IEP Meetings: Get Past The Fluff

During a recent IEP meeting, the staff gushed about how cute the little boy was, how much he got along with other children and how much they enjoyed working with him. It was a lovely feel-good moment, and all of that was fine, but I wanted to know how the child was progressing in school. The staff may love him, but are they teaching him?

After several requests for evaluation data (the school didn’t want to give to us at first), the school showed that last year the child was reading at a 2.4 grade level. A year later he was at a 2.6 reading level. He was in fourth grade: He only made two months progress over an entire school year! I was quick to point this out to the school IEP team which put a damper on their enthusiasm for “how wonderful he was doing.” Two months’ worth of progress was not acceptable and I wanted to know what they were going to do to improve his reading scores.

Lesson to be learned: Be careful not to get caught up in things you want to hear that make you feel good, but don’t have much substance. This mom left the meeting with an entirely different perspective on her son’s “progress” in school. She was devastated because everyone told her not to worry, that he was doing well. The truth was…he wasn’t doing well at all.

Suspended From School for 10 Days And A Manifestation Meeting… Do NOT Go To This Meeting Alone

My staff knows that if a parent calls our office stating that they have a “manifestation meeting” coming up, they are to track me down and put that call through to me no matter what. The situation is that important and, quite literally, the quality of a child’s life hangs in the balance.

Manifestation meetings, are meetings parents are invited to attend with members of the school and school district as a result of the student being suspended for 10 days because they have violated the code of student conduct.

Under IDEA, “within 10 school days of any decision to change the placement of a child with a disability because of a violation of a code of student conduct,” the school, parent and relevant members of the student’s IEP team must determine if the behavior was caused by, or had a direct and substantial relationship to, the child’s disability, and if the conduct in question was the direct result of the school’s failure to implement the IEP.

Put another way, a manifestation determination meeting must take place within ten school days of the decision to change the child’s educational placement for disciplinary reasons. This means the district may decide to remove your child from their current school and expel them or move them to an alternative placement. It is an extremely serious situation and one that you as a parent should not deal with by yourself.

Many children who have an IEP are susceptible for suspensions and other disciplinary action due to their disabilities. When a child is suspended for 10 days or more, the public school must hold a meeting to determine what will happen to the child. In many cases, children are sent to the “alternative school” which may be the school in the district where all children – who have a disability or who are typical children and have disciplinarian issues – are placed for 45 days. That is called changing the child’s educational placement for disciplinary reasons.

If you as a parent are not familiar with manifestation meetings and you do not know your rights or your child’s rights, the chances that the school will send your child to an alternative school are high. Fortunately, at The IEP Advocate, we’ve successfully helped parents navigate through this process. Please call us — it is NOT a time to try to fix this on your own.

 

No One Can Leave An IEP Meeting Unless You Tell Them They Can Go

The IEP meeting started at 8:30. About 15 minutes into the meeting the assistant principal kept mentioning that we had to hurry before the bell rang signaling the start of classes. It was about 9:15 a.m.

Mom was in the middle of explaining something about her son to the team and the bell rang. Two of the team members stood up and closed their notebooks and began to leave. I looked straight at them and said very firmly, “Excuse me, but this meeting is not over and mom has not finished what she was saying. Everyone knew we had this meeting and right now no one is leaving until it is over. I respect your time, and we will finish as quickly as we can.”

Then, looking to the assistant principal, I said, “This meeting is not over yet and everyone’s presence is still needed.” She agreed and everyone sat back down until the meeting ended.

Here’s what you need to know: Once an IEP meeting starts, everyone from the school is expected to stay in the meeting until you, the parent, excuses them. If you do not want them to leave, they have to stay. If they’ve said their piece in the meeting and you don’t have any more questions for them, then you can excuse them.

If someone leaves the meeting without your prior approval, make sure it’s documented in the meeting notes then, if you want to, if it happens frequently, you can file a state complaint.

Make Sure The Meeting Notes Reflect Everything That is Important

At the beginning of an IEP meeting for a child in elementary school, the teacher opened up with the statement, “John is at the level he’s been at since the beginning of the year.” The minute those words left her mouth, I wrote them down on my pad of paper I was using for meeting notes.

