. This is where persistence and knowledge of your child will pay off. Remember, YOU are the expert on your child. You can take action and get outside help. You can find resolution to that “gut feeling” that something just isn’t right.

At ASPIRE Interventions we can help families navigate the twists and turns of the educational disability jungle, wherever you are in the process. If you’d like to speak with me in person about your concerns, please call me (817-416-5374), or send me an email here.

In the meantime, I’ve asked real moms to share lessons they’ve learned in the process of getting special services for their children. Between their input and my own experiences, I’ve put together an ARD checklist that will help you prepare for the ARD meeting.

Parents’ 9-Step Guide to the School ARD Meeting ard checklist parents

Refer to this checklist before you approach the school about an IEP, and share it with other parents who are dealing with these issues.

  • Do your homework before approaching the school for an IEP. By the time you’ve recognized the need for an IEP, you’ve most likely been through a lengthy process of testing, assessment, diagnoses, etc. But if you’re just realizing your child is having problems, don’t rely on school testing and diagnosing to give you the best information. Learn what the school’s IEP eligibility requirements are beforehand. Remember, they are testing only for IEP eligibility. You are seeking clarification about what your child can and cannot do, how they best learn, and how to get them to reach these goals.
  • Before pursuing an IEP or (504 plan) at your own school, call around to other nearby school districts to see what disability education services they offer. Not all schools offer the same type or level of special education options, so you may find something more suited to your child’s needs outside of your school district. Visit the districts’ websites and look for the counseling departments. Don’t be afraid to bring up what you found, and liked, in comparison to what your school may offer.
  • Once you’ve reached the stage where you have an appointment for an ARD meeting, request copies of academic/social assessments being used by the IEP team to set goals before the meeting. Look for behavior or performance information that’s been reported and compare it to your own list of observations about your child’s abilities.
  • Contact each member of the team a week before the ARD meeting to ask them what their proposed IEP goals are. This assures there will be no surprises at the meeting and gives you time to respond with follow-up questions prior to the meeting.
  • Don’t hesitate to contradict a school employee’s assessment of your child when it’s wrong. Although it can be scary to stand up to a school professional, keep in mind that you are your child’s most knowledgeable advocate. But use wisdom and have documentation. You’ll have a chance to tell your side of the story at the ARD meeting, so be ready with specific examples.
  • Make sure EVERYTHING that was promised to your child in the ARD meeting is written in the final version of the IEP. It doesn’t matter who promised it or how sincere she was when she said it; if it’s not in writing, the school does not have to provide it.
  • Don’t sign the IEP if you see something that doesn’t seem right. The plan isn’t official until everyone on the team signs it, including the parents. Don’t feel pressured to sign off just because the meeting is over. It’s OK to want to think it over and to sign on later. This will not prevent your child from getting services, but it might help your child get better services if you wait.
  • Go with your gut. You know your child better than anyone. If a particular diagnosis or treatment method doesn’t seem right to you, don’t settle, just because it’s coming from a doctor or school official. Not all psychologists or diagnosticians are created equal. 9. Remain calm. There’s a tendency sometimes to feel like going into an ARD meeting is like going among giants or worse. Be kind, well informed, temperate, and don’t burn any bridges. You can be persistent without being impatient. Remember, it’s not personal…it just feels like it is.

If you have experiences or questions about the IEP process that you’d like to share with us, I invite you to post in the comments section. Next time, I’ll go into more detail about the terminology, acronyms, specialists’ titles and governing legislation you may encounter in the process of determining your child’s educational disability needs.In the meantime, you can read more detailed information about education services for special needs children and how to be an advocate for your child here.

 

Jeffrey Marler

About Jeffrey Marler

Jeffrey Marler has written 44 posts in this blog.

Speech Pathologist, Communicator, Listener, Researcher, Therapist, | Southlake, Texas Dr. Marler is an internationally recognized clinical researcher. At ASPIRE – Innovative Language Interventions, PLLC, you receive care and treatment from a professional with 28 years of experience with learning disabilities and 15+ years as a speech-language pathologist. Dr. Marler has a PhD in Speech and Hearing Science with an emphasis in auditory-based learning disabilities. Connect on Google+

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