Tag Archives: Team meetings

Negotiating your Child’s IEP: The Non-Negotiable

24 Sep

When you go to the team meeting for your child’s IEP, you need to be prepared.  I go with a list of personal goals that I want to accomplish at that meeting.  My goals are separated into two lists:  The negotiable and the Non-Negotiable.  This list will be different for each parent, so I can’t tell you what to put on your list.  Here is a list of ideas that I would NEVER compromise on.

1.  Full and equal parent participation:  Your opinion should count. If you are being “pushed aside,” you will need to assert your parental rights. Announce to the team that you feel your opinion is not being heard.  If you cannot get yourself heard, you can halt the meeting by asking for the team to reconvene later when the team is ready to hear your opinion.  After the meeting, you can send a letter to the special education director in which you describe the meeting in detail, especially the points where your opinion was devalued or went unheard by the team.  You can ask that the letter be placed in your child’s file. This letter will start a paper trail if you need to go to mediation with the team.
2.  A Truly Individualized IEP:  If you feel like the IEP that is  presented is “cookie cutter”, meaning it does not sound like it was designed for your child, I would be sure to make suggestions that would make the IEP fit more to your child’s needs. Be sure your child’s present level of performance is detailed and his/her needs and characteristics are clearly specified. Then, be sure the services meet the needs of your child.  Your child’s IEP should have a logical flow to it all leading up to the goals and services they will get.
3.  Measurable Goals: If the goals are not measurable, you will never be able to tell if your child is making true progress.  You will have to rely on teacher observation reports, which is not data.  You need data to show true success!

The above is a list of general ideas that I would never compromise on.  However, I always have other things on my list that are specific for my child.  For example, my child is dyslexic so I had on my list of the non-negotiable that he get a multi-sensory explicit phonics program.  That is an item that is specific to his disability.  You will want to research what the best interventions are for the type of disability your child has and put those things on your list.  I always go to an IEP meeting ready to negotiate.  Negotiation sometimes means you have to give in on some of your goals.  Be ready to present some goals and ideas that you are willing to leave on the table in the end.  I do this for two reasons.  If I get the negotable for my child – Great!  If I don’t get them, I just compromised with the team opening the door for them to make a compromise with me  on an issue I absolutely won’t compromise on.

Can I refuse Special Education for my child?

17 Sep

You have the right to refuse to have your child be evaluated by the school district.  Before a child can be placed on an IEP, a district must evaluated the child to see if they have a qualifying disability.  The district must get your consent, in writing, before they can do this evaluation.  After this evaluation is done, if your child qualifies for special education services, you must again give your written consent for their initial placement in special education.  You have the right to refuse to place your child in special education for the first time.  You can withdraw your consent for an evaluation and initial placement before they begin.  You have a right to be present at each team meeting for your child and to take part in the decision making process.

Once you have given your consent for an evaluation and the initial placement in special education, you must be notified, in writing, when the school has made an important decision affecting your child’s education before that decision is put into place.  The written notice (officially called prior written notice) should include the decision made, why the decision was made, a description of other options considered and why they were refused, and a description of what information was used as the basis for this decision.

You should be aware that if you refuse an evaluation for your child the school district can override your decision by requesting a due process hearing.  At the hearing, an administrative law  judge will decide if your child needs an evaluation in order to get a free and appropriate public education (FAPE).    Every child is entitled to this under federal law.  If you still disagree with the court order to evaluate, you have the right to bring a civil suit against the school district.  The school district cannot, however, get a court order if you refuse initial placement in special education.  That decision is completely up to you.

What are Measurable IEP Goals?

27 Aug

Probably the most important part of your child’s IEP is the “Measurable Annual Goals.”  These goals are suppose to be the result of one year of special education services and will help you determine if your child is making progress in their education.  It is important to review the goals that the school has proposed for your child.  They are suppose to be the framework for what your child will work on in the given year.  If these goals are too easy or too difficult or not appropriate,  another valuable year of your child’s education could be wasted.   The goals for most children should reflect what the general education students are working on to maintain educational equality.  For some children, the severity of their disability makes it impossible for them to have goals that are equal to those of their peers.  They have other needs that must be met. For all students, though, the goals should be aimed at getting your child to achieve to their full-potential (revealed in the educational testing that was done), starting at their current ability level and building upward.  The goals should be challenging, yet attainable and should reflect your child’s needs.

