Posts

Dr. Susan Burnett, Paralegal and Advocate 

Have you ever gone to your child’s IEP meeting with the uncomfortable premonition right from the start that it is going to be an adversarial meeting?

You walk in and everyone is friendly enough, but then someone proceeds with a conversation laden with inaccuracies and diversions. When challenged, the friendliness dissipates and the tension begins to grow. You request that the note taker record a detailed and accurate description of what is discussed. This is met with opposition as the person taking the notes is also the one who is running the meeting.

What do you do when the odds of a fair, honest and balanced discussion that could result in appropriate assessments and interventions seem unattainable?

What are your options?

Did you know that you can call an end to the meeting? As an equal IEP team member, you do not have to stay in a meeting where you are being minimized and sometimes bullied. You can simply state that you don’t feel as though the district is allowing you to be an equal participant and therefore the meeting will have to be rescheduled. You can take this even further if needed and send a letter to the director of special education requesting that a particular IEP team member not participate in your child’s meeting.

If needed invite the district education special to meet with you personally and listen to your concerns from the meeting.

Hopefully, you will never have this type of experience and your team already works collaboratively with you. But if difficulties in these meetings occur, it is important to know that as an equal IEP team member you have a vital role in the meeting and can advocate for your child as needed

Idealism and the desire to help people is often an overarching view of many young people fresh out of school and ready to contribute to the world. For Adrienne Oliveira, my guest today, she saw a career as a special education teacher as her chance to contribute.

Adrienne reflects on her time working in three different schools in three different states and the dramatic differences she found in each district. All these experiences gave her a unique perspective after her son was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. Suddenly Adrienne was now a parent at an IEP instead of a teacher.

The Individualized Education Program (IEP) is the key document, roadmap, etc. for a child securing special education services.

Rich and I talk about the IEP and what important aspects you should know and understand as a parent or caregiver.

Our sensory system has a profound impact on our everyday experiences and how we react to our world. Maybe a noise is annoying, a light too bright or an article of clothing feels just not right. For children with special needs such as autism, ADD and more, sensory struggles may be magnified to the point where they have a significant impact on their perception of the world. What may seem just fine to us, may be threatening to them.

Understanding the sensory system and its roll in a child’s life is what I talk to Dr. Susanne Smith Roley about today. We cover a lot of exciting material including sensory seekers, sensory avoiders, body awareness and much, much more. By the end of this podcast you may find yourself having a good understanding of terms such a proprioceptive, vestibular, temporal and spatial awareness. Wow!

 

Richard Isaacs, Attorney and CSNLG Founder

With the start of the 2017-2018 school year well on its way, I have noticed more due process filings by school districts against families.

A due process hearing means either party, in this case, the districts, are asking the court system to intervene and make a ruling.

While this might sound alarming at first, it is often legally necessary for school districts to take such drastic actions. The law is clear that when parents request public funding of independent educational evaluations (IEE’s) the school district must fund the assessments or file for due process to show their own assessments are appropriate. The legal standard for assessment compliance is low and the courts are routinely finding district assessments comply with the law.

As such, school districts are filing more often.

Interestingly, and unfortunately, districts sometimes file for due process even when they know their assessments are not defensible. There is a clear strategy for them here: It helps them enter into a settlement agreement to fund the requested IEEs and thereby insulate themselves from liability. They add waiver language to the proposed agreement.

School districts are also filing more often to defend the appropriateness of their IEP offer. While the law merely states the school district may file to enforce its IEP, court decisions have recently come out holding districts liable if they do not file for due process. The ruling expects them to seek judicial intervention in overriding a parent’s lack of consent to necessary educational services. In other words, if parents do not fully consent to the proposed IEP, and the District believes the services are necessary, they are required to file for due process.

This is an unfortunate development in the law because it now elevates an IEP dispute to the litigation level. Parents are practically forced to hire an attorney to defend against the school district’s lawsuit.

Sadly, a recent court case has also called into question whether families can be represented at the administrative court level by educational advocates. For families who could not afford an attorney and advocate is a much less expensive option.

This appears to no longer be the case.

It is strange that the state of California is taking such an aggressive stance against parents who have children with special needs. With the increased filings against families, the shrinking of options parents have to defend themselves, California is moving backward.

If your school district ever files for due process against you it is important to seek legal advice on how to move forward. Regardless if you hire an attorney or not, you should at least contact an attorney who specializes in special education law and obtain a clear understanding of your rights. The Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH) has a list of low cost and free attorneys you can use to find a law firm that you feel comfortable working with.