School was already in the second quarter and the teacher just announced the child has not progressed at all. This was not good. An IEP must confer benefit. If the child is not benefitting, then the IEP is not appropriate and changes must be made. We spent the next two-and-a-half hours discussing changes and improvements in the IEP and services. It was challenging to be sure.

At the end of this IEP meeting, the staffing specialist read the notes. I said that we needed to add one more thing and asked her to include, “At the beginning of the meeting the teacher stated that ‘John is at the level he’s been at since the beginning of the year.’ The staffing specialist wrinkled her nose but she added it to the notes.

As the advocate for the parent, part of my job is to make sure everything is documented. When the teacher, or another member of the IEP team makes a significant statement like above, it is absolutely critical the information is documented in the notes. During IEP meetings I use the left column of my note pad to jot down things that I want written in the notes. At the end of the IEP meeting, I insist the notes be read out loud and as they are, I go down my list crossing off the items that are in the notes and requesting items that were missed be added.

At the end of the IEP meeting, particularly one that took a few hours, everyone is very tired and ready to leave. BE CAREFUL! Don’t succumb into fatigue just yet…hang in there for a few more minutes and make sure all the important information is written down in the notes. Your child’s education depends on it.

Children Attending Their Own IEP Meetings: It is NOT Mandatory

As children get older, particularly when they enter middle school and high school, the school may start inviting your child to their IEP meeting. BE CAREFUL! I don’t think it’s always the wisest move to invite a child into an IEP meeting. Think about it: Most adults are intimidated by IEP meetings, what makes us think a child wouldn’t be as well?

Actually, it could be worse for a child because they don’t understand the terminology or the context of the discussion. As one middle schooler told me, “It was horrible. The principal and all my teachers sat there and told me how I could do better, how I wasn’t working hard enough and I was a behavior problem. They pretty much told me I was a bad kid.”

Your child does NOT have to attend their IEP meeting. The school has to invite them to participate, but they cannot force them to attend. It is your decision whether or not they participate. My recommendation? Only under extreme circumstances, and only in a very well controlled environment, should a child attend a meeting. Make sure the questions for the child are predetermined and the amount of time the child is in the meeting is minimal – 10 to 15 minutes – and then they’re out.

Don’t Wait To Call An Advocate

I’ve been advocating for almost 25 years and I’ve noticed there is a pattern of how parents postpone getting help for their children who are struggling in school. As advocates, our office is extremely busy during the end of the school year. We can barely keep up with the demand of phone calls and meeting requests.

Then, on the last day of school, the phones stop ringing. The phones just stop because parents are done. They are finished with school and they don’t even want to think about school during the summer. They are exhausted and they just want to focus on their summer plans. The last thing they want to do is talk to an advocate. I get it.

A New School Year Full of Hope

Then the start of school rolls around in the fall and most parents are thrilled because they are ready to send the kids back to school. They buy new backpacks, pencils, rulers, notebooks and clothes. The kids will be out of the house! Yippee!

Caught up in the excitement, parents tell themselves, “You know what? It really wasn’t that bad last year. He didn’t really struggle that much. He’s going to do better this year. I just know it.” 

Or, “It wasn’t his fault he failed math. He had a bad teacher. This year he has the ‘teacher of the year!’ Of course he’s going to do better!”

So school starts. Parents are in a state of happiness, optimism, hope, and joy. The school year gets underway then after a few weeks the honeymoon is over. Kaput. The problems from last year start to raise their ugly heads. A parent may wonder, “Now where did I put that advocate’s business card?”

Many Parents Think It’s Going to Get Better

Parents think if they wait a little longer he’ll all of a sudden learn to read. With a little more time spent on homework, she’ll understand math. Some parents just do not want to rock the boat. They want to be “good” parents and not create a fuss. Hiring an advocate would create a fuss.

Then fall turns into Thanksgiving and Christmas. It’s almost like there is an unconscious sigh of relief because, after all, it’s the holidays! So much to do! Let’s have fun! I’ll worry about the school stuff later. If he doesn’t improve I’ll do something after the holidays. I’ll call that advocate later.

