As a former special education teacher I know first hand how valuable an IEP is to a students education. Watching students struggle to understand their assignments because they are not given the appropriate accommodations. I’ve had students ball up timed quizzes in frustration because they could not concentrate under the allotted time limit, not knowing that if someone advocated for them during their last IEP meeting they could be given extended time for all assessments.
In reality, An IEP is more than just a written legal document (or “plan”). It’s a map that lays out the program of special education instruction, supports and services kids need to make progress and succeed in school, as described by understood.org.
In a typical IEP meeting parents will find rooms filled with psychologists, teachers, principals, lead teachers of special education, paraprofessionals and general education teachers whom have stacks of papers that diagnose and documents the behaviors of children as young as five. As a parent who isn’t trained in education walking into these meetings can be daunting. When you walk into the room holding packets of legal jargon and the sweet but sticky hand of the one you love most sitting in that plastic chair can feel overwhelming and listening to people tell you what your child needs can be hard, especially if you aren’t in agreement or don’t understand exactly what they’re suggesting.
When you are the parent or guardian of a child on an IEP you are afforded certain rights under the law.These rights are described here. In short parents have the right to participate in all meetings, give consent or deny services, and have your child evaluated by an outside professional. As a former Special Education teacher, I ran IEP meetings I always began them outlining the rights of the parent, no matter if it was their first or twentieth meeting. This was done to ensure that the parents or guardians have a clear understanding about everything that can be done under the umbrella of an IEP. If the language becomes unclear to you, ask that it be broken down into layman’s terms.
Attending these meetings are vital to ensuring that your child is receiving the services that he or she needs to thrive in their school setting. Below we’ve outlined four reasons as to why parents or guardians should attend all IEP meetings that involve their children.
- Continuity. The services discussed will follow your child for the next 12 months of their education experience. The services and accommodations written in the IEP will determine how teachers serve your child into the next grade level. If your child needs test accommodations for the next semester they will need to be documented into the IEP.
- Goals. The goals your child has worked on for the past year will be discussed and new goals for the next year will be developed. This is when you get the chance to get some insight into your child’s strengths and weaknesses. If your child is struggling with reading the team (parent or guardian included) should be able to come up with a target reading level and specific steps to get the student there. If the child struggles with behavior the goals should include small steps that the student can accomplish to eventually get the target percentage of appropriate behaviors. The goals should never be generic and should always be specific to your student.
- Accommodations. If you’ve noticed that your student struggles with timed tests you can request that they receive an accommodation such as extended time during test and quizzes. Perhaps the teacher mentions your student has difficulty focusing when sitting in the middle or back of the classroom, this is where an accommodation for preferential seating can be put in place.
- Strengths. Your students strengths will also be discussed. At times the news parents can receive about their student can be negative or calls documenting what can be done to improve upon the current situation. Although these can be discussed it is also embedded inside to talk about the positive attributes of the student. Hearing these words can help parents feel more positive about their scholars school experience.
This list is not exhaustive of all the reasons as to why a student should have a parent or guardian on their IEP team but it does highlight a few of the main points. Ensuring your child receives the proper services through advocating is essential to their education no matter their grade level or age. The Georgia Department of Education website has a list of all of the number of currently enrolled students by county and disability. There are over 10,000+ students currently receiving services in the Atlanta Public School and Fulton County Systems alone right now. We need to be able to ensure that each and every child is receiving the services they deserve.