It’s That Time of Year Again: Careful Review, Renegotiation of Your Child’s IEP Is Critical
March 1, 2014
At this time of year, parents with children who have Individualized Education Programs, commonly known as an “IEP”, should start thinking about a few things. Not only is it time to begin reviewing and renegotiating your child’s IEP’s contents with the school, but it might also be time to consider having an updated evaluation done. In addition, it’s a good idea to look at the specific goals contained in the IEP and compare it to your child’s academic and social successes in order to determine what your position will be relative to your child’s service delivery.
The idea of FAPE, or a child’s right to a Free and Public Education, is still the dominating and controlling factor in our special education laws. This doesn’t mean the complete obligation of a school district to be proactive. Instead, it requires the schools, though their IEP teams and specialists, to deal with current and ongoing issues through least restrictive alternatives, shared aids, individual aids, speech or language intervention, providing additional time for test taking, or other strategies aimed at getting a child to his or her appropriate academic level. Finding a common ground can be difficult, so it is of the utmost importance that parents are familiar with all sections of the IEP and how to use the document to set or modify goals and expectations.
There are times when a school district will seek to test or reevaluate your child. Many times parents assume this is the school’s way of trying to take away services from their child, and they reject the idea of reevaluation out of fear for the results. For example, maybe your child has taken positive strides forward in a particular area, and so a shared aid is now more appropriate than an individual aid. If you are sure that reevaluation will show the same level of need as previously determined, then you should welcome the testing. If the result comes out different, and your child has improved enough that he no longer needs services, you will always have the option of private evaluation at your own expense.
Do not assume the testing entity is on the payroll of the school, and therefore the results will be skewed. They are more accurate than not, and parents need to accept the fact that children will fluctuate in their abilities and skills over time. If results show that your child continues to have the same needs, then you will assure yourself that the IEP will either remain the same or that additional services will be added. Sometimes parents are so afraid to lose services that they forget that as students develop and mature, their needs change. In such instances parents do a disservice to their child by not finding out their child’s current level either way.
Parents need to make sure that they comply with timing requirements as well. A common frustration parents face is when the school district does not seemingly comply with the same requirements, or uses school days instead of week days to allow “extra” time. It’s important to not focus on this too much unless the deviation from the requirement is egregious. While it may seem like a double standard (you have to strictly follow the timeframes, but you are supposed to give schools a small pass?), focusing on this instead of being solution and goal oriented can cause unnecessary defensiveness or paranoia on the part of a parent. The reality is that school districts function like a business, and as such, deal with illness, absenteeism, and IEP teams being overloaded with students and parents requiring their attention, particularly as we “march” into April.
When preparing to meet with the school to either discuss the IEP or review an evaluation, take note of certain parts of the IEP that will be most relevant in moving the discussion forward. The Educational Performance section, where areas of curriculum are discussed and specific needs of the student are assessed, along with the input of the teachers will be important. The Current Performance Levels/Measurable Annual Goals section is also key, because this is where the most child-specific information is located. Gather examples of your child’s actual work and test results, evidencing whether he or she met previous goals set, how far away they are from accomplishment, and how they have developed over the course of a term or year.
It’s also a good idea to compare the Benchmarks to the actual academic levels to determine if your child is on track to meet goals, or if they are now farther behind than before. And finally, know the Service Delivery section and what actual services are both being received, and what was to be provided. Do they match? Have those goals been satisfied? Have recommendations been followed?
Knowing the ins and outs of your child’s IEP will only help you in renegotiating it and will allow your precious meeting with the IEP team to be result oriented instead of unproductive because you become angry or defensive if the school district does not agree with your own assessment. You need to implore the school to assist with the common goal of your child’s success, not make demands unsupported by the law.
Remember, after the team meetings are complete and you receive the draft IEP, the document can be accepted in full, rejected in totality, or accepted in part and rejected in part, but you must be specific about what you accept and what is rejected. If you reject the IEP, you should then request a meeting to discuss the rejected portions, remembering that you must accept some part of the IEP in order to remain fully protected, and that the portion of the IEP not rejected will be automatically accepted and implemented immediately.