It is important to look at how to create opportunities for summer learning for children with special needs. Let’s face it, the school schedule that the vast majority of schools in the Unites States continue to follow with 8-10 weeks off during the summer was based on an agrarian society and really isn’t in the best interest of children, modern families or learning. This is doubly true for children with special needs, as most special education teachers and parents of children with special needs can attest to. Due to the rigid guidelines set up in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), a very small population of children with special needs qualify for Extended School Year (ESY) services when in reality year round schooling would be best Continue reading
Many children with special needs will qualify for related services. Related services in special education are a variety of supportive services that are required in order for a child with a disability to fully benefit from special education. If you have a concern about a particular developmental issue with your child, make sure and alert your case manager prior to the initial or re-evaluation assessments being conducted. In order for a child to potentially receive a related service, assessments must be completed to determine the child’s educational needs in a particular area. Most school districts, except for very large school districts, do not have all of these related service providers on staff Continue reading
You should receive an IEP progress report on your child’s annual Individual Education Program (IEP) goals and objectives as often as you receive report cards, which is usually three or four times during the school year. There is usually a key or a scale at the bottom of the progress report that explains the letters or numbers generally used to indicate whether a concept has been introduced or not, as well as what level of proficiency your child has reached with each objective that has been introduced. It is important for you to review the progress report so that you know Continue reading
IEP Meetings are held throughout the year for children with educational disabilities. IEP is an acronym for Individual Education Program. Each child who is determined to have a disability according to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) must have an IEP created just for them. The IEP should include several different components that are critical to your child’s success. It has been my experience, with both parents who are new to the IEP process and parents who have been in the system for years that many do not fully understand the complex document that dictates what their child will learn each year. I believe that most school districts need to do a better job of fully explaining the different components of the document to parents.
In my opinion, there are many different reasons for misunderstandings between parents and school districts regarding the IEP and/or the IEP process. One reason is that the federal law, IDEA, which governs everything regarding IEPs is very long, complex and cumbersome and each state has some leeway for interpretation of the law. Another reason is that parents assume that school personnel fully understand the educational laws. Another reason is that school districts often do not allow adequate time for IEP meetings. Another reason is that parents trust that school personnel are experts in working with children with disabilities and so they leave everything related to IEP up to the school personnel. These reasons for misunderstandings, along with others, I haven’t mentioned lead some parents and school districts to end up in long, drawn out battles over the education of a child with an IEP.
In the best of all possible worlds, parents and educators should be willing and able to work out their differences of opinion in order to assist the child with a disability to experience as much success as possible. Sometimes this does happen and other times is does not. In some cases, either the parent or the school district files for mediation and/or a due process hearing. The scope of this article is not to talk about due process hearings but to discuss things that you, as the parent, need to know about the IEP document in hopes of avoiding due process. This is not to say that, at times, this will be a necessary course for you to get what you believe your child is entitled to.
I encourage every parent to read the entire IEP document before signing it. This is not a simple task, as the document is usually between 15-60 pages long. It is rare, in this age that the facilitator of the IEP meeting will go page by page through the IEP at the IEP meeting because meeting lengths are often limited. Early in my career, it was not uncommon for IEP meetings to last for two hours but more recently, I have been surprised if there was even an hour scheduled for the meeting. An hour usually seems insufficient for me as the teacher, so I can just imagine that it is often insufficient for the parent. This shift has happened for many reasons-the primary one being limited available time for both parents and professionals. It seems that it has become more difficult for parents to get time off work to attend school meetings and it has become more costly and complicated for schools to release the school personnel from their regular duties to attend IEP meetings.
The document that is presented at the IEP meeting, whether it is an initial meeting, an annual review or a triennial meeting, is a “draft” document. This means that the school district personnel have put together an IEP based on your child’s assessments and needs into a working document. This means that the document presented at the IEP meeting is not a finalized document. Information can be added, deleted, amended or extended based on the discussion during the IEP Team meeting, of which you as the parent are an equal member. Due to the time constraints that are often put into place for meetings, I suggest that you tell the case manager that you would like a copy of the drafted IEP at least 2 days prior to the meeting. It is important to give this information to the case manager as soon as possible, as he/she will have to assure that all of the school personnel have input their information into the draft document by the date you have requested to pick it up from the case manager.
Let’s take some time to briefly dissect the different components of the IEP so you can fully understand the importance of each section.
Assessment: Both informal and formal assessments are completed with your child for the initial IEP, the Triennial (every 3 years) IEP, anytime an addition or deletion of a service is being considered and/or if a placement change is being considered. Annual IEP’s often include informal assessment results conducted over the course of the year. These assessments are completed to determine if your child is eligible or remains eligible for special education services. Formal standardized assessments compare your child with other children of their same age and/or grade level to get a statistical look at their abilities. Informal assessments may include, but are not limited to, teacher notes, observations by staff members, student work samples, pre and posttests and therapists notes from sessions. All of this data is compiled to create a profile of your child that helps determine if they are a child with a disability who is entitled to receive special education services.
Present Levels of Functional and Educational Performance: Every IEP should have a section completed by the service providers who either assessed and/or worked with your child since the previous IEP meeting. This section of the IEP should clearly describe your child’s performance in all areas of their educational program. It should include growth and skills your child has as well as educational needs and concerns to be addressed in the IEP. You should see present levels for academics with specific areas of disability addressed (i.e. if your child has a reading disability this should be discussed in detail), social, emotional & behavioral , motor, speech and language , cognitive/memory, transition and any other specialized area that your child receives services in, such as audiologist services, Braille services, augmentative communication services, etc.