Happy New Year! Suddenly parents start to say, “I cannot ignore this anymore. There is a problem and I have to get my child some help. Where’s that advocate’s phone number?” That’s when parents start to call us for help, in January, February and March. At The IEP Advocate, our phones are nonstop! Parents are in a state of panic. Almost each one is in crisis mode. A fifth grader is reading at a second grade reading level. This one cannot do grade level math. Another child is at risk for being retained. My heart goes out to each and every one of these families.

Parents want a miracle to happen at the very end of the school year. Call us in the fall when school starts so we can advocate for help right away! You know your child has a problem. You know they are struggling! You know they need help. Please, call us now. Don’t waste seven or eight months of your child’s education because you could not face the truth!”

As your advocate we can do so much more to help you if you call us sooner rather than later. Getting services from the school district takes time, no matter how good an advocate you are.

Be Careful About Giving Permission For The School To Contact Your Child’s Medical Professionals

Many times the school will present you with forms for you to sign giving them permission to contact your child’s pediatrician, specialists, or therapists. They may tell you they would like to talk to these professionals to better understand your child’s diagnosis, behavior, or therapy care plan. Their intent to help may be genuine, but when you give others permission to talk to medical caregivers, you could be giving them permission to get information you really don’t want them to have. Here are a few real life examples:

When one mom gave her permission to the school personnel, they called the child’s psychologist to get information. During the discussion the doctor told the principal that he felt “the mom needed psychiatric help…not the child.” Yikes!

Another time, the parent gave permission for the school to contact the doctor’s office but only for information in one subject area. Well, the new medical receptionist who took the records request was so glad to be able to help, that she copied everything in the file – including the child’s drug history the parent did not want the school to know about! The receptionist sent all the documentation to the school.

Yes, what the doctor and receptionist said/did was wrong on so many levels, but the fact is this stuff happens. What should you do? Do not sign the forms. Instead, try to get the the school to give you a list of the information they want, and YOU can contact the doctors and get the information from them. When you get the documents you can review them before you turn them over to the school and you stay in control.

The Importance of Prior Written Notice: Know Who’s Coming to Your IEP Meeting

The school must tell you in advance who is coming to your IEP meeting. The titles of attendees should be listed on the meeting notification form that the school is required to send you within a reasonable timeframe before the meeting. If the actual names of the individuals are not listed on the form, I would send the form back and ask to know who specifically is coming. Technically, the school does not have to tell you the actual names of the people attending, just their titles. However, don’t let that stop you from asking. For example, it’s not enough to know “Area Administrator” – you want to know that it’s John Smith, Area Administrator.

Similarly, if the form states “Occupational Therapist” don’t assume your child’s OT will be the one in attendance.  Sometimes the actual therapist cannot make the meeting so another therapist will come in their place and read the therapy notes. As a parent, I want to talk to the actual therapist who is treating my child, not a substitute.  Make sure you make this known when the meeting day and time is established.

If someone comes to your IEP meeting and they were not listed on the meeting notice, you do not have to allow them to stay in the meeting. There have been cases where a parent walks into an IEP meeting and there is a table full of people the parent never expected.  You do not have to allow them to stay.  You can ask them to leave and they have to leave.  

One final note: While the school must inform you of who is coming to the IEP meeting, you do not have to tell the school who is coming with you. If you are bringing an advocate or a child’s private therapist, you don’t have to let the school know. Some parents like to tell the school in advance, others don’t. It’s up to you.

Just Because The IEP Meeting is Over Doesn’t Mean The IEP is Finished Part 3

After The IEP Meeting

  1. Remember:  As the parent, you have the right to ask for an IEP meeting as often as you think is necessary (and reasonable) during the school year.  If you think of something after the meeting that you did not address, you can always reschedule another IEP meeting.
  1. After the school district has conducted the initial evaluation, if you disagree with the evaluation for any reason, you can request an Individual Educational Evaluation (IEE).  This is an evaluation where you choose the professional to do the evaluation at the school district’s expense.  Put your request for these evaluations in writing to the principal.
  1. Ask To See Your Child’s School File at Least Once a Year: Your child’s official school file, officially called the cum (pronounced “cume”) file, contains your child’s IEP, matrix, parent notification forms, and other school information.  Once a year you should ask to see your child’s folder and go through it page by page.  Write a letter to your principal and ask to set up an appointment to look through the cum folder.  Sometimes the school will have someone sit down with you because they want to make sure a parent doesn’t walk off with important papers.  If you see any documents that you don’t have, ask to have a copy of them, and the school will make you a copy.  As the parent, you have a right to have a copy of anything that pertains to your child’s education.

