Learn Your Special Education Laws, Special Education Rights, and Share IEP Goal Ideas

Feb 06
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by Dennise Goldberg

One of the benefits of being an advocate is when you attend a lot of IEP meetings in the same District you start to see patterns.  Usually, these patterns are designed by the School District to manipulate the outcome of an IEP with a set agenda.  As a parent, you probably won’t even realize this is happening because you only attend one or two IEP meetings a year, but as an advocate they are easy to spot. 

For years, my local school district has been paying behaviorists from non-public agencies (NPA) to help children in school who need more behavior support than a paraprofessional can provide.  Due to the cost and shrinking budgets, the School District has decided to try and eliminate NPA behavior support from ALL IEP’s.  The elimination of NPA behaviorists isn’t a written policy that a parent could find in the School District’s Special Education manual but it’s still happening none the less.     

In my local School District the administrative designee for an IEP, for an elementary age child, is always the Vice-Principal (VP).  Whenever the conversation turns to either requesting or continuing with an NPA behaviorist the VP always responds the same way: 

“Having a behaviorist in a general education setting with a student is a more restrictive environment than placing them in a special day class”. 

By the 2nd time you hear this it sounds fishy, by the 20th time you hear this it’s clearly an unwritten School District policy.  Just for the record, I don’t agree.  The legal definition of Least Restrictive Environment is: 

“In General.  To the maximum extent appropriate, children with disabilities, including children in public or private institutions or other care facilities, are educated with children who are not disabled, and special classes, separate schooling, or other removal of children with disabilities from the regular educational environment occurs only when the nature or severity of the disability of a child is such that education in regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily” 20 U.S.C § 1412(a)(5)(A). 

My opinion is a behaviorist would fall under the category of “supplementary aids or services” but I better have a good strategy going into the meeting to prove my point.   This is why preparation and a good strategy are essential to IEP meetings.  The best way to illustrate the importance of preparation and strategy is to share with you a recent example. 

I attended an IEP in November for a child with ADHD and a Specific Learning Disability (SLD) who has had a behaviorist with him in class for the past two years.  He had three behavior goals and although he was doing better, one of the goals he was only able to accomplish 5% of the time.  This goal was about staying on-task during academic class-time, and he just couldn’t do it.  At the same time we were given his achievement test results and he scored well below average in writing fluency.   He also scored borderline in academic fluency, reading comprehension and written expression.  At this point, The VP suggested we adjourn the IEP to perform a Functional Behavioral Assessment (FBA) and reconvene after it’s finished.  Everyone agreed, the assessment plan was generated, and the parents requested copies of the FBA prior to the next IEP which was scheduled for the beginning of February. 

Two days prior to the reconvened IEP we received the FBA from the school.  What we received was nothing short of shocking.  After almost two months of work the school wrote a two page FBA.  I am not a behavior specialist but after seeing hundreds of FBA’s I have never seen one this short.  This FBA did not include a record review, a description of the negative behaviors, a parent interview, a behaviorist interview, a behavior chain of events (ABC’s) and a hypothesis for the behavior.  What it did have was a two page description of the child’s ability to access the curriculum without a behaviorist.  As I mentioned, I am not a behaviorist, but it seems to me that a child who has low achievement scores and can’t stay on task during academic teaching might be trying to avoid work he doesn’t understand. 

I talked to Mom and we came up with a strategy.  We showed up at the meeting and the first thing we noticed was the behaviorist was not in attendance.  Turns out the VP did not invite her.  So we required the VP to get the behaviorist on the phone while we went over the FBA.  We quietly listened to the explanation of the FBA and why the School District felt the child no longer needed a behaviorist, and then it was my turn.  I started by asking Mom and the behaviorist if they had been interviewed for the FBA, which they had not.  I then went through everything we normally expect to see in an FBA that wasn’t in this one and ended by explaining our hypothesis of the behaviors being an avoidance mechanism due to academic levels.   

