PARENTS & FAMILIES NEWSLETTER
This is the July 2021 edition of Stand for Children’s Parents and Families Newsletter. Started in 2019, our hope is that this monthly resource provides the practical solutions that parents and family members are asking for. Past topics have included graduation requirements, financial aid, and remote learning.
We are proud to share this edition of our newsletter created by Stand Parent Fellow Devony Audet about a highly requested topic: Special Education. This is the third of three blogs in Devony's series about SpEd. Scroll down for links to Devony’s new short video series about SpEd. If you'd like to receive this monthly in your email inbox, sign up here.
There are a few things I wish would have been clearly laid out when my son entered Special Education. One of them would have been an explanation of what to expect at an IEP meeting. I am not sure how many of you can relate, but IEP meetings used to scare me senseless. I didn’t know what to expect, I had a hard time understanding everything the teachers were telling me, and even when I did ask for clarification, I didn’t always understand the additional information I was given. I also didn’t know what services or accommodations were available to ask for. IEP meetings will vary school to school, but there are some basic things that I think you might find helpful. Here is where I will remind those of you who know, and let those of you who might not know, that I am a stay-at-home parent of a Special Education student. Everything that I know I have learned from personal experience, personal research, or trainings I have been able to attend through the state or my children’s district as a parent. I have no formal degrees or training and while I am dedicated to providing accurate information, there is always more I could know. If you have suggestions on how I can improve please reach out! I would love to hear from you. Also, here is the link to OSPI if you would like to learn a little more for yourself.
1 – Who will be involved
The IEP team can consist of a large team, or there might just be a few people there. The necessary members are you and a special education teacher, but you could also have a whole room full of people. The first thing to know is that YOU get to decide if your child is part of the team or not. In the past I had chosen for my son to not be involved because I felt the meetings were very deficit based and far too focused on what he could NOT do. Now, my son is an active member of his IEP team because I feel it is a safe and healthy environment where we can celebrate his talents and abilities to help build a roadmap to meet his unique needs. Both options are ok and you as the parent get to make that choice. Next, you and any other guardian are part of the team. Not only are you a member of the team, but you are an equal member. This means you get to have a voice in the decisions being made, you aren’t just there to listen to others make the choices. The next member is the special education teacher (the teacher who is responsible for overseeing the specially designed instruction your student receives) as well as any general education teacher/s your student has (in elementary school this would be the home room teacher and in secondary it would be any general education classes they are part of during the course of the day). The next member can be confusing and that is a school representative. Many people could fulfill this role. The special education teacher, an administrator, someone from the district, or even other staff can fulfill this role. It is just a person who represents the district in the meeting and is knowledgeable about the supports and services that the district has to offer. Then there could be others with knowledge about your child. From the school this could be therapists, counselors, psychologists, etc.. This could also be someone you bring like a doctor or therapist. In addition, there could be someone who can interpret evaluation results. If your child has recently had a re-evaluation, a FBA (Functional Behavior Assessment) or any other testing that might be done for services, someone should be there that would explain those results to you. Most often this would be the school psychologist. If your child is going to be receiving transition services for post-secondary options, someone could be there for that. You can also bring someone for support. This might be a friend or a family member who can take notes so that you don’t miss anything, an advocate if you need more direct support, or even a lawyer if you feel it is necessary.
2 – The Meeting
There is no concrete agenda or ways to conduct an IEP meeting, but most meetings are pretty similar. All the participants will be in one room (if in person) and seated close enough so all of those present can easily participate. The Special Education teacher will be the one leading the meeting. There will be Introductions where everyone there will introduce themselves and explain their role, and the Special Education teacher will talk about the purpose of the meeting. If your student has any new testing results, those will likely be shared next. You will then go over present levels, this is where you will hear how your child did on their previous IEP goals. Then you will go over the proposed IEP – this is where the most time will be spent. It is important to remember that you are an EQUAL member of the team and get to have a hand in deciding the IEP. If you aren’t happy with what is proposed, you have a right to ask questions and share your opinions on what your student needs. If necessary, you can ask to meet again. After you have had your questions answered and feel you understand the proposed IEP, then you will sign that you were present and agree to the IEP.
The confusing thing about this is that you only have one place to sign for both. If you agree with what the IEP says, then you just sign once and you are done. If you don’t agree with all or part of the IEP, you will still sign saying that you attended the meeting, but you need to make sure that it is noted somewhere on the IEP that you have issues with all or some of the proposed changes. At this point, you can have another meeting to go over things again or you can reach out for additional support. This can be done through the Special Ed. Department at your district or from an outside source such as an advocate. Also remember that if the IEP doesn’t end up meeting your child's needs, you don’t have to wait until the next year to have another meeting. You can call another meeting at any time. You can watch a video here to learn more about that.
3 - What should be in an IEP
This could vary in the way that it looks, student to student, but each IEP is required to have at least the following things. If you want to look into more in depth information for yourself, you can follow this link.
- Present levels - How your child’s disability is affecting their academic and/or functional performance at school.
- Measurable annual goals - i.e., your IEP goals.
- How goals will be measured.
- The special education services, related services, and supplementary aids or services - Special education services meaning the specially designed instruction that the school will provide your student to meet their individual needs to meet educational standards, related services are any services the school provides to help the student access or benefit from their specially designed instruction – you can follow this link for more in-depth information, and supplementary aids and services are any supports offered so the student can be included to the maximum extent possible with their nondisabled peers.
- Program modifications or supports offered to school staff - Program modifications being any changes in what the student is expected to learn and supports for school staff are often training they need to meet a student’s needs.
- Extent to which a student will be educated with general education peers - You will see this in the “minutes” part of your IEP. You will see a percentage and that will tell you how much of a student’s school day is spent in a general education setting with their non-disabled peers.
- Assessment accommodations – For state assessments.
- Dates and location - When the services will begin and end, where they will be provided, and how often they will take place.
- Transition services - This must take place at age 16 – although it can take place earlier – to help a student prepare for post-secondary goals if applicable.
4 – Preparing for an IEP meeting
I don’t know that there is a “right” way to prepare for an IEP meeting, but I think there are a few things that can be helpful to most families. The biggest thing I would recommend is to request a copy of the proposed IEP three days in advance. This is a reasonable expectation on the school, and it also allows you ample time to read through it before the meeting. I also highly recommend having an IEP binder. I have seen these look a little different, but the idea is that you have a binder where you can keep things like pens, paper, information to help you like a list of acronyms or names and numbers for people, as well as past and present information about your student. Think things like their IEP, behavior plan, progress notes and report cards, applicable up to date medical information, and anything else that is relevant. Before an IEP meeting you can look through the binder and refresh your memory. Make a list of any concerns to bring with you. This a good idea so you won’t forget them at the meeting. Bringing a water bottle may seem like a silly suggestion, but it is an honest one. When you talk a lot having a drink handy can help keep you comfortable.
Hopefully this has been a help to you. In some ways it was a lot of information, yet I am sure there are still people who have questions I didn’t cover. The journey of a parent of a student in special education isn’t often an easy one. Starting out there is a whole new world to learn and if things get rough, it is hard to find help sometimes. It is important that you know you aren’t alone! We are all doing our best and if Stand for Children can ever be of any help, please reach out.
I have also created a series of short videos designed to answer common questions on special education topics in around 10 minutes. You can check out all the available videos and here watch the ones relevant to you. Here’s one about what to expect in an IEP meeting where I cover some of the information I presented in this blog in video format: https://youtu.be/cXRarPjM1Fk