Goals and Objectives: Goals and objectives should be written based on the areas of need indicated in the present levels section of the IEP. Goals are broad areas that your child needs to gain skills in. Goals are usually written based on State or Core Content Standards so they tend to be wordy and long. The objectives are the meat of the IEP. The objectives are the specific skills your child will be taught over the course of the IEP. Each objective should be specific and measurable which means it must have a current baseline.
Programming & Service Delivery: This section should clearly delineate what services your child will receive, what type of professional will deliver the services, what environment the service will be delivered in and the frequency and duration of the services. If your child is being placed into a certain program this is where it should be written and explained (i.e. resource room, self-contained, out-of-district, special school, etc).
Statement of LRE: This may or may not be connected to the service delivery page. There should be a statement that explains that the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) was discussed and considered in making the IEP and the percentage of time that your child will be educated away from his/her nondisabled peers should be indicated.
Accommodations and Modifications: This section of the IEP discusses the interventions and strategies that your child is entitled to in both the general education environment and the special education environment. Accommodations and modifications help your child to have more success in their educational program. They are often referred to as factors that help to “level the playing field” for children with disabilities.
Specialized Plans: If your child needs a specialized plan such as a behavior plan or an augmentative communication plan or health plan these documents should also be included in the IEP.
I have several articles either on my blog or on ezine articles that explain each of these components in more detail. I just wanted to give you a quick run-down of what you are looking for. If you receive the draft document before the meeting and take the time to read it you will make better use of your time during your meeting because you will know where you need to ask for clarifications and explanations, where items are missing, items you do not feel are appropriate and where you want changes made. This arms you with the information you need and empowers you to be the best advocate for your child’s education.
Please share your stories about your experiences at IEP meetings and your experiences with getting draft copies of the IEP prior to an IEP meeting.
LRE is an acronym for Least Restrictive Environment. The least restrictive environment definition in the law states that every child with an Individualized Education Program (IEP) is to be educated in their least restrictive environment. Least restrictive is referring to how much the child is educated away from neurotypical peers in the general education setting. Children with IEPs must have some form of a disability that negatively impacts their ability to achieve reasonable educational benefit from the general education curriculum and structure alone.
In the United States, prior to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) children with disabilities were usually removed from and educated away from their “typical “peers. This removal often led to stigmatization, isolation, discrimination and misunderstanding of children with disabilities well into their adulthood. This law requires that special education teams carefully consider whether and how much a child with a disability needs to be educated separately from their neurotypical peers.
Each child’s LRE differs depending on their disability, their level of impairment, their educational needs, their behaviors and their learning styles. For example, many children with Specific Learning Disabilities (SLDs) and Physical Disabilities will benefit most from full inclusion. Although some children with SLDs and Physical Disabilities have significant deficits that will need specialized instruction in a resource room or therapy room type of setting. Likewise, many children with moderate to severe Autism will benefit most from a self-contained program that is specifically designed to maximize the learning of children with Autism. However, some children with Autism will be able to be included into general education for specials and for academic content. It is not a cut and dry decision based on disability. Each child’s individual education needs should drive the placement decision.
For some children their LRE may be a general education setting with specific accommodations and/or modifications that assist them to gain educational benefit from the regular education content. Another child may be able to be fully included in the general education setting with support from a special educator. Some children may need to go to a separate classroom for specialized instruction in one or more content areas. For example, a child with a math disability may need specialized small group instruction in just that content area and may not need assistance in any other content areas.
Some children who have more significant disabilities that greatly impact their ability to learn in a general education setting may need to be educated in a smaller special education classroom for the majority of the day. For these children there is still a responsibility to establish as much interaction with non-disabled peers as possible. This may include attending specials, such as PE or music with their “typical” peers. It could also mean exposure to non-disabled peers through lunch in the cafeteria, recess on the playground and/or school-wide assemblies.
Some children’s disabilities so significantly affect their ability to be educated in a regular public school that they are placed by the special education team at an out-of-district special school. Whenever this decision is made, it is always the hope and desire that the child will gain enough skills to come back to a public school setting in the future as to not be isolated from non-disabled peers. Placement and service delivery decisions must always be made based on what the child’s educational needs are and what environment is the least different from a general education setting for the student to meet his/her goals and objectives adequately.
In my experience, school personnel often make a decision about where they want to place a child before the IEP meeting has even taken place, even though this should be a team discussion that involves the parents. As a parent, you have a say in this matter. I encourage you to ask questions about the placement recommendation and make sure you feel comfortable with the placement. For many students it is highly beneficial to be included in the general education environment for the whole day, while other students have significant needs that require some or all of their education to occur in a different setting. Make sure you understand what type(s) of environments your child will be educated in and that you feel this matches what your child’s educational needs are. It is important to note that if your child’s stated education needs from the IEP require a certain type of program or a certain environment the school district is required to provide that either within their own school district or find an appropriate out-of-district placement.
What has been your experience with your child’s placement decisions? Did you feel like you had a voice in the decision making process? Did you want your child to be more integrated into general education or were you advocating for a more specialized program to meet their educational needs?