Is my child's IEP working?



The ins and out of a successful IEP

Is your childs iep working hudson valley new york

 

Patti Phelan knows how overwhelming managing a child’s IEP can be. All three of her children have received special education services – one through an IEP until age 13, another through a 504 plan, and a third who received services through preschool. As a current special education attorney and board member of PULSES, an organization of parents and families of children with special needs in the Mid-Hudson Valley, she has felt and seen lots of the confusion and uncertainty that can surround IEP management. Luckily, she’s also got plenty of experience working with parents and districts to make sure kids’ IEPs help them get the best education possible. 


 

KEEP IEP PLAN HANDY FOR REGULAR VIEWING 

First, as soon as your IEP has been finalized, put it in a place where you’ll see it every day, she says. Whether that place is your fridge or your nightstand, make sure it’s accessible so you can easily look back and remember what program the district has agreed to for your child and what goals she should be progressing toward. Those goals will help you as you monitor your child’s progress to determine whether the IEP is working. 

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Grades, regular progress reports, and homework assignments are all important materials that you can review regularly to check if your child is progressing academically. Are her quiz scores improving? Is he able to fill out his homework sheets adequately? If the answer is no, that’s a sign the IEP might need to be modified. 


But if the answer is yes, that might not automatically mean the IEP is working, Phelan says. It’s important that kids are challenged and engaged throughout the day – feedback that the teacher can provide. 


“Ongoing communication between parents and teachers is so important,” Phelan says. She recommends getting a consistent communication plan with teachers written into the IEP up front, or adding it in as a program modification. For students who switch classes or have more than one teacher, she suggests creating an address book with all of your child’s teachers, including specials. Getting feedback from every teacher who works with your child will give you a better sense of how she does not only in core subject areas but in more creative or physical ones, like art and gym, and can give you a more holistic picture of how your child is doing. 


 

THE MISSION OF AN IEP IS MORE THAN JUST ACADEMICS 

That’s important, Phelan says, because an IEP is not set up just for academics. An IEP is designed to help your child progress in four major categories: academically, socially, physically, and emotionally. If he often comes home upset or unhappy, acts up in class or asks to leave the room often, those could be flags that the IEP needs to be revisited. In addition to monitoring social and emotional well-being through teacher communication, Phelan suggests keeping in touch with the parents of other students, who might get the scoop on what happens in the lunchroom or at recess when teachers aren’t around. “My child would often come home and tell me about how the neighbor’s child was doing, and then I passed that information on to her,” Phelan says.

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If you’re seeing signs that your child is not making steady progress toward goals in any of the four categories, you have two options. First, you can reach out to the teacher or faculty member who you feel is best equipped to help solve the problem (this might be a speech pathologist for speech issues, or a guidance counselor for social issues). Shoot them an email explaining your concerns and ask whether there are steps you can take at home or things the faculty member can do at school to help your child. Try to go into the conversation with a collaborative mindset and hear the teacher or faculty member out, Phelan says. “Try not to jump rank or go to someone’s boss before them a chance to intervene themselves,” she says.


But if no progress or changes are made in an agreed-upon timeframe – generally about a week should be enough, Phelan says – or if you feel the problem is highly urgent, you can call a program review. You are entitled to call as many program reviews as you wish at any time during the school year. The review will convene a CSE meeting to discuss your child’s progress or lack thereof. At the meeting you’ll revisit the IEP and decide on modifications to the IEP that might better suit your child’s needs – these vary widely and could include additional testing, more supports for the teacher, more test-taking time, or a recommendation of an alternative placement for your child.  

 

FIND SUPPORT TO HELP UNDERSTAND YOUR CHILD’S IEP 

This process can be intimidating for parents advocating for their children, says Sandra Oglesby, the Executive Director of Empowering Ellenville, a community agency focusing on students with special needs. She recommends bringing an advocate or friend into the meeting who can “maintain decorum, composure and is not emotionally wrapped up in the worry of understanding every detail.” She also advocates for conducting independent assessments and seeking second opinions if you and the district vehemently disagree on something. “This right for parents and students is protected by law,” she says.


If you’ve met with district officials and the IEP is still not serving your child, it may be time to invoke due process and sue the district. The litigation happens in a district office rather than a courtroom and is presided over by an impartial hearing officer rather than a judge. There is no single ‘trigger’ that signals it’s time to get a lawyer – rather, Phelan says, if it’s crossed your mind, it’s worth looking into. She suggests talking to other parents and reading online reviews and testimonials to find a special education lawyer who might represent you well, and requesting consults to see if you can establish a strong working relationship. Whether you’re seeking an alternative placement for your child or are requesting modifications the district has repeatedly refused, due process can help you get what you need.

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Carmen Vega is a parent of a special needs child and an educational advocate for Access: Supports for Living in Middletown, which offers  counseling, living skills, and help finding affordable housing for people with physical or intellectual disabilities in the Hudson Valley.  She notes that Access organizes monthly local workshops and trainings to give parents resources to navigate their children’s IEPs, “The key is not to just rely on the district to tell you what your child should be doing,” she says. Additionally, Pete Wright, a special education attorney, offers occasional daylong seminars in the local area to give parents critical information. The COPAA (Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates) website also offers lots of resources and special education attorneys who can help you get what you need.


Ultimately, your child’s IEP is a work in progress, says Oglesby. “It’s a fluid document that changes and must keep pace with the student it is designed for.” If that’s not happening, parents are well within their rights to advocate for their kids and make sure they are getting the services and support they need to thrive at school. 

 

Elora Tocci is a freelance writer born and raised in Newburgh. She’s a communications director at Teach For America in New York City.