In part 1, I covered the beginning of our IEP journey. Having a Vision and Mission statement for our son was a huge help to keep us focused on long-range plans. Having a supportive team (teachers, therapists, other family) is also helpful. What else is needed?
As parents of a student with a disability, you will find yourselves as your child’s advocate in many situations, including school. Having some ammunition in your back pocket never hurts. Take some time to learn about your child’s educational rights. IDEA, FAPE, LRE, RTI….these are all terms to be familiar with. Know that your student is entitled to the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE), meaning to start with the best scenario of inclusion. That will look different for each student of course, but many students are automatically placed in the Exceptional Student Education (ESE) or “Self-Contained” classroom, without a trial run at the General Education classroom. Make sure to visit the Wrightslaw website. Its full of great information, online courses, and materials to order.
Other suggestions to get you started – consider finding an advocate to help you along the way, at least in the beginning. Look to local, state, even national organizations for suggestions. Know your student’s strengths and area that need improvement. Talk with your IEP Team for suggestions. Learn what well-written goals should look like. Ask for a draft IEP to review with your Team before the official meeting. Make sure to document correspondence.
When it comes time for the IEP meeting, follow the advice from the great book from Wrightslaw, “Emotions to Advocacy”. Take off your parent hat. Put on your advocate hat. Keep in mind that what you will be discussing is the best-case scenario for this student (even though it is your child). Be calm and rational. Raised voices and hot tempers don’t do much to advance your case. Take your time with each page. Ask questions if you don’t recognize acronyms or terms. Make sure you agree with everything before you sign off on the document. Last, but not least – remember that you can call for an IEP meeting anytime during the year! If you student is hitting goals early, change them. Keep that expectation bar high!
Wrightslaw also has a course to provide training for those interested in special education advocacy. Their website says this course is for experienced advocates, law students, new attorney’s or any attorney who is new to special education law. Here is the application and details.
It may seem like a lot to begin with, but it will become more familiar as time goes by. Keep in mind that your student will be in school for many years. Knowing their rights will help both you and them.