An Individualized Education Program (IEP) is your first opportunity to discuss with School District officials how your special needs child is progressing within his/her school setting. The IEP takes place annually though it is your right to have one called at any time during the year with 30 days notice. Oftentimes, the School District will be represented by the Assistant Principal, a Resources Room Specialist, your child’s teacher and any one of a number of other individuals including a Physical Therapist, Occupational Therapist, Adaptive PE Specialist and/or a Speech Therapist.
Being in the same room with all these professionals can be both scary and intimidating. Therefore, to insure that your child’s rights are being protected, you should strongly consider having a special needs advocate present with you at the IEP who is familiar with your child and the special services/accommodations that your child needs in order to succeed in the classroom setting.
At the IEP, the School District will discuss your child’s progress and challenges which will often be done in conjunction with the previous IEP (i.e. were the goals in the previous IEP met). Each school-based professional will read and discuss his/her findings. If at all possible, it is in your best interest to try to obtain these reports prior to the IEP so that you will not be hearing them for the first time. Moreover, by having reviewed the reports prior to the IEP, you will be able to write down any questions and concerns that you might have that can be addressed by the professional at the IEP. My personal experience is that when the reports are heard for the first time at the IEP, you will be harried and overwhelmed which will prevent you oftentimes from raising issues that require discussion. At the conclusion of the IEP, the school district will make its offer of services for your child.
In many instances, it is wise not to sign the IEP immediately upon its conclusion being that due to its complexity, you should probably spend time at home reviewing the document—page by page. At the same time, please know that while the School District may want to close your child’s case, what is being offered to your child may not be what you had in mind. Accordingly, if at the end of the day, you do not agree with the type of services being offered to your child, then you should proceed to an appeals stage called Due Process where the findings of the School District can be challenged.
Depending on the level of complexity of your case, it may be in your best interest to hire an attorney to represent you in the Due Process proceeding. Initially, what will often happen is that you, your attorney, and a School District representative will appear before a mediator in an attempt to resolve the outstanding issues of your child’s level of services that were not agreed upon at the IEP stage. The vast majority of these proceedings reach settlement without the matter having to be heard by an administrative law judge. On your part, it is crucial that at the mediation stage, you are prepared to submit assessment reports rendered by competent professionals that contradict the conclusions rendered by the School District officials with which you disagreed (assuming that there is a genuine disagreement). In my view, this point must be emphasized because without your own documented evidence to rebut the School District’s findings, all you are doing is saying that the School District official was wrong which will not be given much weight considering that you, as a parent, are not a trained professional comparable to the person who wrote the report on behalf of the School District.
More times than not, by being firm and armed with strong reports alluding to your child’s area of needs to obtain specified services, you will find that an accommodation is reachable at the Due Process stage. In an era of dwindling resources within our School Districts, it is important to recognize that Due Process hearings will probably become more and more prevalent in the coming years as the number of children with special needs continues to accelerate.
Wade Chernick is a licensed attorney located in Encino, California who represents families with special needs children in Due Process hearings. He does not ask for any money upfront from the Parents and only gets paid from the District if he prevails in the case. You can reach Wade at 818-907-9505.