Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Back to School with an IEP

As summer comes to an end and the new school year begins, there are steps that parents of students with IEPs should be taking to ensure that their children receive the maximum benefit from the services and supports to which they are entitled.

You may have just recently had your annual IEP meeting, or maybe it was held many months ago. In either event, this is the time to review the IEP and make sure you are familiar with the services, supports, and accommodations it provides for your child. Is she due to receive speech and language therapy? Reading support? Extended time on exams? You can't count on your child to accurately report on what goes on during his or her school day. Some children are too young for this task. Others lack the organizational abilities to notice what services they receive or when. And adolescents are often ambivalent about needing and receiving special education services and won't always share with you whether they were getting (and attending) the extra support or accommodations to which they are entitled.

One way to keep abreast of what is going on in school is to set up teacher meetings early in the year and then at some regular interval thereafter. How often this needs to be done depends upon your child's age and school situation. It may be simple to learn what is going on with an elementary child. He or she probably has only one or two teachers, maybe in a co-taught class with both special education and typically learning students. It is more difficult to track the services being provided to a middle school student, one who may have several teachers and half a dozen classes. Even for these students, there may be a single "point person" - perhaps a resource room teacher - who can help you make sure your son or daughter is getting the support to which he or she is entitled.  While high school students may be more aware of what they should be getting and more likely to let you know if there is a problem, they can also "blow off" extra supports. Getting them to advocate for themselves and take responsibility for their own learning, while making sure they get the support they need, can be a delicate balancing act.

Make sure that your child's teachers are aware of the fact that he or she has an IEP and that they have a copy of it and have reviewed it. It happens less often than it used to, but sometimes schools still don't distribute copies of the IEP to each teacher, usually over concerns about student privacy. This misplaced effort to protect students' rights can be a serious problem if teachers don't know what a student needs and is entitled to receive.

One question that parents often ask is how long is too long for services to begin at the start of the new school year. It's rare for services to begin the very first week of school -- but they certainly should be in place by the second or third week of school. Anything later than that is unacceptable and should trigger at call to the head of your child's IEP team. Even if the school offers a reasonable basis for the delay (staff turnover, difficulty hiring new specialists, scheduling issues), the fact remains that your child needs these services and is losing time he or she cannot make up. Keep on top of this issue. And track this issue during the year as well. Turnover or absences may mean your child is not getting services for an extended period, even if things started out fine.

Parents of older students need to make sure their children know is that, more than ever, accommodations on standardized tests like the SAT and ACT depend upon students getting and using accommodations on a regular basis in school. Students who don't use their extended time, for example, may risk not getting extended time on one of these crucial exams, since it may appear that they don't really require this accommodation.

Think about your child's IEP as an obligation of the school to provide your child with "FAPE" - a free, appropriate, public education. Getting the school year off to a good start, with services and accommodations in place and a plan for monitoring these during the year, is the best way to help your child to be successful in his or her new grade.

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