School Vocabulary – IEP
This is the time of year that school districts are testing kids and preparing for the next school year. Their budgets start over July 1st and they will know how much money they have and what services are needed to start the new year in August. I’m not saying they have enough money but they at least have a budget on paper.
Your child will spend just as much, if not more, time in a school setting each day than you do at work. For this reason, you need to pick your school district carefully. Yes, I’m saying you may need to move. Or you could choose a private school. Or you may need to join a co-op of home-schooling parents. I DO NOT recommend you home school by yourself. You shouldn’t be the center of your child’s life 24/7 – as they shouldn’t be yours. You can gather a group of home schooling parents together and each teach different lessons, but give the local school district a fair shot first. You could be very happily surprised at the amount of resources they have!
Now, you need to know that as SPecial EDucation directors at the district level change within the district, so will the type of services you get. The school district would like to say otherwise, but it’s true. If you have a great SPED director, then the program gets what it needs (money, staff, equipment, etc…) from the top down because the director is fighting for it and coming up with creative ways to get it. If you have a director who is just going through the motions and earning a paycheck, then things are different. Schools are not holier-than-thou places. They run like any other business. So, depending on who is in charge, depends on how good the SPED department is….and that can change over the years. I knew a couple who worked for the city government and had to live within city limits, but “separated” and paid for an apartment in another school district to get better SPED services once their favorite SPED director retired and was replaced. You may be shaking your head, but it’s reality.
The first school SPED lesson is vocabulary. You need to understand the terms and process of IEP’s and 504’s. I feel you need to know the basic terms because you’ll find that the education world uses a lot of acronyms. Knowledge is power! This week is the IEP.
An IEP is an Individual Education Plan. This plan came out of the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA). It is the framework for your child’s day at school and the services they need to receive. Your child must qualify under state and federal criteria to have an IEP; it’s not just a given because they have a disability (this means a day’s worth of testing). All decisions for your child are made by the IEP team which consists of parents, teachers, therapists, a case manager (usually the special education teacher), and a district representative (usually an administrator in the building). No decisions can be made, or actions taken, without the signatures and agreement of every person on the team.
At the meeting your child’s test results will be given to you and what adaptations the district feels will be necessary so your child can get a full education. The meeting will take about an hour because the documents will be read to you and all educational jargon explained in plain English. This is, sad to say, protection for the district, but also for you. If you have ANY concerns, thoughts, or ideas, you MUST speak up during the meeting and have it documented. This isn’t the time for shyness. Be calm, clear, and open to suggestions. Work WITH the district to find compromises and solutions if need be.
If you find later in the school year that your child’s IEP isn’t being followed, bring it to your case manager’s attention with a phone call, note, or email. It may be your child is doing okay without the accommodation, or that the staff needs a re-fresher. Rarely is the staff blatantly refusing to follow the IEP. Remember they are trying to educate 300-1500 children each day. You know how tough your day is - they are doing the best they can. They sure as heck aren’t doing it for the money.
If the gentle reminder doesn’t work, work up the chain of command. Go to the principal, then the SPED director, then you may need to get an advocate (more about that later).
Being prepared is part of your job as mom, but also a foundation of you as a woman. You will have more time for yourself, to recharge your soul, and that’s the strength and peace I want to see in you. It’s why I write for you and love to hear from you. Next week I’ll talk about 504 plans, the sister to IEP’s, and the week after LRE’s (Least Restrictive Environments). Before summer begins you will be ready for next school year!