We live in an unprecedented era where schools are dealing with shrinking budgets and fewer resources but still must figure out how to educate an increasingly large number of student age children. This is compounded by the fact that class sizes are increasing and the number of credentialed Teachers are decreasing due to layoffs. Just like every other area of education, school districts are trying to figure out ways to cut special education costs as well. Even though cost cannot be a factor when determining services in an Individualized Education Program (IEP) the children receiving the appropriate services are the ones whose parents are educated and prepared when attending their child’s IEP. This makes it even more important to be prepared for your next meeting. This article will help you truly prepare for the next IEP meeting.
90 days prior to your next annual IEP meeting
Reread last year’s IEP paying close attention to needs, present levels of performance, accommodations/modifications, goals and services. If you think your child has a new suspected area of disability or you need an update on skill levels from a prior disability this is the time to request a new special education assessment. The school district will usually only update formal assessments once every three years for the triennial IEP unless requested by the parent to be done annually. Make sure the request for assessment is made in a letter that you hand to the school personally. Remember that all written and verbal communication should be professional in tone and content. Ask a friend to read the letter to make sure it is not emotional or hostile.
Go on your State’s Department of Education website and download the State’s grade level standards for each subject. Familiarize yourself with the grade level standards your child will be expected to know in the current grade. Create a list of standards for each subject that your child needs help in. If you are one of the State’s that have adopted the Common Core Standard you can download this app for free on your cell phone and always have the standards at your finger tips.
To download the app from the iTunes store click the widget below:
To download from the droid market click the link below:
Next, go on your School District’s website and download your School District’s policies and procedures on Special Education. If it is not online write a letter requesting the document. Review the document since some School District personnel don’t understand their own policies or worse, deliberately give you misleading information.
Start reviewing the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and your State’s Special Education laws. Some States have tighter special education regulations than the federal law and it is important to know the differences. The State law can’t give less protections then the federal law but it is allowed to give more protections.
You may want to purchase the Wrightslaw “Special Education Law Book”.
If you don’t already have your child’s educational records send a letter requesting they be provided to you. In California, they have 5 days in which to provide these to you after you request them. Federal law allows up to 45 days but most States have a tighter timeline so check the regulations in your State. Make sure you request everything including any emails and teacher to teacher notes that might be available.
75 days prior to your next annual IEP meeting
By now you should have received an assessment plan from your School based on the assessment request letter you sent. If you have not, send a friendly follow up letter asking when you will receive the assessment plan. Most States have timelines to follow regarding how long the School District has to provide you an assessment plan so check your state law. California requires the assessment plan to be sent home within 15 days of the request.
If you have received the assessment plan, review it and make sure you agree with all of the assessments to be administered. If you agree, sign and return the assessment plan giving your informed consent for assessment. Attach a letter to the assessment plan requesting copies of all assessments 4 or 5 days prior to the IEP meeting so you have time to review them before the meeting and be an effective member of the IEP team.
If you have not already done this organize all of your IEP’s, assessments, report cards, State achievement tests, communication, and complaints in one large three ring notebook. Make sure you bring this IEP notebook with you to every IEP meeting.
If you want to include private assessments to be considered by the School at the next IEP meeting, schedule them at this time. Make sure your private assessor knows when they need to get the assessment done by.
60 days prior to your next annual IEP meeting
Make sure you have signed and returned the assessment plan since the School is allowed 60 days to perform the assessment. Some states might have slightly shorter or longer timelines so once again please check your state law.
Review all of the materials you have now put together in the IEP notebook. Start writing down all of your parental concerns, ongoing needs and strengths of your child (both academic and non-academic), and whether you feel the current IEP goals have been meet. Send a letter requesting the therapy provider’s service logs to confirm they have received all of the time they were owed. If they have missed hours you can ask for both make up hours and compensatory hours be added to next year’s IEP.
Decide who you want to bring with you to the IEP meeting. Don’t go alone. If you don’t have an Advocate, bring your spouse, a friend or other private special education expert. Discuss the upcoming IEP with this person and make sure they are available to attend.
30 days prior to your next annual IEP meeting
You should have received an IEP meeting notice by this point. The school is obligated to come up with a mutually agreeable time and place for the IEP meeting, so don’t worry if the first date doesn’t fit your schedule. Figure out acceptable dates conferring with whoever you are bringing with you to the meeting. Send a letter to the school offering three or four alternative dates that fit your schedule. Review who is attending from the District and figure out if the right people will be in the room. If you think additional team members are needed invite them at this time. Include on the IEP team meeting notice the names of everyone you will be bringing to the meeting. Also, if you want to tape record the meeting this is a good time to give the school notice. You will need to check you State law regarding audio recording IEPs. For instance, the State of California requires 24 hours notice to audio record.
