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Setting an educational course for a child with unique needs can be a daunting task for parents
Federal regulations enacted under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act require schools to develop individualized education programs (IEP) for children who are classified as students with disabilities.
Parents or guardians are required to be a part of the team that drafts the child’s IEP, along with at least one special education teacher, one regular education teacher, a member of the school’s administration, and someone with advanced knowledge of understanding learning evaluation results, often times the school’s psychologist. The law requires parents to play a role in the IEP process because parents generally have in-depth knowledge of their child’s strengths and weaknesses.
Often, parents are unsure of what to expect when told that they are to be a part of their child’s education plans. Many parents do not have formal education training and have not been part of an IEP process before. There are several things that parents should understand before beginning the IEP drafting process:
Parents have rights when it comes to their child’s IEP. The law requires that school districts must make “significant” efforts to ensure that a parent attends all IEP meetings. The meeting must be scheduled in a timely manner and must take place at a location that both parties (typically, the school district and the parent) agree upon. Parents who cannot attend have the option of participating remotely. Parents have the right to be as active in the IEP drafting process as they so choose, and can request changes to the plan if they desire.
Parents should come to the meeting prepared. It is best to organize a list of questions and concerns beforehand. It is also wise to prepare to answer specific questions that the rest of the IEP team may have, such as what challenges the child has and how the family believes the child’s needs can be met. Many parents choose to obtain copies of the school’s paperwork several days in advance to review it before the meeting. It may also be beneficial to provide the school with paperwork before the meeting as well, including a list of goals and concerns.
At the meeting, it is best to phrase things in the most positive way possible. The IEP is designed with a child’s challenges in mind to help him or her succeed – success is the primary goal. Parents should try to work collaboratively with the rest of the IEP team, but should voice their concern and ask questions. While everyone in the room is ultimately trying to help the child, parents are an important part of the team. It is also important to remember that the child may act differently in educational settings than at home.
There are a few options for parents who want to learn more about the IEP process. A wide variety of IEP information is available at the U.S. Department of Education website at ed.gov. Parents of children who have been diagnosed with specific learning disabilities can find more information at respective organization’s websites. Law firms concentrating on special education advocacy and special needs planning are also a good resource to assist parents needing aid with the IEP process.