Many times I have witnessed parents fighting endlessly for lesser items on an IEP, completely ignoring the goals.  I think many parents aren’t aware of how important the goals really are for their child’s success.  Some parents only know some of the effects of their child’s disability;  like low test scores and frustration over homework, so naturally they would put emphasis on those areas of the IEP.  Yes, extra testing time is great; and reduced workload can help some students accomplish more and relieve some stress.  However, it is my experience that the academic, behavioral, and other goals that are set for your child are what really makes the difference in the long run.  The kinds of services, and sometimes the quality of services, given are based on those goals.  Whether or not you can see the progress your child is making will depend on the goals being measurable.   When the special education teachers write your child’s progress report, they will write about the progress they are making on those goals. If the goals are written correctly, so they are measurable, you will be able to plainly tell if your child is having success or not.  Since you want to know if your child is getting what they need and making progress, you will want to be sure that the goals are written in a way that is measurable.  (Usually, measurable goals will include a percentage or ratio of success.  For example, it might say “…..with success in 3 out of 4 attempts”  or “…with 80% accuracy”.)

If you think the goals are not challenging enough, too challenging, not measurable, or will not meet your child’s needs SPEAK UP!  Here is your chance to help your child get what they need to be a success.    It is your right to object and ask for the school to make adjustments to the goals.  Tell them why you object to the goals, give them a chance to explain their reasoning, and then make your opinion and desires known.

Should I Sign My Child’s IEP?

10 Aug

What to Consider Prior to Signing a New IEP 

An individual education program or plan is a document that outlines the special education services your child will receive.  It includes your child’s disability, current academic performance levels, accommodations they will get, services to be provided, goals for your child to meet, and how they will be assessed. An IEP is a legal document that is binding for the school district.  As a parent you have the right to revoke your permission for the IEP at anytime. Many of us parents worry about our children’s IEPs.  We wonder if it is appropriate, if it will benefit our child, and if we should give our permission to implement it.  You should never feel pressure to sign an IEP, you have 30 days to consider it.  Here are some things to consider prior to signing an IEP (or after you’ve signed!):

  • Do I agree that my child does indeed have the diagnosed  disability? If not, why do you believe your child isn’t making progress?
  • Do you believe your child truly needs the listed the accommodations?  or Do you think they will need more accommodations to make  progress?
  • Do you believe that your child’s school can deliver the specially designed instruction your child needs to make progress?  If not, what has led you to believe this?
  • Do you believe your child has other educational needs (such as, social needs or behavior support) that the school has not addressed in the IEP?  If yes, what needs are these?
  • Has the school written MEASURABLE goals? (For example:  Joe will improve his oral reading fluency to 60 words per minute by the end of the third marking period. This is measurable because a teacher can measure words read per minute by doing a running record of Joe’s reading.)
  • Do you think your child is going to receive too little or too much direct special education services?  If yes, how much service time do you think they need?
  • Do you agree that your child needs to be removed from their classroom to receive their services?  Do you think their needs can be best met in the classroom?  Does the IEP reflect your belief in this area?
  • Do you think your child would benefit from a summer program?  Why or why not?
  • Is your child being assessed in a fair, non-biased way?

After considering the proposed IEP carefully, you have 3 options.  You can accept the IEP as developed, sign it, and return.  Services for your child will begin right away.  You can reject the entire IEP as developed, sign it, and return.   No services will be given to your child and a new meeting will be scheduled.  You can reject portions of it that you are uncomfortable with, sign it and return.  This last option is beneficial for your child because some services (the ones you have not rejected) can be started as soon as the document is returned.  If you take the last option, you should attach a letter stating which portions you are rejecting and why.  I will post later about this option later because it is a real benefit to parents who are advocating for better SPED for their children.