I then suggested to the VP that Mom would never agree to reduce services based on the School’s FBA and most likely would require an Independent Educational Evaluation for behavior at the School District’s expense.  Once all of this occurred the District knew we were prepared and had a strategy so their whole demeanor changed.  They have now asked for another adjournment for two weeks to work on a better offer that will include additional outside of school help for the academic troubles and a fading plan for the behaviorist.  Catching him up academically will hopefully reduce many of the lingering behavior problems.  If the offer still doesn’t fit the child’s needs we can still ask for the IEE but at least we have now kicked started an honest dialogue. 

Not all School Districts have an agenda but as the old saying goes, “Prepare for the worst and hope for the best”.  By preparing and having a strategy, you have a way of derailing any School District agendas that might come up.

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7 Responses to “The Need for a Good IEP Strategy”

  1. Dennise,

    Another beautifully articulated example of real life; even 13 years later, after semi annual IEPs, FBAs, Assessments,I still get goose bumps when I read or hear stories such as the one you describe. A friend once told me, “It never gets easier, it just gets more familiar”. And that is so true. How many times have we been witness to the same “game-playing-I’ll-take-you-for-all-you-got-from-the-get-go” approach, and how many times can districts reinvent this same strategy and cloak it in some new version of IEP lingo?

    I agree with you completely – being well prepared, having a good strategy, having a good advocate, and being educated well with regards to rights and key definitions is a valuable and important asset in advocating for a child with special needs. Your blog, your efforts, and your stories – such as these – are an incredibly important contribution to helping parents and other advocates know more, be more prepared, and be able to successfully advocate for their students with special needs. Thank you for such an eloquent story, and for everything else you do on behalf of parents such as myself, and on behalf of our kiddos.

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  2. Thank you Chris for your kind words!! The statement, “It never gets easier, it just gets familiar” is spot on!! Which is why this website was created, to help parents understand their rights and how the system works. We’re looking forward to helping a lot more parents in 2011!!

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  3. I so wish I could take you with me to my next IEP meeting. I am in a nightmare situation trying desperately to get my ADHD son the services he needs for ADHD, SPD, Written Expression Disorder and I am failing miserably. I am encountering this sort of avoidance from everyone I am dealing with. It feels like their mission is to give as little as they can get away with, not to help this child who so desperately needs it. I have pushed and pushed over the last two weeks and now I am being ignored when I let them know I didn’t like their responses, didn’t feel they are good enough.

    Can you guide me to finding an educational advocate in my area? I don’t think I can afford it, but would like to explore the option after reading this article.


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  4. Hi Penny,

    I just sent you an email. Let me know if you need anything else.


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  6. Dennise,

    As I read this blog, it led me to think about all of the parents who go into IEP meetings and listen to what the usually well meaning” professionals” say and agree without asking questions. In my experiences, most parents did not ask for explanations of what was written and would rarely fight if truly needed services were being deleted from their child’s IEP. Unfortunately, many parents do not know how to access advocates , (there are some agencies in NYC that offer services free of charge), and their children lose out. The challenge is to reach parents and the frustration is that NYC is so large, the task is almost impossible to accomplish.

    I enjoyed reading your blog, and as always, got some great ideas and strategies to share. It’s great to know that when someone asks me about the IEP process, I can refer them to your information laden site as well as offer some suggestions about how to advocate for their child.

    Thanks Dennise.

    Best, Gail

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  7. I am a supervisor for an NPA contracted through the LA Unified School District. Our district has become very sneaky in it’s attempts to get rid of NPA services, stooping to such practices as changing the wording in the FAPE 2 service provider from “other” (which would be defined as NPA BID and BII services in part 4 of that page), to “District assigned personnel” (which could eventually be defined by the school as whomever they decided to place with the child.) This could result in the school removing the NPA BII and replacing them with a district assigned paraprofessional. Any parent who is not familiar with their rights or the complicated wording of an IEP could find their child placed with a one-on-one who has three other students they are responsible for. When this occurs, the behaviorist will most often attend to the child with the most serious needs while the others that they are responsible for are left to fend for themselves. The district is more concerned with keeping the IDEA funding within the district rather than spending it with the best interests of the children in mind. It’s important that parents ask questions and get as much information as possible about the rights of their special needs child. My experience has been that whatever the parents fight for, they can usually receive, once they go to due process and/or get an advocate who can help them to stand up for their rights.

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