Monday, March 14, 2016
What makes an IEP easier for me
I'd rather get a cavity filled, take a freezing cold shower or walk barefoot on pine cones than go to an IEP meeting (Individualized Education Program, for the uninitiated—a written document that outlines education goals for a child with special needs that's revisited annually). Although I always hear lots of good about Max's progress, I find it anxiety-inducing to set the course of his schooling and therapies. But year after year, I make sure Max gets what he needs.
At Max's school, parents are handed a draft of the IEP at the meeting. After last year's, when I was shocked by the lack of articulation goals, I told our district case manager that I needed to have the IEP draft given to me ahead of time so I could absorb it, react to it and form my thoughts. Then I had Ben and sleep deprivation ate my brain. So I didn't realize until the morning of Max's IEP last week that: 1) It was the morning of his IEP and 2) I had no draft.
It turned out Max's school had only mailed our new case manager the draft IEP that morning, and she hadn't forwarded it to me. Argh.
I posted about this on Facebook. A couple of other parents said they also get drafts, or did pre-meetings, so there were no surprises on the day of the IEP meeting. A teacher chimed in: "I always send home a draft of the IEP, I want the parents to read over it so they have time to digest it. Also, I do not want to sit and read the whole thing at the meeting. The only time I sent a partial draft home was when it was a contentious meeting and the child's sped placement was up for discussion. I did not want to predetermine anything."
The majority of parents who weighed in, though, noted that they do not get drafts ahead of time; they work on the document at the meeting and make adjustments as a team. "It can be daunting for parents to be handed what seems like a done deal," said Cate M. Someone linked to a Wrightslaw article that mentioned the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) discourages draft IEPs because they can make parents think their input isn't valued. Still, said Marj H., "They are SUPPOSED to develop it collaboratively at that meeting, and yet they never allot enough time for that."
It seems like there are different regulations around the country about providing parents with a working draft ahead of time, and different practices within school districts. I think there are pros and cons to getting a draft. For me, and for our circumstances, it's a good thing.
For one, Max's team has always been open to discussion at the meeting, and so there is no set-in-stone mindset about the working draft. Also, although I'm in pretty close contact with his teacher and therapists so I'm usually in the loop on goals, omissions can crop up. This happened last year with speech articulation and this year, too, when I realized a physical therapy goal I felt was important to Max wasn't in there.
No matter what, parents do not have to sign off on an IEP at the meeting. "I never signed until all of my questions were answered and my suggestions heard," says Teresa B. "I stopped more than one meeting until people learned I could not be manipulated or intimidated." In our area (it may vary in others), parents have 15 days after the meeting to raise concerns/sign the IEP; after that, it goes into effect.
Max's therapists and teacher all did an excellent job talking about his progress and the goals in the IEP, but I didn't sign it. I wanted to take time to read the 17-page document, which I couldn't do in the throes of the meeting.
Whether you already get a draft IEP, decide to ask for one or stick with putting the IEP together at a meeting, the bottom line is, you know what works best for you and your child—and you are his best advocate and champion.
Image: Flickr/Emily Bean