What is an IEP?

13 Jun

IEP stands for individual education plan.  It is a plan for how to educate a student that has qualified for special education because they have a documented disability and it is impacting their ability to be successful at school.  An IEP is written by a team of people that includes the parents of the child, the general education teacher, the special education teacher, educational therapists (speech and language pathologists, occupational and physical therapists, school psychologists, etc.), and sometimes an administrator from the school or special education department.  The basic process for getting a students on an IEP is to first refer them for testing.  This testing is suppose to answer the following questions:  1) Does the student have a qualifying disability? and 2) Are they making sufficient progress?  If the team decides yes to question one and no to question two, then the student has qualified for special education and an IEP will be written.

The parents will be asked to come to a meeting where their child’s IEP will be planned.  The parents will have input into the accommodations given to their child, the goals that the teachers will have for them, the amount of time spent giving the child special services, when the child will be removed from their classroom, and the type of classroom they will be placed in.   Parents have the final approval on the IEP.  If the school staff and the parents disagree about any aspect of the IEP, they should try to resolve these issues at another meeting.  If they cannot resolve the issues, then the parents or school can ask for an independent mediator to help them resolve the issues.  In some cases of extreme differences in opinion, the issues will be resolved at a hearing.

An IEP will have the following sections:

1.  Student Strengths and Evaluation Results This section reports the testing results and what areas of strength your child has.

2.  Present Level of Educational Performance: General Curriculum and Other Educational Needs This is where accommodations for the general education classroom are listed.

3.  Current Performance Levels/Measurable Goals  This section tells how your child is performing in school, what areas the teachers will be focusing on for improvement and how they plan to do it.

4.  Service Delivery This is a chart that states who will be working with your child, where, and for how many hours per week.

5.  Nonparticipation Justification If your child will be removed from the class for any reason, this section explains why.

6.  Schedule Modification In this section the team can decide to make a student’s school day or year longer or shorter and states why this decision was made.

7.  Transportation Services This section states if the student will need special transportation.

8.  Assessment  In this section, the team will decide how to best test this student and list the testing accommodations they will use.

For more information on IEPs see “Does My Child Really Need an IEP?”

Getting What Your Child Needs at School

11 Jun

What Every Teacher Would Love to Tell You but They Can’t

Your child is struggling at school and the teacher calls you in for a conference.  She tells you that she is concerned about your child’s progress, but you leave the conference with more questions than when you got there.  Does my child need special education services?  Why didn’t the teacher just come right out and suggest it?  Most likely it is because, like many teachers, she’s under pressure not to.  She may be trying to get you to make a special education referral for your child without saying it out right.  You may have mixed feeling about special education and be confused about what your child really needs.  As a teacher, I can tell you that if she’s called you in for a conference, you have reason to be concerned and should, at the very least, investigate her concerns.

A teacher can make a special education referral for a student, but it’s preferrable for the parent to do it.  There are two reasons for this.  The first is that it takes longer for a teacher to make the referral.  A teacher has to go through a process of trying different things and documenting if they are successful or not.  This can take several months to do.  If a parent refers their own child, the testing starts within 30 days of your written consent to testing.  The second reason it is more preferable for a parent to refer their own child is that some school systems subtly pressure teachers not to refer students for special education.  SPED costs a lot of money for public school districts and they are obligated by federal law to offer these services to any child that qualifies.  The only way for a district to keep their SPED costs down it to qualify less students.

What Will Happen If I Don’t Refer My Child for SPED Testing?

Your child’s teacher can help them if you don’t refer them for SPED testing.  Many schools have a way to help general education students that are struggling.  It is often called RTI (response to intervention) and it can be helpful.  The classroom teacher may be the one to give the intervention (extra help) or it could be a teacher’s assistant, a Title One teacher, a reading or math coach, or other qualified school staff member.  All good intervention should include regular assessment to be sure that it is working.  As the parent, before agreeing to intervention services ask:

  • How much intervention will my child get? ( Once a week for 30 min. is not enough.)
  • Who will be providing it?  (It should be a qualified, trained person.)
  • How will they know it is working?  (They should be assessing every few weeks.)