Knowing That You Have These Five Rights Will Help Protect Your Child’s Services During an IEP Meeting Part 2

During The IEP Meeting

  1. A Child Can Qualify For An IEP and Services Even If They Have Excellent Grades:  The U.S. Dept. of Education has ruled that “…the term ‘educational performance’ as used in the IDEA and its implementing regulations is not limited to academic performance.  Therefore, IDEA and the regulations clearly establish the determination about whether a child is a child with a disability is NOT limited to information about the child’s academic performance.
  2. If you don’t want to sign the IEP:  You may not be able to make a comfortable decision while you’re in the meeting.  If this is the case, you do not have to sign the IEP, and ask to have a few days to take everything into consideration.   Or, you can sign the IEP and write next to your name, “Parent signs for attendance purposes only.”  I recommend you get in the practice of doing this for all your IEP’s, even those you agree with. 
  3. Before Giving Permission to the School to Contact Your Child’s Medical Professionals:  Many times the school will present you with forms for you to sign giving them permission to contact your child’s pediatrician, specialists, or therapists. They may tell you that they would like to talk to these professionals to better understand your child’s diagnosis, behavior, or therapy care plan. Their intent to help is genuine, but when you give others permission to talk to medical caregivers, you could be giving them permission to get information you really don’t want them to have.  Here are a few real life examples:

When one mom gave her permission, the school personnel called the psychologist to get information about the child.  During the discussion, the doctor told the principal that he felt the “mom needed psychiatric help herself.”  Yikes!

In another situation, the mom gave permission for the school to get information, but only in one subject area.  Well, the receptionist who answered the phone was so glad to be able to help, that when she opened the child’s medical file, she started reading everything in the file – including the child’s drug history that the mom did not want the school to know about!

Yes, what the doctor and receptionist said was wrong on so many levels, but the fact is this stuff happens.  So what should you do?  Do not sign the forms. Instead, tell the school to give you a list of the information they want, and YOU will contact the doctors and get the information for them.  When you get the documents, you can review them before you turn them over to the school and you stay in control.

  1. What To Do If You’re Not Sure the Therapist is Seeing Your Child At School As Frequently As Required:   As the child’s parent, you have a right to copies of any documents and notes concerning your child.  Ask for a copy of the therapist’s treatment notes.  A therapist is required to keep a daily log of when she treats a child, the length of the session, what she worked on and the results.
  2. What To Do If The School Wants to Take Something Off Your Child’s IEP:  First of all, try to stop hyperventilating and remain calm!  If the IEP team wants to remove a service, such as speech, OT, reading assistance, or a goal off the IEP, it must be because your child has mastered the skill!   After all, what other reason is there for removing it from the IEP?  In my mind, that is the ONLY REASON for removing something off the IEP.

Before you allow it to be removed, ask for documentation to be provided that shows your child mastered the skill.  The only documentation that is impartial is an evaluation and testing data.  Anything else is personal opinion and it may not be accurate.  Ask to see the evaluation results that show your child mastered the skill.  If the data cannot be produced, then ask for the evaluation to be done to demonstrate skill mastery.  In the meantime, the service stays on the IEP.  If the school personnel refuse to do the evaluation, then ask them to write down the reason they are refusing to do it and have them sign it.  Pursue a complaint to the school district ESE Director and/or your state’s Department of Education.

At your next IEP meeting, when the proof of mastery has been presented, then the service can be removed.  If mastery is not achieved, then the service should stay on the IEP.

Pam Lindemann, The IEP Advocate, is a private educational advocacy organization. With our experienced IEP advocates on your side, you can rest assured you’ll be developing the best possible program for your child.  Call: 407-342-9836 or email: Info@theIEPAdvocate.com
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