It’s almost time to start school again – oh no! That means it is time to deal with that dreaded IEP again. Does the very thought of it raise your blood pressure and stress you out?
If so, you are NOT alone! It doesn’t have to be that way if you get a plan together or work with an IEP advocate! Don’t put off fixing that IEP this year. It’s time to get ready or bring in an expert and get it done right!
As a parent of a student with an IEP I feel both relieved and stressed that school is starting again. It is good my child will be back in school and doing something more productive than what he did this summer. But with school comes the stress of his struggles and dealing with the IEP, ugh! I don’t enjoy that part at all even as an IEP advocate myself.
IEP Advocacy Strategies
There are several steps you can take to improve your child’s IEP. Parents have rights that are explained in the Michigan Procedural Safeguards. There are two different procedural safeguards, one for children ages 3-26, and another for younger children. These are great documents to be familiar with as you advocate for your child’s IEP. They explain all the actions that parents can take and what parents’ legal rights are in special education.
You may also want to get familiar with MARSE (Michigan Administrative Rules for Special Education) so you understand laws specific to Michigan. There are both state and federal laws regarding special education. State laws supersede federal laws however you need to also understand applicable federal laws of IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act).
Let’s discuss the steps you can take to get a better IEP this school year!
Request an IEP Meeting
The law allows parents the right to call an IEP meeting when needed. This means you as a parent can request a meeting to discuss your concerns and request changes to the existing IEP. This can be done even if it is not time for an annual IEP meeting. My first tip for you is to email your IEP team and request a meeting. Let them know you have concerns about your child’s IEP and needs. Also explain you feel some changes should be made to the IEP to better address your child’s deficits.
Prepare Your IEP Advocacy Plan
Review IEP Related Documents
- Review the last IEP evaluation (also known as the MET Report). Carefully read and make notes on every evaluation or assessment mentioned. Make a list of where your child is underperforming or struggling.
- If you have an outside or independent evaluation that is fairly current, review that in the same manner as the MET report. Make comprehensive notes on areas of need identified in the report.
- Review the most current IEP and see where changes should be made including:
- IEP Goals: Are there goals included to address all the needs your child has that cannot be met by accommodations alone?
- Accommodations: Are there other accommodations that should be added to better address your child’s needs and deficits? Are there accommodations listed that you don’t feel your child benefits from?
- Support Services: Does your child get enough specialized services (specialized instruction, social work, speech therapy, etc…) time per month or week in the IEP? If you feel more time is needed, use the data and evidence you have collected to justify more time.
- Present Levels: Does the Present Levels section of the IEP accurately reflect your child’s current situation and abilities?
- Parental Concerns: Does the Parental Concerns section explain everything you feel the IEP team should know about your child’s needs? Does it include the academic, emotional, behavioral and social concerns you have for your child at school?
- Review your child’s recent IEP Progress Reports. These shows how your child is progressing towards the current IEP goals. You may also want to review prior years to see if your child has different goals each year and if he/she has been achieving them.
- Review state assessments and grades. Take a look at your child’s report cards and state assessment performance. Look over the past few years. Is there a trend of declining performance or consistency in low performance in certain areas that are not being addressed?
- Does your child struggle with behavior at school? Has it been an ongoing challenge and has it been addressed with a BIP (Behavior Intervention Plan)?
Write Up Everything You Find
Once you have taken a deep dive into these areas, it’s time to write up your findings. Make notes and use the data from the documents you reviewed as evidence. Use this evidence to support what your child needs included in the IEP to be successful. Also be sure to write up a very thorough Parental Concerns document prior to the IEP meeting. I recommend you read the document in the meeting and provide the IEP team with a printed copy and electronic copy (email it after the meeting). Also make sure to request they attach the document to the IEP documents as part of your child’s permanent educational record.
Advocating for IEP Goals and Accommodations
Now it’s time to research what your child needs for IEP goals and accommodations. There are several resources and websites out there that can provide ideas. There are also some ideas in my other blog articles and free resources. Do a quick online search for IEP goals for ADHD (or whatever specific diagnosis or deficit your child has) and find some ideas you think would be helpful. Do the same for accommodations. Develop a list of goals and accommodations you would like to see included in your child’s IEP.
What to do When the IEP Team Says No
Realize you can go to the team with a big list of what you want for your child, but you won’t get everything. If the team denies your request for something, make sure they put in writing the reasons why they are denying your request. This is known as a PWN or Prior Written Notice. You can find information in the Procedural Safeguards further explaining this further.
In short it means the school must provide you reasons why they will not grant your request. This can be helpful as you continue to advocate in the future for specific things in the IEP. With the appropriate documentation you may be able to get that request approved in a future meeting if you know why the request was denied.
This is just a simplistic guide on how to advocate and improve your child’s IEP, but it should help you get started. There is so much to know about special education advocacy, and you can’t learn it overnight. It takes research, resources and studying to learn over time. The best you can do is KEEP TRYING and KEEP LEARNING. Trust me, I have done this for years for my own child and it’s never simple, however it is much easier with knowledge.
If you feel you need more assistance and guidance in advocating for a better IEP this year, let’s talk. You can give a call to my office at 248-372-9770 or send an email. It is my goal to not only represent you in meetings and school interactions, but to TEACH you how to do this yourself. Every parent of a special needs child or different learner needs to know the best IEP advocacy strategies and how the process works to help support their child at school.
Let’s make this year even better than last year with a NEW and IMPROVED IEP!