Most parents find themselves ill-equipped for their new role as advocates for their child during the first Individual Education Plan/Program (IEP). The first meeting can be extremely overwhelming. Parents find themselves in a room with a team of education professionals; the teaching team or just the team lead, the school’s psychologist or counselor, the principal, the social worker or IEP coordinator, any recourse teachers that may be applicable, and the parents. Just by stepping into the room, most parents go into a defensive state. The IEP process it is also very difficult to follow. No one give parents a glossary of terms or processes, or explains what the parent role is in the process. The expectation from the parent viewpoint is that the trained educators of the IEP team will make the best possi¬ble decisions for your child’s education. It is important to become as informed as possible about the process of the IEP in your state as well as your school system. As an advocate for families during the IEP process I have found parents tend to make some common mistakes. The following is a list of the most common mistakes and some suggestion for avoiding them.
1.) Believing the professionals are the only experts: It can be very intimidating to sit at the table with a panel of educators and professionals and feel like you have a handle on what is going on. Educational professionals walk in do bring a great deal of knowledge and experience to the table. While most parents do not have a background or degree in education, they do have a great deal of knowledge and experience regarding their child. As a parent, you have more knowledge and are the expert when it comes to your child. Parents will need to bring the historical information as well as the big picture from year to year. Parents know what works and what doesn’t work. Parents have an intuitive sense as to what is appropriate for their child.
2.) Not making requests in writing: Any request a parent makes needs to be in writing. This includes requests for assessments, IEP meeting, correspondence, related services, etc. Written requests are important because they initiate timelines that the school district must follow in response to your request. This also creates a paper trail.
Not being familiar with Prior Notice of the Procedural Safeguards: All sections of the Procedural Safeguards are important to parents. This gives parent’s leverage during IEP meetings whenever parents make a request for their child in the IEP meeting, the IEP committee is required under Prior Notice to provide the parents with written notice with a reasonable period of time. There have been many instances where a parent requests an assessment or service only to have the IEP team tell the parent it cannot be done. By having the request in writing, it requires the IEP team to provide Prior Notice, making the IEP team accountable for its decisions.
The notice MUST include the following:
i. A description of the action proposed or refused.
ii. An explanation of why the agency proposes or refuses to take action;
iii. A description of any other option that the agency considered and the reasons why those options were rejected;
iv. A description of each evaluation procedure, test record, or report the agency used as a basis for the proposed or refused action;
v. A description of any other factor that is relevant to the agency’s proposal or refusal.
I have found when parents apply the suggestions listed above while working with their IEP committee they will see results. It is important that parents continue to accumulate information and develop skills related to the IEP process. Most parents feel overwhelmed by the special education process. I found it helpful to break the process down into small steps. After using each suggestion listed, pat yourself on the back for becoming an even better advocate for your child.