It’s already that time of year again.
Brian’s case manager recently reached out to remind me that his annual Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) meeting is coming up. This will mark our 12th IEP meeting , with just 6 more to go. It’s hard to believe that Brian is already this far along with his formal education. In the blink of an eye, he has gone from 3 years old to almost 15 years old- when exactly did THAT happen? I shudder to think when the public school formally discharges Brian as their educational responsibility at 21 years old. This looms in the not too distant future, but I will not think about that any further today. Meanwhile, back in the present moment..
IEP meetings always cause me to experience a certain amount of angst, even after all of these years. Walking into a situation where the ratio of school personnel to parents is often 6:1, can certainly be intimidating, even under the friendliest of circumstances. I automatically have my guard up as I am carefully listening to the discussions about my son’s performance, concerns, and recommendations. I also find that I need to remind the group periodically that I am indeed a valuable member of the educational team and know my son better than anyone else in the room. 😊👍🏻
The IEP meeting is the stage where parents give their best advocacy performance on behalf of their children to ensure that their educational needs will be properly met. It’s unfair that we sometimes have to go through so much trouble, time, (and sometimes legal expense in certain situations) to make this happen, but our kids are counting on us in this arena, as they do for so many other things that they need. Like other special needs families, we have had our share of ups and downs during this annual process over the years.
Our initial IEP experience was very unsatisfactory and resulted in us moving to an area where there were more potential options for Brian within 30 minutes of our new home. Since that time, Brian has been in 3 different schools, each with its pros and cons- there is certainly no perfect program. Brian’s transition from one program to the next was generally at the right time, based on: his particular needs, the experience and willingness of the staff, and what the school could offer. Most of our disagreements with the school district pertained to ancillary services ( like speech and OT), where they tried to reduce sessions, which is of course inappropriate for a student like Brian and his level of functioning in these areas. It took outside professional evaluations, clogging up the Director of Special Services fax, and multiple emails/ phone calls to make my point, but we ultimately won those battles. I had an idea after those experiences what it must be like to be a trial attorney- research, fact presentation, documentation, and defense- it’s definitely not for the faint-hearted!
Experience has also taught me to pick my battles during an IEP meeting- how important is something? What’s an absolute deal-breaker? What will it mean next year, 5 years from now? That line of thinking has come with time and practice. My business background has also taught me the importance of professional negotiation. No one likes to walk away from the table without something in hand. Everyone likes to feel that they have “won” something. School districts and families are no different in this regard. Thankfully, persistence and patience have also payed off in this area for those items that were non-negotiable for Brian, at least so far, but you just never know when things will change. It’s truly one IEP meeting at a time..
Quite frankly, I would love to skip the formalities of the IEP meeting altogether and just ask the most important questions:
1. How WILLING are you to learn how to help my son?
2. Will you take my advice and accept my suggestions? Will you go even further and implement these strategies?
3. Will you please communicate with me on regular basis (that is mutually determined) so that there are no surprises on either end? By the way, one paragraph, once a week, doesn’t count.
4. Will you please be honest with me at all times and tell me the good, bad, and the ugly? I don’t want to find out 6 months after the fact that there have been problems. I would love to hear about successes as much as the challenges.
5. Will you please teach me so that I can teach my son? I welcome your suggestions and want to follow through at home with what is taught at school.
Simply put, I Expect Performance (I.E.P.) from the school staff and district when Brian is entrusted to their educational care. As a former Special educator, I understand that they have a very difficult assignment. Teaching our kids does indeed take very special and skilled individuals who are not given a manual in advance. Teachers have to be flexible, creative, and patient- it’s one of the hardest jobs ever! I will support our school personnel one thousand percent, but I also expect their best performance in return. If that is not possible, either the staff member (s) or the placement needs to go, plain and simple. Our kids deserve the opportunity to learn, just like everyone else!
On a lighter note, here are some things I like to do before, during, and after IEP meetings that have been helpful over the years (especially for those families just starting out):
1 . Discuss/Submit my own goals to Brian’s teacher and therapists before the meeting.
2. Request a copy of the proposed IEP prior to the meeting for review- if not available, I will wait until it is, read it carefully, THEN attend the IEP meeting.
3. I write down any questions/concerns in advance of the IEP meeting.
4. I usually bring a snack to share ( ie, Dunkin Donut munchkins) as a tasty icebreaker to the meeting.
5. I send thank you emails post-meeting for everyone’s participation and as a reminder of what was agreed upon.
You are to be commended if you have read this far on today’s blog. Thank you for following along! I wish you only the best outcome at your child’s IEP meeting. Our kids are worthy of a performance-based education, no matter where they go to school, nothing less is acceptable!
Until we meet again- many blessings on you and yours! 😊👍🏻