Events, features and things to do for families in New Hampshire
How not to get overwhelmed and make sure your child’s needs take priority
By Elizabeth Feingold
Whether it’s your first time or your sixth, participating in your child’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP) meeting can be a daunting, and even overwhelming, experience.
At these meetings, vibrant and collaborative partnerships between home and school can be forged in the best interests of your child – or they can be irreparably damaged, depending on the tenor of the meeting, and everyone’s preparedness and willingness to participate in the best interests of your child.
As active members of your child’s educational team, parents are integral in the development of an appropriate and successful plan for your son or daughter, but I’m sure there are times that you don’t always feel that way. Sadly, educators often think only they know what’s best for your child, and they can at times forget to include you in the process, even though you are a legal member of the team.
It’s essential that you have a voice at the meeting, since not only do you know your child best, you also experience how your child feels about school at home, and you understand intimately the academic and social-emotional struggles your child carries home with them at day’s end.
So how do you best prepare for this year’s IEP meeting? First of all, it’s a great idea to ask for a draft copy of the IEP to be sent home in advance of the upcoming meeting. That gives you time to review the document, to write up any questions that you may have, to make revisions to the document, and to share the document with other family members and advocates for your child. The team is supposed to create the document together, so this provides you with a forum for being a proactive, contributing member of the team prior to the meeting date.
I am a huge proponent of your child attending his IEP meetings, especially once they’ve entered middle school. (I also believe your child can – and should – attend in elementary school as well, particularly in the upper grades.) Self-advocacy is a skill that will be essential as your child advances in school, and the sooner he is a participant in his meetings, the better. Federal law, in fact, mandates your child must receive an invitation to all meetings by age 16, so it’s important to start that process early.
When it comes to the document itself, I’ve always believed the Present Levels of Performance – the first page or so of the IEP – must be written in a way that tells anyone who comes in contact with your child his truest story. It should paint the strongest picture of your child, including his attributes, great character traits, many strengths and abilities, as well as the areas in which he needs assistance throughout the school day.
It should detail not only what he is able to do, but also how he functions in the actual classroom setting, on the playground, and in the hallways with peers.
The Present Level of Performance is essential in helping all of your child’s team members best understand his needs.
If the language isn’t clear in the Present Levels, ask for it to be revised and clarified. If you can’t understand what it’s saying about your child, then chances are the classroom teacher and other service providers won’t know either.
We educators can get hung up on "edspeak," and while it’s important to use professional language at all times, it must be concise, clear, and help anyone reading the document understand your child’s needs, and what should be accomplished during the school year.
Also, remember to make sure all members of your child’s team who have a role in his IEP are represented in the services that are provided and in the goals that are set.
If all members of the team are not present at the meeting due to professional conflicts, ask for written input from them. (For example, if your child has a learning style difference in the area of language, then there must be a language goal to address that need and a need for input from the speech-language pathologist; if your child has difficulties with the acquisition of computational skills, then there must be a math goal that clearly addresses this issue from the case manager and/or math teacher.)
This seems obvious, but I have found over the years that sometimes not all of a child’s needs are properly addressed in the annual educational plan.
In my next column I'll discuss what to look for in the IEP documents and what parents need to know before signing them.
Elizabeth Feingold is special services coordinator at Kearsarge Regional High School in North Sutton. She’s been a special education teacher since 1984. You can reach her at email@example.com.