Realistically, they can probably fit this extra help into your child’s schedule about 3 times a week for 30 minutes.  Do not allow this extra help to be provided by an untrained staff member, it may end up being a waste of your child’s time.  Ask for the assessment results to be sent home so you can keep track yourself.  This kind intervention is enough for some student’s to be brought up to grade level in reading or math.  However, for some it is not.

If your child’s school is providing this kind of extra support for your child I would check in after about 8 to 10 weeks.  I would ask for a review of the data that they should of collected on your child.  (By data I mean results from an assessment that they should be doing to track progress.)  Make sure that what they are doing is getting results (the scores should be going up consistently).  If it is not, the intervention is not working and a referral for special education should be made.

What Will Happen if I Refer My Child for SPED Testing?

You will need to write a letter asking for testing.  In your letter you should state what you suspect may be the problem and list the types of assessments you want done.  You will have to sign a consent form.  Do this quickly, because the testing will begin within 30 days of the school’s receipt of that signed form.  Within 45 days of that consent, you will have a meeting with the school to review the results.  Ask for the results to be given to you before that meeting in you original letter (they have to give this to you at least 2 days before the meeting).  This is a good idea to do for two reasons.  First, you will need time to read this report on your own and look up any terms you don’t understand.  Second, sometimes schools wait until the last (and I do mean last) minute to test your child.  Tests are done in haste and reports can be shoddy.  If you ask for the reports to be given to you before the meeting, the district will have to complete the testing and report at least 2 days before the meeting and they will know you intend to give the report your full attention (meaning a shoddy report isn’t going to fly with you).

Here is what to include in you referral letter:

  • Reason for referral (something like… my child is struggling in school and attempts to help have failed…)
  • Suspected disability (it could be a specific learning disability, a health disability, a developmental delay, an emotional disability, etc.)
  • Assessments you want done (some types of assessments are: learning/educational eval., speech & language eval., psychological eval., behavioral assessment, occupational eval., attention/distractibility scale, sensory scale, reading skills assessment, math skills assessment, auditory processing eval., etc.)
  • Request evaluation reports given to you at least 2 days before the scheduled meeting

*****For more information on this, see my “Testing (Core Evaluation)” posts*****

My Child is Struggling in School… How Can I Help?

7 Jun

If you are reading this post, then you know the heartbreak that a parent feels when their child struggles in school.  Every child struggles now and then, but if your child struggles daily you are probably searching for ways to help them.  Some children struggle with a certain subject, while other children struggle with classwork in general.  Some of our children are fine academically, but struggle with the social aspects of school, or what some people refer to as the hidden curriculum (more about that later).  No parent wants their child to struggle daily at school, but many of us are at a loss for what to do.

I am parent of a child with special educational needs and a special education teacher myself.  I have personally experienced success and failure in trying to get help for my child.  It is not always easy to get the help your child needs, but I can guarantee that if you stick it out, advocating for your child is definitely worth the fight.  I have found the following ideas to be successful ways to help your child that struggles:

