Being a member of the IEP team requires confidence, collaboration and a commitment to your child.
Here are five important ways to advocate for your child during an IEP meeting:
Personalize for your child.
No one on the IEP team knows your child the way you do. The other team members may be experts about education, but you’re an expert about your child. Share your perspective on your child’s personality, interests, struggles and success. Cast a wide net. Describe how he behaves when doing homework, playing on sports teams and doing other activities outside of school. This will give the school insights into your child’s abilities and interests. It also will remind the team to tailor his IEP to him as an individual.
Keep an open mind.
Everyone on the IEP team brings something to the table. You bring key insights and information about your child. Other team members offer experience and understanding of your child’s needs and strengths at school. If someone brings up an issue or solution you’re not sure of, hear them out. Sometimes issues may come up in school that don’t appear at home. After all, school is a different environment, with different rules and expectations. By working together, you can more fully discuss and address your child’s needs.
Ask questions and seek clarification.
Special education laws and programs are complex. Even if you’re well prepared, you may hear new terms and references during an IEP meeting. When this happens, ask for explanations. You have a right to understand every detail and decision. You may want to ask in advance for notes to be taken during the meeting. Then ask for a copy of the notes at the end of the meeting.
Focus on the outcome, not the process.
Be aware of the goals you have for your child, and make sure the team understands your expectations. You can work together to create a plan to help your child achieve those goals. Together the team can figure out the best resources and effective instructional approaches. Be sure to ask questions about what the team proposes and even suggest changes.
Advocate for your rights and those of your child.
Don’t allow others to gloss over IEP details that involve your rights. For instance, if you’re told that the district won’t cover certain services, ask to see the section of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act(IDEA) that supports that. If you’re unsure about the IEP drafted in the meeting, don’t feel pressured into signing it. (Signing the attendance page doesn’t mean you agree with the IEP; it simply means you attended.) Exercise your right to take the IEP draft home and think it over. Be polite but firm. Ideally the other team members will respect you for standing your ground.
The Individual’s with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) states, “(1) the parents of a child with a disability must be afforded an opportunity to participate in (IEP) meetings with respect to (i) the identification, evaluation, and educational placement of the child; and (ii) the provision of FAPE (Free Appropriate Public Education) to the child.”
• Assisting their child’s learning;
• Being actively involved in their child’s education at school;
• Serving as full partners in their child’s education and being included, as appropriate, in decision-making and on advisory committees to assist in the education of their child.
Below is a list of ten reasons why parent involvement in an IEP is crucial:
1. Research has proven that parent involvement in education is a predictor of a child’s academic success;
2. Good communication between parent and school will alert you to whether any changes such as new goals need to be added to the IEP;
3. Respect between school and parents will help negotiations run smoother;
4. Keeping track of your child’s ability to complete class work and homework will alert you to whether your child is accessing the curriculum;
5. Making sure your child is in the proper placement will help your child access the curriculum;
6. Addressing academic discrepancies early will allow your child to catch up in the future;
7. Working on goals in both the School and Home environment consistently will help your child achieve better success;
8. Keeping track of your child’s services will let you know whether the school is out compliance;
9. Parents and Teachers share the same goal of preparing your child for independent living, postsecondary education and employment; and
10. Your child’s future is at stake.
Remember, parent involvement does not mean the teacher should do everything your way or vice-versa. The goal is to create a partnership with the teacher where everyone's opinion counts so that your child can receive a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). When a Parent or Teacher feel they have all the answers they have most likely lost sight of the question. And the question should always be how do we educate the child to prepare them for life.
What Do Advocates Do?
Advocates gather facts and information. As they gather information and organize documents, they learn about the child’s disability and educational history. Advocates use facts and independent documentation to resolve disagreements and disputes with the school.
Know the rules of the Game
Advocates know that a child with a disability is entitled to an “appropriate” education, not the “best” education, nor an education that “maximizes the child’s potential.”
Advocates know the procedures that parents must follow to protect their rights and the child’s rights.
Plan and Prepare
Advocates know that planning prevents problems. Advocates do not expect school personnel to tell them about rights and responsibilities. Advocates read special education laws, regulations, and cases to get answers to their questions.
Advocates learn how to use test scores to monitor a child’s progress in special education.
They prepare for meetings, create agendas, write objectives, and use meeting worksheets and follow-up letters to clarify problems and nail down agreements.
Keep Written Records
Because documents are often the keys to success, advocates keep written records. They know that if a statement is not written down, it was not said. They make requests in writing and write polite follow-up letters to document events, discussions, and meetings.
Ask Questions, Listen to Answers
Advocates are not afraid to ask questions. When they ask questions, they listen carefully to answers.
Advocates learn to define and describe problems from all angles. They use their knowledge of interests, fears, and positions to develop strategies. Advocates are problem solvers. They do not waste valuable time and energy looking for people to blame.
Advocates know that parents negotiate with schools for special education services. As negotiators, advocates discuss issues and make offers or proposals. They seek “win-win” solutions that will satisfy the interests of parents and schools.
Welcome to Holland
BY EMILY PERL KINGSLEY
I am often asked to describe the experience of raising a child with a disability – to try to help people who have not shared that unique experience to understand it, to imagine how it would feel.
It’s like this…
When you’re going to have a baby, it’s like planning a fabulous vacation trip – to Italy. You buy a bunch of guidebooks and make wonderful plans. The Coliseum. The Michelangelo David. The gondolas in Venice. You may learn some handy phrases in Italian. It’s all very exciting.
After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives. You pack your bags and off you go.
Several hours later, the plane lands.
The stewardess comes in and says, “Welcome to Holland.” “Holland?!?” you say. “What do you mean Holland?? I signed up for Italy! I’m supposed to be in Italy. All my life I’ve dreamed of going to Italy.”
But there’s been a change in the flight plan.
They’ve landed in Holland and there you must stay.
The important thing is they haven’t taken you to a horrible, disgusting, filthy place full of pestilence, famine and disease. It’s just a different place. So you must go out and buy new guidebooks. And you must learn a whole new language. And you will meet a whole new group of people you never would have met. It’s just a different place. It’s slower-paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy.
But after you’ve been there for a while and you catch your breath, you look around…and you begin to notice Holland has windmills…and Holland has tulips. Holland even has Rembrandts.
But everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy…and they’re all bragging about what a wonderful time they had there.
And for the rest of your life, you will say, “Yes, that’s where I was supposed to go. That’s what I had planned.”
And the pain of that will never, ever, ever, ever go away…because the loss of that dream is a very, very significant loss.
But…if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn’t get to go to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things…about Holland.
©1987 BY EMILY PERL KINGSLEY.
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
Longtime Sesame Street writer Emily Perl Kingsley has been advocating for people with disabilities since 1974, when her son, Jason (co-author of Count Us In: Growing Up With Down Syndrome), was born with Down syndrome. In 1987, she wrote Welcome To Holland, which has remained a source of comfort and inspiration ever since.