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By Matthew S. Keister, Esq.
With summer winding down, back to school preparations are in full swing. For parents and caregivers of children who are candidates for (or are already on) an Individualized Education Program (IEP) plan (for instance, due to intellectual, speech/language, emotional, or physical challenges), this is often a particularly active time.
Being an attorney in the field of Special Education law and a father of a young child with autism, I am aware of the factors considered when gearing up for a new school year. To help ease the burden a bit, I’ve compiled a few concrete tips to keep in mind when renewing your strategy for your child’s continued development.
Be intentional about establishing (or re-establishing) a collaborative relationship with your school’s professionals. These relationships are crucial to the IEP planning process. Like other working relationships, focus on effective communication and building trust. Be respectful and cooperative and it is safe to expect the same in return.
Work through any rough patches by keeping the long game in mind: You may be collaborating with the same school (and education professionals) for many years to come. Having a child with learning challenges is a powerful and unique life experience, which potentially includes elements of intensity, formidable emotion, and even moments of desperation. Parents may also feel outnumbered or intimidated at IEP meetings, that their involvement is not embraced, or that the environment is adversarial. These are all legitimate feelings. Honor these feelings and also remain composed, rational, and fair.
Remember to keep your child’s interests primary. A positive relationship with school professionals doesn’t necessarily translate to your child making strides. In fact, it’s not uncommon for parents to lose sight of a child’s progress when they’re preoccupied by maintaining friendly terms with professionals. So, keep a close eye on your child’s progress throughout the year.
Establish good documentation habits for IEP meetings to track progress. Take detailed meeting notes. This is a useful way of remembering the important points of the discussion. Requesting that meeting minutes be taken is also very worthwhile. You will then be able to access them as part of your child’s record and offer corrections, as necessary. Should you require a due process hearing at some point, these notes and minutes will be very helpful.
Continue to speak up on behalf of your child as an active member of the IEP team. You know your child’s skills and needs best. Parents play a crucial role in the IEP process and are a vital part of the IEP team. And, your right to participate is explicitly stated in the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA), which is federal law.
Despite taking all of the aforementioned measures and establishing these habits, you may still sense a lack of progress. For instance, you may find yourself reviewing meeting notes and realizing that the frequency of your child being pulled out of class hasn’t subsided. Or, maybe you’ve sought the assistance of an advocate and still feel that support services, accommodations, or modifications aren’t being made available, and are necessary.
Whatever the case may be, if the situation isn’t improving, it’s best to consult an attorney with the legal training and experience necessary to address the issue effectively. Getting your child the help he or she needs is an urgent matter: The more delays, unproductive meetings, and struggles to get all IEP members in the same room, the more a child loses educational opportunities.
With a sound strategy in place, and resources available if necessary, you can feel encouraged about your child’s opportunity to make strides and flourish.
*This article was first published in The Bridge on August 7, 2019.
Matt Keister is an Of Counsel attorney with the Law Office of Claudia I. Pringles, PLLC. His practice area is focused on special education. To schedule an appointment with Attorney Keister, please call 802-223-0600 or send an email via our contact page.