  1. Start by communicating your concerns directly to the teacher.  Make an appointment to meet with them, or ask them to call you during a mutually good time.  Tell them exactly what is concerning to you, fill them in on any past successes and failures at school, and ask them to observe your child and report back to you what they think may be the problem.
  2. Come up with a plan of action.  Ask for a meeting with the teacher and the pre-referral team at your child’s school.  All schools have this, but they all call it something different (Child Study Team, Teacher Assistance Team, Instructional Support Team).  This team meets to discuss struggling students and make suggestions for ways to assist the student in the classroom.  This is NOT special education.  Any struggling student can get help this way.  The team will write a plan of action and then meet back in 4 to 6 weeks to discuss success or failure of the plan.
  3. Refer your child for an educational evaluation.  Write a letter asking for your child to be evaluated for eligibility for special education.  Be specific in your letter about what you suspect may be the problem and what kinds of testing you want done.  (For example:  Please evaluate our child for a suspected specific learning disability in reading.  Please complete a full educational assessment, including reading ability testing.)  The school will have to contact you with in 5 days to confirm your request and start testing within 30 days.  You will receive the results at a meeting that must take place within 45 days of your request.
  4. Take an active role in planning for your child’s educational needs.  You need to be aware of your rights as a parent and your child’s rights to receive a free and appropriate public education.  As the parent, you should be included in every decision and your opinions should weigh as much as any other team members.  However, many sped teams will not automatically treat you this way.  You will need to speak up at meetings, ask questions, research the options on your own, and make your opinions known.
  5. Get an outside evaluation done if you disagree with the school’s testing.  You may or may not have to pay for this testing yourself.  Tell the school right away that you are not satisfied with the testing they did.  Put it in writing and explain why you are unsatisfied.  Ask the school about the districts policy for getting the testing paid for by them.  Find a reputable educational testing facility (most pediatricians can recommend someone) to test your child.  Once you get the results, you must give a copy to the school if you want them to consider the results.  The law states that they have to consider the findings as valid unless they can prove they are not.
  6. Be reasonable and professional when you are communicating with the school staff.  Do not yell, use profanity, write insulting emails/notes, make unfounded accusations, or get overly emotional. Try not to over communicate, teachers will not be able to call or email you everyday (they may have over 20 students in their class).

Leveling the Playing Field with Accommodations

3 Jun

In order to be successful in school, many children need accommodations.  An accommodation is a change to an assignment or test, making it accessible to the disabled student.  It is not a different assignment or test, just a change to the format, timing, setting, response, or presentation.  If your child qualified for SPED services, then accommodations will be written into part A (General Curriculum) of their IEP.  If your child has a disability (such as ADHD, anxiety disorder, or dyslexia) but did not qualify, you can ask for a 504 plan.  A 504 plan is another type of document written for children that outlines the accommodations they can have in the general education classroom.  Both IEPs and 504 plans are legally binding documents and are confidential (meaning they are not part of your child’s official school records).  As their parent, you have the right to ask for a 504 plan and to take part in writing it.

In order to guarantee that your child gets the accommodations that they have a right to, a written document is highly recommended.  You should ask for one if your child has a documented disability, even if they’re not receiving failing grades.  Some schools will insist that they give all students accommodations or will say their teachers differentiate their instruction for all students.  This may be true, but unless your child has an IEP or 504 plan, the teachers are not obligated to make accommodations for your child’s disability.  Having them written will benefit your child and you because you can refer back to the plan if your child begins to struggle.

Examples of some common classroom accommodations are:  extended time for assignments and tests, allowing students to use a computer for writing assignments, not marking down for spelling errors, having a student take a test in a private setting, providing books on CDs or MP3, having the teacher give the directions in writing and orally, minimize punishment and use positive reinforcement instead, allowing students to use a reference sheet, give student a study guide, give the student a peer role model, and provide students with breaks or allow to leave the classroom for short breaks.

For more examples of accommodations you can ask for your child, go to http://www.fape.org or search for “classroom accommodations.”

The ABC’s of Special Education: Useful SPED Acronyms and Terms (Part I)

31 May

IEP, LRE, BIP, etc…. What do all these acronyms and terms mean?  Here are the definitions for some of the more common terms and acronyms, used by educators during team meetings, but you were to afraid to ask what they mean…  

504 Plan:   A plan developed for a student with a disability that specifies what accommodations and/or services they will get in school.

Accommodation:   Changing the way material is presented, or the environment/setting, or the conditions as needed.

APE:   Adaptive Physical Education or P.E. for students that have a disability that keeps them from participating in P.E..

Assessment:   An assessment is an evaluation or test.

Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP):   A formalized plan that goal is to change specific negative behaviors a student may have.

Developmental Disability/Developmentally Delayed (DD):   A substantial disability that began before age 18 and is expected to continue.

Direct Services:  Services given to the child either one-to-one (1:1) or in a small group setting.

