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.) Requesting a related service instead of an assessment that supports the need for a related service. Many times parents will request services such as speech, occupational therapy, physical therapy, etc. in the IEP meeting. Frequently the IEP committee will respond by stating the student does not need the service. It is better to request the assessment the supports the need for related service. For example, instead of requesting speech for your child, request a speech assessment. Only a certified or licensed professional is qualified to determine if a child needs or does not need a particular related service. If your school does not have a professional on staff, they must assure your child has access to an assessment outside the school district. (See below)
2.) Accepting assessment results that do not recommend the services you think your child needs. Parents at times receive assessment results that do not accurately describe their child and/or do not recommend the amount and duration of services parents think the child needs. Under 34 CFR 300.352. Independent Education Evaluation (IEE), parents of a child with a disability have the right to obtain an independent evaluation at public expense if they disagree with the results of the schools assessment. When the parent requests the IEE (in writing) the school has one of two choices: they may either provide the IEE in a reasonable period of time or they may take the parents to a due process hearing. When IEE is agreed upon, parents and school must come to an agreement as to who is qualified to assess the student. The examiner for an IEE cannot be employed by the school district. Parents should request the school district’s policy on guidelines and qualifications required for examiners.
3.) Allowing the assessment information to be presented for the first time at the IEP meeting. Parents are entitled to have the assessment information explained to them prior to the IEP meeting. I encourage parents to have the person who administered the assessment give them a copy of the report and meet with them to explain the report several days prior to the IEP meeting. This enables parents to think through the information before making decisions for their child. If all IEP decisions are based on the information from the assessment, it only makes sense for the parents to be knowledgeable and informed about the assessment results in a way they can understand.
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.