What does a parent or caregiver need to know about the IEP process?
So far we’ve looked at the purpose of an Individualized Education Plan (IEP): An “IEP” is designed to set forth the way a school will meet the educational and disability-related needs of the child. We’ve also looked at the components of an IEP meeting, including what will be discussed and documented on at least an annual basis. But what else should a parent know about supporting a child’s free and appropriate education?
Two advocates share how parents can best navigate (and survive!) the IEP process:
1. Educate the educators about your child.
- Blindness is a low incidence disability; most of the IEP team members have never worked with a student who is blind. You might have to educate them!
- At the beginning of the school year, write an introductory email to your child’s educational team with highlights of your child’s IEP and best practices in working with your child. Include a picture of your child, their interests, and what they did over the summer. As your child gets older/more capable, you can include them in writing the email.
- You are an expert, too, because you know your child best. While school staff members have experience with educational theories and methods, you have expertise with your child.
- You spend much more time with your child than school personnel do, and your knowledge of your child’s likes and dislikes, strengths and areas of need, motivators, personality, etc. can help the teachers plan for instruction.
- If you don’t agree with something that is being said or done, speak up!
2. Value introductions.
- IEP team meetings may have many school personnel/contractors in attendance or there may be new members, so beginning IEP meetings with introductions allows each person to know/remember the name and role of each participant.
- Introductions also remind team members of the talents and resources on the team (including the expertise of the parents and the child).
3. Don’t hesitate to call a team meeting.
- As a parent, you have the right to ask for a team meeting anytime. While you probably don’t want to have a meeting every day, having meetings with team members during the IEP term can be very valuable.
- IEP meetings can happen more than once per year, and the start of a new school year, a move to a new school site, or new and departing IEP team members can all be good reasons to call an IEP team meeting.
- Other reasons to meet with the IEP team include a need to add something (a service or accessible assistive technology) or to change the IEP because it’s not working. Sometimes a child meets IEP goals early; in those cases, new goals need to be developed. Other times, the plan isn’t working or the child’s needs change. In those cases, the IEP should evolve.
- Remember, an IEP is designed to serve the child, not the other way around.
4. Document everything.
- There is an adage in business: “If it’s not written down, it didn’t happen.” A corollary is: “If it’s not written down, it won’t happen.” These adages hold true in education, especially in the world of IEPs.
- Everything that is agreed to in the IEP meeting must be included in the IEP. The IEP overrules verbal agreements (before or after the meeting).
- It’s O.K. to try new tools, etc., but access to them is not guaranteed if it’s not in the IEP.
- Emails about new equipment or extra instructional time are not enough; make sure the team amends the IEP to include the addition.
- Please know that the school may not stop doing something required in the IEP without holding a meeting with the team (including you) to discuss whether the IEP should be amended.
- Keep track of your communications with the school.
- Consider an “IEP Binder” or file folder to collect all paper documentation from the school.
- Keep an electronic folder of documents and emails (you can use Control + F to search multiple files at a time).
- Document the content of phone conversations with emails.
- Next steps:
- At the end of any meeting or conversation, ask what will happen next.
- This helps everyone know what to expect and if something gets missed.
5. Know you are not alone.
- You can have anyone that you want attend the IEP meeting with you: a friend, an advocate, an adult with blindness/low vision, an outside service provider for your child, etc.
- Advocates can identify potential solutions for your child and can help you understand the IEP process and how to effectively communicate with school officials. NOTE: If you want to have an attorney present, the school district has the right to have their attorney also.
- It is best to notify the school district before the meeting of the names of any people you wish to invite to the meeting.
6. Consider recording the IEP meeting.
- Recording the meeting empowers you to participate in the meeting without worrying about taking copious notes and allows you (and your partner or others who might not be able to attend) to review everything that went on at the meeting.
- You should give the school personnel at least 24-hour notice if you would like to record the meeting.
7. You have the right to disagree with an IEP.
- You don’t have to sign on the IEP if you don’t agree with its terms, or you can write in an exception, or exceptions.
- If the school district agrees, you can continue the existing IEP for an extended period of time. This is not ideal, but it is possible and sometimes necessary if you do not agree with the documents many aspects/terms.
- BEWARE: If the school district sends you a written notice of an IEP it wants to implement (a “Prior Written Notice (PWN)), refusing to sign the IEP is not enough. If you receive a PWN, you must take all the steps needed to continue your disagreement; check your “Procedural Safeguards” document for details.
8. You have the right to disagree with the school’s assessments.
- If you disagree with the school’s assessment(s) you can request an independent education evaluation (IEE) at the expense of the school district.
- The IEE assessor is someone you choose who is independent of the school. Schools may have some rules about who can perform the IEE (such as qualifications needed, rates of pay, etc.), but the school must follow these same rules with all of the assessments they perform. While you must follow applicable rules, you do have the right to choose the IEE assessor.
9. Value reevaluations/triennial assessments.
- Every three years, the school district must conduct a reevaluation//triennial assessment.
- These reevaluations must assess the child in all areas of suspected disability and must examine the appropriateness of the child’s current IEP.
- Don’t just waive this reevaluation. It can be very helpful to ensure that your child is receiving needed support in all areas.
10. There is life outside the IEP.
- IEPs can be stressful. Don’t neglect your or your child’s needs; explore and engage in self-care strategies that work for you as a parent and that work for your child.
- Enjoy your child and your family. IEPs will end at high school graduation (or age 21). Your family relationships will last a lifetime.
- Seek out support networks – Parents Helping Parents, the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC) and its state chapters, other children and adults with the same/similar disabilities, mentors, etc.
Thank you, advocates: Lisa Lloyd, parent of a teen who is blind, and Carlton Anne Cook Walker, BEAR-Blindness Education and Advocacy Resources, Teacher of Students with Blindness/Low Vision, President of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children, and parent of a young adult who is blind.
Parents, you are powerful advocates of your child’s IEP; you can maximize your child’s academic and lifelong success.
If you are looking for more information on navigating the IEP process for your child who has a visual impairment, please join Carlton Anne Cook Walker and Lisa Lloyd on Saturday, February 12th at 11:00 AM – 12:30 PM (Eastern) for “Navigating the Individualized Education Program (IEP) Process” Register HERE.
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