As always, we are happy to help too.

 

 

The IEP meeting is a crucial opportunity for you as a parent or caregiver to understand what the school district is providing for your child. Being prepared and ready to go means you will be at your peak performance.

We put together some tips below to help you with your meetings. Give them a try; we are confident they will help you feel strong, organized and empowered.

1. Bring Somebody With You

Always bring someone with you. This may be your spouse, advocate, lawyer (although that will change the tone of the meeting) neighbor or friend. Having someone with you means you feel more confident and are not alone as you face a room full of district employees all speaking about your child.

Talk about a high-pressure situation!

Have him, or her, take notes on what is said, offer an occasional clarification question and simply be there to make you feel better. By having an additional set of ears, your understanding of the meeting will be significantly improved. My wife Lori, and I were never alone during IEP meetings, and every single time (yes every single time) we had two different understandings about what was said. 😉 By talking it through, we were able to come to a common understanding.

Imagine if we had been alone!

2. Be Polite

Lots of “hellos,” handshakes, “thank you’s” “and please’s” sets a positive, helpful tone during the meeting. I know I sound like my mother here, but it does help. People are more open when they are comfortable, and you want district employees to be as open as they can.  Also, we found that by being polite, it helped us if we became upset at something that was said or a service that was not delivered. The meeting participants then gave more legitimacy to our irritations as it was out of the ordinary.

3. Be and Look Prepared

Take a look at our post on what to bring to your IEP meeting and have it ready to go. Make sure the paperwork you bring is organized, a binder or similar with tabs is best, and that you have extra copies to distribute as needed. Looking and being prepared creates a strong first impression on people in meetings.  We strongly believe in this approach when talking to any providers (school or otherwise) about our son. It elevates the conversation to a higher level with more details and ultimately leads to a better outcome. Teachers labeled us as being “very involved” in our son’s education; they meant that as a positive comment.

4. Assume Best Intentions

Teachers and other professionals involved in working with students are there to help students learn and be successful. By assuming everybody in the room is working to help your child, you will feel more relaxed and present a non-threatening demeanor. They, in turn, will assume best intentions in you and everybody will be off to a great start.

5. Take Notes and Show That You Are Taking Notes

I use my laptop to take notes during meetings. Lori likes to write it down. Either way is good. Taking notes also lets you write down questions you have and ask them later on during the discussion. I promise you, no matter how smart you are, having notes will be a huge help later on when you are recalling or looking back at a previous meeting.

6. Ask Questions for Clarification

During the IEP you are going to hear information and ideas that may be new or confusing. Sometimes it is hard to explain an accommodation, service or classroom interaction. By asking questions, you not only help yourself understand the information, but you also give feedback to the district employee that you are listening and processing what they are saying.

One of my favorite things to do is ask questions that tap the background and expertise of one of the meeting members. For example, “What do you think Braden’s (our son) initial reaction will be to this accommodation?” I do so in a way that lets the person know I value their opinion. It tends to give them pause from a standard statement they are giving and pushes them to reflect on what they are saying. You can see the body language change right away as they pause, look upward, then give their opinion. They feel valued, and you know if they have a larger understanding of the ideas they are suggesting.

7. Avoid Talking Too Much

An IEP meeting is structured and designed for each district specialist and educator to speak and seek feedback. It is also designed for you to ask questions and seek understanding. It is NOT designed for parents to talk, grieve, and unload the stresses of having a child with special needs. Look, I get it. Having a special needs child is difficult, and we are reminded of this every day. However, an IEP is not a good place to unload those stresses.Save that for friends, support groups, etc.

Lori and I have a signal for each other if we start talking too much. Usually (maybe always) I am the one who needs the signal to stop cracking jokes (my way of dealing with stress) and to just listen. This is yet another reason to bring someone with you.

8. Dress Well

We dress up for religious services, weddings, work, job interviews and more. An IEP meeting is at least as important as those events, so dressing up is equally as important. We all make assumptions about people on how they dress. It may be right or wrong, but we do it. Looking your best can only serve to help. Gentleman, you don’t need a tuxedo though. 😉

9. Don’t Worry If Tears Fall

Early IEP’s, where you have just learned your child has extra learning needs, are emotional events. Often tears may fall as you listen to how your child is not like all the other kids. If you start to cry, don’t worry about it. Members of the IEP team will see a parent who cares deeply about their child. They may even be more empathetic about your situation.