DOE:   Department of Education

EBD/ED: Emotional/Behavioral Disorder or Emotional Disturbance.   Used when a student has significant problems following the rules and/or in managing their emotions.

FAPE:  Free Appropriate Public Education

FBA: Functional Behavioral Assessment

IEP (Individualized Education Program):   A written education plan for a child  developed by a team of  professionals (teachers, therapists, etc.) and the child’s parents.

Inclusion:   To provide sped services to the student in the regular classroom.

LD (Learning Disability):  A disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or using language, spoken or written, which may results in an imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or do mathematical calculations.

Least Restrictive Environment (LRE):  The environment that provides disabled students the most amount of access possible to non-disabled students.

Occupational Therapy (OT):   A therapeutic service that specializes in upper arm function, including fine motor skills like handwriting. It also deal with activities of daily living and sensory integration issues.

Physical Therapy (PT):  A therapeutic service where the therapist specializes in gross motor skills such as walking, running, jumping, balance issues, etc.

Resource Room:  A room separate from the regular classroom where students  receive academic assistance.

SLP:  Speech and Language Pathologist

What You Can Do if Your Child is Denied SPED Services

30 May

Your child is struggling in school.  You, or your child’s school, has requested that your child be tested to find out if they qualify for special education services.  You meet with the team and are informed that your child does not qualify for services.  It has been determined that your child is making “adequate progress.”  However, your child continues to struggle and is not receiving enough support at school.  What can you do to get the help that  your child needs to make progress?

First, you should know that you can challenge the school’s decision to not provide services; however, consider that the federal law says that even if the child has a qualifying disability they can be denied services if they are making progress in the general education curriculum.  Making progress is a term that can be interpreted differently, but to most schools it means not failing.   As parents, it is beyond frustrating to see our children working very hard to earn a “C”.  We want them to feel successful, be rewarded,  for all the hard work they do.  Eventually, many students give up because they feel that no matter how hard they work, they fail to get the grades they want.  It is very hard to convince a school district to put a “C” student on an IEP, but there are ways you can advocate for your child if they have been denied SPED services.

How to Advocate for your Child After They’ve Been Denied SPED Services:  

 

  1. Gather documents that prove your child is not making the same progress as his peers.  [Ask to see his file and look for reading level scores, benchmark testing results, end of year tests, etc.]
  2. Ask if the school will consider a 504 plan for your child if they denied them an IEP.  [A 504 plan is for accommodations in the general education classroom.  For example, extended test time, less homework, tutoring with the teacher, etc.]
  3. Start being very vigilant about your child’s progress.  [Question the teacher often about grades, assignments, and the progress they are making.  Write notes when homework is to difficult.  Ask for re-testing when they fail a test.  Speak with the principal if the teacher is not accommodating your requests.  Basically, be a pain in the neck so that the school staff begin to understand the level of difficulty your child is having.]
  4. After gathering more documentation, ask for mediation to resolve the dispute with the school. [Documentation being independent testing, a review of your child’s records, notes to and from the teacher and principal, etc.  You will need this information to prove your case with a mediator.)
  5. Tell the school right away (in writing and verbally)  that you disagree with their findings and/or the testing. [By doing this, your opinion goes on the record; and, if you get an independent evaluation, they may have to pay for some or all of it.]
  6. Request that the school do specific evaluations, such as a reading evaluation or functional behavioral assessment. [This will be helpful if your child’s school only performed an achievement test, such as the Woodcock-John or WIAT.]
  7. Tell the school you will be getting an outside evaluation done and they will be testing for specific learning disabilities. [The school must consider the results of an outside evaluation as equally as they consider their own testing results.  Also, depending on your income, they will be required to pay for all or some of the testing to be done.]

Remember that the best way to advocate for your child is to be armed with a lot of information.  Know all that you can about them as a learner, understand your child’s and your own rights, and know about the SPED process.  Here is a link to the Massachusetts Department of Education Notice of Procedural Safeguards (in plain English: A Guide to Your Rights and Your Child’s Rights)  Guide to Procedural Safeguards