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Sunday, January 20, 2013

Becoming an Equal Partner with the IEP team

It's common knowledge that a parent usually does not have the expertise, knowledge and decison making power equal with a multidisciplinary IEP (or 504 Plan) Team. But yet, the parent is supposed to be an equal partner with the school team.

Congress, when reauthorizing IDEA 2004, clearly acknowledged how important experts are for parents

It also recognized the importance of parents being able to get a second opinion, via an independent evaluation. 

But we also know that in most states:

  • Parents have the burden of proof and

  • Parents do not have any way to 'stop' the team from developing an inappropriate IEP.

When the school team develops an IEP and the parent disagrees, there is a common misperception that a parent just 'won't sign' the IEP and that solves the problem.

But this is a myth; in most states, the parent signature means nothing except for the very first, initial IEP.

Example:  Johnny has been having behavior problems for about a year.  None of the supports at home or school have been effective.  The parent feels that if the behavior plan addressed his social skills and his poor regulation from executive functioning, Johnny could do well.  But the school feels that Johnny is manipulative and out of control.  The IEP team meets, and changes Johnny's placement to a special education school.  The parent is shocked and disagrees with the IEP.  But the change of placement will take effect, unless the parent files a request for a hearing.  The new bus comes to pick Johnny up to go to his new special education school.  He comes home crying, telling his parents how he saw other students fighting and attacking teachers.  Now the parent must engage experts, gather evidence, and hire an attorney at great financial, emotional and time costs to the parent.

Mary is a child with a learning disability.  She is receiving an hour per week of speech language services in addition to her special education via her IEP.  Mary's parents believe she needs more speech langauge services, to address her reading, social pragmatic and oral language needs.  Instead of agreeing to added services, the IEP team reduces Mary's speech language services to 30 minutes per month, as a consult.  The team tells Mary's parents that she is getting good grades, so Mary does not need that level of services any longer.  Mary's parents disagree, saying that they spend all night on homework and the good grades  are because Mary is only graded on the work she turns in; Mary does not have to do the same work as her peers.  The school team recommendation will go forward, unless Mary's parents file a request for a hearing. 
Becoming an equal member of the school based team sometimes is not easy.  Here are my top 5 TIPS for becoming a more equal partner with the school team. 

TIP #1

Know your state regulations, your procedural safeguards, and even landmark special education cases. 

Have a plan for various responses by the team. Know your rights, including pros and cons, of requesting an Independent Evaluation at public expense. 

By reading or listening to (my) books (LOL), blogs, going to conferences, getting expert advice (so much is free online), and generally researching your state hearing officer determinations or administrative law judge decisions, a parent can learn a whole lot.  Webinars on any special education subject are available.  Email me or comment and I can point you in the right direction. Michelle R. Davis, M. Ed.

This will help you understand the mindset and framework for the obligations of the school district. 

Chapter 4 "The Law" of

TIP #2

Be sure there are evalutions, reports, notes, data points or other written indications for what you are requesting. 

Data, data, data, data, data, data, data, data, and more data.

Before the meeting, try reviewing any evaluations or reports from the previous semester or year, and summarize the recommendations that professionals have made, and provide that to the IEP team as your parental input statement.  Have evidence that what you are asking for has been recommended by a professional.  (If you don't have such reports, then focus on obtaining them).  Tie that evidence, report, data, note, evaluation, document to your child's ability to access the curriculum.  For example, how does his lack of organization skills or social skills affect his involvement in the curriculum, his progress, and why does he need this service or intervention to receive a FAPE?

Inspect carefully the most recent progress reports and grades for your child.  Make a list of questions about the progress reports, and report card, and be prepared to record the answers, or obtain the answers in writing. 

Chapter 6 "Evaluating a Child's Strengths and Weaknesses" in

TIP #3

Ask for Parent Counseling and Training

See this blog for a full explanation of parent counseling and training.  This will require the school district to work with you, the parent, and have scheduled sessions where information is exchanged and discussed, relevant to any portion of the student's IEP.

TIP #4

Get help.  Consider all the groups and special interest online communities, and form relationships to hear others' stories and gain ideas and knowledge. 

Parent Training and Information Centers

My Special Needs Advocacy Resource Book

Hire An Expert

Even if you bring a friend or family member, or expert from the community with special knowledge or expertise, you can get some assistance.  Tip:  Tape record the meeting, and have it transcribed--where legal, of course.  Extra tip:  Before the meeting, make an appointment to inspect your child's records.  This will show you, the parent, the information the school is using to make its decisions.  Get help early!  It is much more difficult for the expert you hire to dispute a decision that the team has already made.  It is easier for your representative to assist in a way that will benefit the child if the expert is brought in early and has ample opportunity to know the child. 

TIP #5

Hire me to audit your child's IEP or 504 Plan.

An IEP Audit:

  • Tailored to your unique child
  • Specific to your state
  • An expert report
  • Uses a variety of data sources to really know your child's needs
  • A clear report showing how the IEP should be revised
  • A tool for your use at the meeting
  • A report for you to share with the school team
  • Empowering parents to be equal partners with the team
  • Reveals strengths and weaknesses of the student's IEP and placement
  • Recommends specific 'fixes' for the IEP
  • Assists in planning for the upcoming year, and beyond

Contact me for specific information


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