Grab a tissue, recover and move on. 😉

10. Sincerely Thank Everybody at the End of the Meeting

The end of an IEP meeting is a great chance to let people know how much you appreciate the work they are doing. I like to individually thank each person by pointing out an example of their efforts. “Braden loves sensory time, and we are using many of the techniques you suggested at home now.” Now, if you are feeling angry, upset or frustrated at the conclusion, it is just as important to thank everybody for their time. This tells people it is not personal (even if it feels like it is) and that while you must continue to advocate for your child, you will be reasonable.

Thanks for taking the time to read this.  If you have any suggestions, please leave them in the comments section below.

Overview

An IEP, is an individualized education plan. It is regularly found in public school systems as well as some private schools.

The IEP  is a written document and serves an education plan for students with exceptional (special) needs and is reviewed at least once a year. It sets goals and expectations for your child’s learning and growth. Parents, caregivers and school district representatives (teachers, occupational therapists, speech therapists, special education teachers and more) participate in the drafting and signing of the document.

Done well (and they often are), an IEP is a fantastic document developed with the input of many professionals all looking to design a program that helps your child progress.

The IEP should explain how your child is doing currently (present level of performance) specific goals for your child to meet, services he/she will receive as well as any accommodations that will help him/her to succeed.

What You Should Know

  • A district has 30 days to call an IEP meeting after it has been determined that a student IDEA listed disability. IDEA is the Individual Disability in Education Act
  • An IEP must be reviewed every year
  • An IEP binds a school district to provide the services and accommodations outlined in the document

Additional Resources

Do you think all children should receive the same education, regardless of individual strengths and weaknesses?

Probably not, and thankfully neither does the US Congress. In fact, it’s required to compose an Individualized Education Program (IEP) for every student in a special education course to ensure they are learning in the way that is most effective for them. IEPs serve an important purpose, so let’s take a look at how to make them most beneficial.

Team Meetings: Who, What, When, Why, and How to Make Them Successful

Who should be on a child’s IEP team?

  • A school district representative
  • The child’s regular education teacher, if he or she has one
  • The child’s special education teacher or provider
  • Parent or guardian of the child
  • The child!

The team meeting is held within 30 days of the decision that the child will be provided special education, and is an essential step in creating an effective IEP! Not only is it required before special education services will begin, it’s also where the student’s goals will be outlined, and where the services provided by the school district will be defined.

Parent Participation

No one knows the child better than the parents. Their knowledge and input is indispensable at this stage. Parents who are informed and involved both at school and home can make all the difference.

Process and Components

The school will set times for team meetings, during which the child’s IEP team will work together to create the IEP and organize its implementation. It’s important to have high expectations for the student and to establish achievable goals. Make sure the frequency of services is sufficient for the student to reach the goals, too!

What should be included in the IEP?

  • The child’s current level of achievement
  • Annual goals for the child
  • The special education services to be provided for the child
  • How much of the day the child will be in special education
  • How required assessments will be administered
  • Where and how often services will be provided, and for how long
  • How the child’s progress toward annual goals will be measured

 

IEP Implementation

This should occur as soon as possible after the team meeting! Follow up meetings can be scheduled for periodic checkups to ensure the IEP is serving its purpose, and to amend it if necessary.

Amending IEPs

Another meeting is not required in order to amend the IEP. The school and the child’s parents can draw up a written amendment, and all members of the committee must be informed of the changes.

Transition Requirements

Sweet 16! When the student reaches this age, it’s time to start making plans for life post-school. Whether that involves college, employment, independent living, or other options, this is a vital period for prevention of the student dropping out of high school, and also for setting up a successful future. Some transition services that can be included are instruction, vocational training, and life skills practice.

Extended School Year (ESY)

ESY programs are additional services provided outside the school day, be it in the hours after school or days during school breaks, such as summer vacation. The student’s need and eligibility for ESY will be determined by the IEP team, preferably during the initial IEP team meeting.

These programs are not necessarily a continuation of the special education programs, and are often focused on subjects such as reading instruction or speech therapy.

State laws vary regarding ESY programs, so make sure to learn the specifics for your area.

That’s a lot to know!

IEPs can be an overwhelming prospect, but remember that it won’t be set in stone, and can be changed as the child’s needs change, or even as the IEP team gains more knowledge. With a bit of work can be one of the most effective tools for the student’ s education. After all, its purpose is to help the child succeed, and that’s a cause everyone can support.

If you would like to get more information on these topics and more come to the Special Education Laws Made Simple Seminar Monday, May 19th in Orange, CA!