Create a letter at this time listing all of your parental concerns. Ask to have a pre-conference call with your case manager to discuss your concerns and to hear what the School might be thinking. These calls save a lot of time and energy at the IEP meeting since neither side feels like they got blind-sided. Often emotions flare up because the other side did not expect what occurred at the meeting. This can be tempered by having off the record conversations prior to the meeting.
15 days prior to your next annual IEP meeting
Deliver the private assessments to the School to be considered at the IEP meeting and remind them you have requested copies of their assessments prior to the meeting.
By now you should have all of your child’s service logs. If hours have been missed send a letter requesting adding the missed hours to the IEP meeting agenda.
Talk with your child’s teachers and therapists and get a sense of what they are thinking. What has been working and what hasn’t been working. Information is the key to being prepared so the more information you can get the better prepared you will be. Also, start reviewing whether all of your child’s accommodations or modifications have been followed.
Start putting together a list of requests you want to ask for at the meeting. Always formally request all actions in writing. Technically the school district would owe you prior written notice whether the request was verbal or in writing but you know the old saying, “If it’s not in writing it never existed.”
48 hours prior to your next annual IEP meeting
You should have copies of the School’s assessments by this point. If not, call and ask when you will receive them. If they will not provide them send a follow up letter stating that since your request to receive assessments prior to the meeting was denied it is impeding your parental rights to be a full member of the IEP team.
If you have the school’s assessments review them. Finish your list of formal requests for services, goals, needs, and placements. Send a letter to the School with the list of requests and remember if the say no to any request then ask for Prior Written Notice. If you feel the assessments are not accurate or complete be prepared to ask for an Independent Educational Evaluation at public expense.
At IEP meeting
Make sure you bring your child’s IEP notebook you have created and audio recorder if you are taping. Remember to stay professional and try and keep emotions to a minimum. Tell the person you brought with you to reign you in if they feel you are getting to emotional.
Bring a copy of your formal requests and parental concerns to the meeting and hand them another copy in the meeting. Remind them you would like to add your requests and parental concerns to the meeting agenda.
Try to listen to the school personnel. Sometimes what you think you want is different from what your child really needs. Ask the person you brought for their unbiased opinion based on the discussion that took place. Have some of your opinions changed based on the conversation? That’s okay, sometimes they should. Make sure you feel comfortable that everything on your agenda has been covered in the meeting.
Do not sign the IEP at the meeting. Take it home to review.
At home after the IEP meeting
Review the IEP again making sure needs, present level of performance, goals, services and placement have all been covered appropriately. If they have, great, sign the IEP and return it. If not, decide what is missing and create a follow up letter to attach to the IEP.
If the School is trying to reduce services or change placement, if you disagree and file for due process your child will be under a Stay Put until the disagreement is worked out. This means the School District must maintain the current educational placement with no reduction in services pending any proceedings such as due process of formal mediation. If the disagreement is about eligibility, new services or time and frequency of services you should request an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE) at public expense. Many times this is not an option that is outlined on the School District’s IEP form. Feel free to write this in and state that you do not feel it is appropriate to proceed to any dispute resolution methodology until after the IEE is performed. Make sure you sign the IEP form noting your disagreements with a comment to see the attached follow up letter. Attach the follow up letter with all of your remaining concerns, a reminder that you’re waiting for Prior Written Notice on all of your formal requests they rejected and the request for the IEE.
If the District denies your IEE request they must take you to Due Process and explain to the hearing officer why their assessments were accurate. If the District approves your request make sure whoever you get to do the assessment is qualified and will give recommendations that include time and frequency of services.
The IEE results are not binding but will either validate your concerns or show you that the School District’s offer was appropriate. Between your requests for an IEE and Prior Written Notice your case will most likely be handed to a new case manager at the District that has more authority to negotiate. While all case managers are supposed to have authority to approve whatever is necessary for the child, in practicality that is not the case.
If the IEE validates your concerns often times everything will be worked out at the IEP meeting to discuss the results, especially if there is a new case manager. If the School still won’t budge the IEE results are admissible in a Due Process complaint. At this point I would discuss with a Special Education attorney filing a complaint. Based on the United States Department of Education statistics a high percentage of due process complaints are worked out in a resolution session or formal mediation and never get in front of a hearing officer. My opinion is parents should not file for due process on their own but should have an experienced special education attorney represent them. I am a special education advocate but even I hire an attorney when I file for due process for my own son.
As you can see it is not easy to prepare for an IEP meeting. If you do not feel comfortable going through this process talk with an experienced Advocate or Attorney to help you. Otherwise, if you do your research and use the information you collect to your advantage a proper resolution can normally be worked out.