Tips for Navigating the IEP with Attorney Richard Isaacs.
Michael Boll: Hello everybody and welcome to another addition of Special Education Matters. I’m your host Michael Boll and I have an 18 year old son with autism. The Individualized Education Program or IEP is the key document, roadmap, etcetera for a child securing special education services. Rich and I will talk today about the IEP and what important aspects you should know and understand as a parent or a caregiver. Enjoy the conversation.
Michael Boll: Richard Isaacs welcome back to the program.
Rich Isaacs: Yeah it’s good to be here. Thanks.
Michael Boll: It’s great to talk with you again. We’re gonna take a step back to the beginning. Uh, we’re gonna talk about the IEP. And now as a parent, when you’re notified that your child has some special needs or maybe you’ve been the district of it that your child needs some assistance an IEP is where it comes together. Tell us what an IEP is and what we should know about it.
Rich Isaacs: An IEP is an Individualized Education Program and it’s really just what the name says. It’s an individualized program set-up for students who need additional supports in school.
Michael Boll: Alright. Sounds pretty simple but this document isn’t necessarily so simple. Can I get an advance look at it before I go in?
Rich Isaacs: So that’s a good…good question. Every school district runs their IEP process a little bit differently. To answer it, simply yes, you could always request a copy and they should have a draft. The draft can be provided to you. You can request it 5 days before the IEP meeting. If it’s an initial IEP meeting it probably not gonna have a draft yet because you have to go under the eligibility decision to determine if an IEP is necessary. But yes always request for a draft IEP prior to a meeting.
Michael Boll: Okay so I hopefully have this in advance. I’ve read some things. We’ve talked before the show is just highlighting anything that might be new to you which you know it’s got information from a lot of different people that you may not have your our expertise in. So certainly that would be a part of it but then you sit down and who is going to be there along with me? Do I bring my child? Should I go by myself? What do you think?
Rich Isaacs: So often no, no to the student. If you have an older child, aged 16, it’s encouraged that they’d be there at least for a part of it to discuss secondary goals but for the most part especially if you’re in elementary or middle school, I don’t encourage the student to be there. It’s unnecessary and they’re not gonna understand.
Michael Boll: Okay.
Rich Isaacs: The participants that are necessary, generally speaking, are gonna be the teacher- special education teacher. The different specialist who may have assessed or working with the child and that could be OT which is Occupational Therapists. Such as a language path, the school psychologist. And then really important person is the District Administrator. And the District Administrator usually gonna facilitate the meeting but they’re the person that can make the decision of what services and approved things. They can answer questions that the parent have about the different resources available in programs. Available that the district has.
Michael Boll: Okay. So what is the point of view—So I walk in there and my goal is to perhaps get services for my child. What do you think the point of view is for the people on the other side of the table which it could be what 5 or 10 people there?
Rich Isaacs: Right. And this is where there is a divergence of the purpose. The parents is gonna go there to the IEP meeting and they’re gonna share the concerns of their student and they’re gonna want certain things in place that are gonna help their child be successful in school. The district, while that too is their goal. Often times they’re confined to the resources that they have. And there’s only a few options that they can provide to the family. So instead of looking at, say maximizing the students potential, the school district often times is gonna look at how little can we give to make sure that they’re making some educational progress. So the school and parents often are coming at it from two different angles which is okay as long as you understand that.
Michael Boll: Alright. So my first IEP I’m gonna be nervous, maybe for my third one I’ll be nervous too. My first question I’m gonna have is what’s the experience gonna be like? Is it gonna be a hostile environment or we both gonna have the same goal or we just wanna create a program that’s best for the child?
Rich Isaacs: It should not ever be hostile. Sometimes when there’s litigation and down the road and years of back and forth, the relationship could definitely break down. But especially the initial meetings or the early meetings, most of the time the teachers, the specialists, they do generally care about their job and about each student. You should always go into the meeting with a positive outlook. I know it’s hard for families sometimes not to take things personally because we’re talking about their child, but you can’t take things personal and the same goes for the school district. It’s the IEP team meeting is a great place for all those who are working with the student to get together and discuss what the student needs to be successful. If you keep bringing it back to that, I think you’re setting yourself up to have a very positive IEP meeting.
Michael Boll: Okay and I know when I went in IEP meetings I’d look at the people, I’d meet them and I got a quick sense of like who the leaders were. Who was the sharpest person in the room which is actually in my opinion usually the occupational therapist and it gave me a sense of who I could build relationships with and move things forward.
Rich Isaacs: Exactly and that’s you know with a lot of things too, right? You’re working together so that its, you don’t want to make the other side angry. You don’t want to shout at them. You don’t want to take your frustration out of them because you do want them to provide your child with an education. So even if you’re frustrated, it’s okay. Share your frustrations. Communicate it clearly and then go home and think about it.
Michael Boll: Okay. So what are some of the rules that are around the IEP in regards to how quickly does the district have to provide one after the meeting? How quickly do they have to give me the final version to sign? And lastly, if I don’t want to sign it, what should I do?
Rich Isaacs: Very good questions and it really just depends. There’s no set time to get the IEP but generally speaking, you should ask for a draft IEP prior to the meeting. They should give you a copy of the IEP at the conclusion of the meeting. There are a lot of school districts now are waiting and tying up the loose ends and emailing it to the family or having—
Michael Boll: Is that a better thing to do if they say “look I’d rather email you the final version?” Is that probably a better way to go?
Rich Isaacs: I like it that way. I find that I just want a completed version. I don’t want them to give me an IEP at the end of the meeting and then a week later make adjustments to it because there were errors in it. I’d rather them just finish the IEP, give me a copy, and email works great. In terms of how much time they have, it’s a reasonable amount of time. So—
Michael Boll: That’s the law. It’s reasonable, whatever that means.
Rich Isaacs: It is because it’s individualized. And so the court really or the law is really clear not to put a specified time on this piece. How much time does a parent have to sign? As much time as a parent wants. Typically you should take it home and review it for about a week. You should never sign an IEP at the IEP meeting because you need to process everything. Take it home. Talk about it as a family. If you have any questions, you know you can obviously reach out to parent groups or advocates and then you can provide your consent to the IEP document.
Michael Boll: Okay that’s interesting. I didn’t think about that not signing it at that time but yeah you can take a week. I guess if you give it a week then you’re also showing good faith that you’re not hanging on to it for 30 days. You wanna work together as well and so here take it for a week or a few days. Read it and hand it back.
Rich Isaacs: Right. You know sometimes depending on where you’re at on your IEP process, if you have an IEP that’s already in place and they’re changing it on a new one. you may not wanna sign the new one. You may wanna keep the old one in which case you may not sign for a year. It really just depends on the uniqueness of each person’s case and work out the process.
Michael Boll: Alright thank you. So does Copper the Dog wanna add anything other than what he’s been saying?
Rich Isaacs: There is the dog in the background, I apologize.
Michael Boll: Hahaha it’s okay. Okay so let’s conclude this here and then let’s talk in the next podcast. When should I bring in an advocate or an attorney?
Rich Isaacs: That sounds great.
Michael Boll: Alright. Okay thank you.