Wednesday, April 24, 2013

"What will that look like?" What to expect and questions to ask if you are getting ready for an IEP

Yesterday I wrote about a blog post I stumbled upon stating that it was IEP or negotiating season. I was a bit put off by the post because of the way it described the IEP process as the school vs the parents. When either party, the school or the parents come into a meeting ready for a fight it usually isn't a very productive meeting.

 The IEP is a meeting about a child. And not just any child. A child who everyone at the table (or almost everyone) knows and cares about. The opinions on what to do in the best interest of the child may not be similar but in most occasions everyone at the table has a common agenda- doing what is best for the student.

BTW, IEPs do not only happen this time of year. They happen throughout the entire year (sometimes even in the summer). Many merely fall in the spring, but they do not have to. In fact, if you have an organized special ed team hopefully they have spread them out throughout the year.

If you ARE getting ready for "IEP Season" here's what you can expect:
  • You should receive the proposed goals ahead of the meeting. If it is two days before the meeting and you haven't seen the goals yet ask the special ed teacher or the case manager for them.
  • The goals you get ahead of time are proposed goals and are merely a draft. At the meeting you can suggest changes to them.
  • When you get to the IEP meeting there should be a special education teacher, a general education teacher, and an administrator or an administrator's designee (this could be another special education teacher in the building, the guidance counselor, or someone the principals have asked to sit in for them.) Anyone else who serves your child- the ESOL teacher, the speech pathologist, the occupational therapist, etc will be there. If they are not you may be asked to sign a release saying that you give them permission to not attend.
  • You can bring anyone you like with you to the meeting, but if they are not the child's other legal guardian (your spouse) you may be asked to sign a waiver before the meeting can begin.
  • The meeting will start by everyone introducing themselves (even if you already know them) and stating why you are there. You will be asked to sign in. At this point you are not agreeing to anything, you are merely stating that you are in attendance.
  • The meeting will start by going over the proposed goals. This is my favorite part of the meeting because as a team we get to really look at the child's strengths, identify areas for growth, and then discuss a goal for him to meet that will address these needs. These goals are for the next calendar year. When you're working with the special education teacher to develop the goal think about whether or not the goals are realistic to be met within a year. Are they too easy? Too hard? If your child meets the goals before the end of year the team can hold an IEP addendum to make changes and write a new goal. 
  • There is a page on the IEP called the "PLOP" page. It is the "Present Levels of Performance" page, but is commonly referred to as PLOP. We can document anything and everything on this page. Anything you want documented on this page- your child's favorite color to your child's fears, strengths, medical concerns, etc. can be put on here. This is a great place to state any concerns you have with the current placement or proposed goals.
  • The IEP will then cover how your child will be assessed through state testing and any accommodations or modifications your child can have. The team will read the legal definition of the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) to you and then determine what the LRE for your child will be. This is a great time to ask questions. Will this be in a special ed classroom? A general education classroom? In the hallway with other students? We don't get offended when you ask questions. You should leave the meeting with a clear picture of what your child is doing during the day and where he/she will be served!
  • IEP language can be overwhelming and technical. Don't assume anything and don't let us get away with using acronyms that you don't understand! Question us (you can questions us nicely, we like that), ask us to tell you what this IEP will look like on a day to day basis. 
  • If you are bringing an outside therapist it would be wonderful to let us know ahead of time. We really value the 360 view of your child, but can sometimes be taken by surprised when a therapist shows up unannounced. The same goes for if you are suggesting a new therapy or idea. I've found that the school team is usually more open minded toward ideas when the IEP meeting isn't the first time they've heard the ideas. You are welcome to bring things up at the IEP meeting, but know that teachers and staff can feel suddenly defensive. When you set up the IEP meeting mention what your concerns are, what you'd like to talk about, and who you'd like to bring. It lets us know that we are all on the same side.
  • Know that we really do love your kid. We wouldn't do this job if we didn't. An IEP is an excellent time to get a bunch of educators in a room to really dive deep into how to best meet the needs of your child. Take advantage of the resources in the room. Ask questions, provide input, relate what we're telling you about your child's school performance to what you see at home. Help provide us with a greater picture of your child.
  • You should also know that you never need to sign the IEP that day. You can ask to take it home, think about it, and sign it the next day. Get it back to us in a timely manner, but there isn't any rush. 

The most important advice I can give is to remember this question, "What does that/will that look like?" Ask it frequently throughout the meeting. Ask it when the team is going over your child's strengths and needs. Ask it when they are telling you how they will take data. Ask them when they are explaining the service delivery options. This will paint a clearer picture for you of what is going on during the day.

I should add that nothing I have written here is the opinion of my school or my school district. It is all my personal opinion. Please take this as a simple picture of what you can expect at a meeting, but know that every school, school district, and state is different. Nothing I have written here is in any way binding of what you can expect at a meeting, nor I am saying that schools have to do things certain ways. I'm not a lawyer. Don't take my advice as legal advice. I'm sure there are other things I should say in this disclaimer, and perhaps I shouldn't post this at all, but I want parents to know what to expect and that they are a valued member of the team.


Anonymous said...

From my own experience, I have never been presented a piece of paper with goals on it prior to the meeting. The first question they ask is "what would you like his goals to be?". They are then drawn up right there at the meeting.

organized chaos said...

Um, wow. I guess in some ways that is best practice because the parent is giving the input. But I spend weeks agonizing over goals, looking at data, reflecting on growth over time, etc. A lot of thought goes into those goals. How long are your meetings? Just reviewing the goals takes about 2 hours. I can't imagine what writing them at the meeting is like.

Anonymous said...

Double wow. Winging it like that sure seems like lack of serious commitment to even having goals that are actionable and realistic. If the school has no opinion on what the goals could or might be, that's not best practice at all. It's abdication.

organized chaos said...

Yeah, I have to admit I'm horrified. Do you mind if I ask where you live?

julie said...

for me now the biggest stressor is the next iep meeting. he was just released again from a mental hospital, and now I have what I need to get him into the right special educational environment. But to me in the past I always feel it is the school fighting me all the way. so I am preparing for weeks in advance

organized chaos said...

Julie, Good luck with your IEP meeting. I hope it goes well. I hate that it feels like the school is fighting you. I hope that changes. If you think of any ways that schools make the process less 'you vs them' please let me know!