Ummmm…What?!?!?!?!? How do I get an IEP, Parents Mag?

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Special Education Tips: Parents Magazine, September 2015

So, I take education seriously. And I take it thismuchmore seriously for children with special needs, the children who’s parents need accurate information about the legal hoops they’re required to jump through.

And then I read this in Parents Magazine:

“If you think your child needs more help than she’s getting in school, you can inquire about having an IEP (individualized education program) meeting.”

Great! I’m glad it’s so easy! Request a meeting, and BAM! An IEP! Hooray!

The meeting that Parents is talking about is a basic parent-teacher conference. This is a meeting that I have had with every single child in each of my classes at one or more points throughout the year. At these meetings, parents and teachers are meeting to discuss academic strengths and weaknesses. Could this meeting lead to the very start of formal evaluation process? Yes, it could, but that process might not lead to the IEP.

So here’s the real deal: just requesting a meeting does not, let me repeat DOES NOT, get your child an IEP.

IEPs are NOT for every kid who is going through a rough patch. It is NOT for the kid who isn’t quite clicking with his teacher this year.

An IEP is a legal document that is created after extensive evaluation, modification of the general education setting, data tracking, and meetings. You do not get an IEP created for your child after asking for a meeting because your child is having academic trouble.

An IEP is given if a child has one of 13 specific areas of disability AND if it has been shown to have a significant impact on their education and academic progress. Legally, if a teacher believes a child has academic concerns that might fall beyond her scope, she needs to complete an extended period of documentation and evaluation in the regular classroom that includes best-practice modifications and accommodations to determine if this is something that can be handled outside of the special education system. If she finds that the academic concerns have not significantly improved, stayed the same, or gotten worse, then it is time to initiate the formal IEP process.

The only time that this step can be skipped is if A) the child enters the school system with a current IEP in place or B) the parents request, in writing, that their child be evaluated for a specific condition in relation to their academic progress. If A, then the school legally must provide comparable services until a new IEP has been created OR their evaluation determines that the child no longer needs services. If B, the district MUST provide formal evaluations within a certain time frame, typically no longer than 90  days.

Then there is the meeting itself, different than the meeting that Parents is talking about. The formal IEP meeting is attended by: member of school administration, any relevant specialists/evaluators, the general education teacher, the special education teacher, and the parents/guardians, as well as any advocates or lawyers that the parents/guardians choose to bring. The results of the evaluation(s) are presented, the findings are discussed, the educational implications of the findings are discussed, the findings are discussed in terms of what they mean in the real world, and finally they are rigorously connected to the IDEA standards.

If the child’s educational success is not adversely affected, then an IEP is not provided. An example would be for a mobility impaired child who needs the aisles widened to accommodate his wheelchair. His actual academic ability is not in question, but his access to the academic environment does need some alterations as a direct result of his impaired mobility. This would warrant a 504 Plan, a different plan that falls under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

Then there was the part about paraprofessionals: “If an aide is assigned to your child, her primary responsibility is to make sure he is paying attention to the teacher, pulling out the right worksheets, and writing down his homework–not to explain things he doesn’t understand.”

Having worked as a paraprofessional, I know that this is wrong in actual practice. I would have loved to have the above description be my actual job as a para. Legally, a paraprofessional works under the direction of the lead teacher or special education teacher, and carries out any tasks that she is assigned. This could be bathrooming, working through a math worksheet, or, yes, simply keeping the student on task. But I’ve also helped to control a child who is having a meltdown, taught a full reading curriculum (granted, I was also a licensed teacher working in a para position), and helped students to think through their work.

My blood was almost literally boiling as I read this article. It makes it seem as though the paras are just there to babysit students (false) and that getting an IEP requires a simple meeting (also untrue).

So here’s my advice, from a real teacher who has been in a real classroom and who actually reads special education law: request that meeting. Do it. But don’t expect to jump straight to the legal documents. This will be the very first in a number of meetings over weeks and maybe months, and possibly all school year. You and your child’s teacher will need to fight tooth and nail to get your kiddo the help that, at this point, you all agree he needs. You will need to deal with stressful evaluations. You will need to read laws and statutes, and then reread those same things written in regular people language. You might need to hire an advocate. You might need to hire a lawyer. You might need to request an independent educational evaluation. It might be contentious. It might be smooth. It might be both.

Whatever it is, keep on fighting for your child, and be sure to get the best advice you can. Don’t just trust something because it is printed in a national magazine. Get that second opinion. Because the first one might be dead wrong.

~Meg

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