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How to Set up an IEP so Your Child is the Winner

By Judith Greenberg, Ph.D, President, School Finders, LLC.

As more and more students are diagnosed with learning and other disabilities, the Individual Education Plan (IEP) as determined by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, (IDEA) becomes more difficult to work through. It will often seem as if the school is trying very hard to deny your child what seems to be very obvious to you as exactly what she needs to succeed to school. The reality is that the federal government determines the main guidelines for IDEA and then turns it over to the states. Each state sends it to the school systems or local education agencies (LEA). The LEA then determines the format of the plan and how that school system, whether it is a county or township, begins and completes the IEP process.

As a parent, you need to know the steps your LEA takes. The amount of time from one point to another, such as from stating in writing that you want testing, to determine if your son needs an IEP, to when he will actually have a written document, is determined by the federal law and no LEA can change this. Schools have thirty days to test and then thirty to bring an IEP team together to determine eligibility for an IEP based on test results, parental input, teacher comments, doctor reports, and any outside testing you may contribute. That is almost one marking period of a school year that has gone by without any accommodations or other help for a student. Throw in snow days and vacations and it will be an entire marking period.

If you decide to have testing done by a psychologist outside of the school system, be prepared to wait the same amount of time as the LEA does not have to accept this information, only consider it and can do its own testing as well. After evaluating whether or not the need exists, for example: does John have a slow processing speed which makes it difficult to read on grade level and learn at the same speed as his peers? Does this impact his ability to access the curriculum? Look at his grades on tests, his history of not turning in homework or turning it in late or incomplete. The answer would be yes, and he would need extra time on tests and large projects as well as help to study by using guides, note taking help and more time for reading assignments. Now the question becomes whether an IEP is the best step for him as this means he will have goals and objectives to accomplish and that may put more pressure on an already stressed student.

Many school IEP teams will work well enough to look further through the testing to find other issues that tend to co-exist with the slow processing such as written expressive disorder, executive dysfunction (difficulties organizing and planning, and keeping more than one idea going at a time.) This shows a learning disability does exist and he needs help in several areas. If eligibility is determined, you can expect that the school has already met and determined this and will give you a draft IEP to discuss, right then and there. Read it carefully or ask to take it home before signing. If they have not prepared the IEP, you will be scheduled to come back a month later for the IEP and discuss it then. More time goes by without help for this child.

In keeping with the goal of winning the best IEP, I strongly recommend that a parent do all communication with teachers, supervisors, and principals by email and save each one. If you hire an advocate, be certain to forward copies of everything you receive or send to this person. This is called "closing the loop", and it means no one at the school can ever state: "I'm sorry I didn't get that email". If you are called on the phone or stopped in a hallway, take notes and then email the person with a summary of what you think was stated and ask if the person agrees or disagrees and to get back to you by email.

Take grandparents, tutors, aunts/uncles, an advocate, etc. to the meeting with you as these people know your child as well as the teachers and they see what you see as the needs for your child. It helps to have extra people on your side of the table. Push to have each portion of the IEP process expedited due upcoming holidays, or the number of times you have been told by a teacher that your child needs help but the school did nothing, or the number of times you have asked for testing and been told "to wait and see how things go this year", just try, it usually works! Never sign an IEP until you are satisfied with everything that is written. Know that you may call a meeting at any time in the year the IEP is valid and it can be changed. Also, know that the school does not "own" your child's records—you do. The school holds them while your child is in attendance there. You may ask to see them and copy them any time you want to or need to.

Working with your child's school may seem to be an impossible struggle. In reality, the school is also hindered by regulations imposed by the LEA, the state and the federal government. Being on the side of the table that has to say "no" often to families due to needing specific qualifications being met so as to help a student doesn't make school personnel happy either. If your child is denied, you can still ask what the school can do in the way of helping to find accommodations that will help to bring her success, less stress, and help her to improve while you find a tutor to help on your end.

Dr. Greenberg is the founder and director of School Finders, serving the DC metro area, the nation, and countries abroad. She is also author and co-author of over thirty-seven books for children and teens including A Pioneer Woman's Memoirs, winner of the Notable Children's Book for 1996 award. Dr. Greenberg has a Ph.D. in Community Education. You can reach her at:(301) 230-9010.

Disclaimer: Internet Special Education Resources (ISER) provides this information in an effort to help parents find local special education professionals and resources. ISER does not recommend or endorse any particular special education referral source, special educational methodological bias, type of special education professional, or specific special education professional.


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