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.

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
Find more articles at The IEP Advocate Blog: www.theiepadvocate.com/blog/

Five Things That You Should Do Before The IEP Meeting To Increase Your Chances of Success Part 1

There’s no doubt:  An IEP is an extremely important document in your child’s education.  It is also very complex.  That is why becoming familiar with the IEP process, step-by-step, is critical.  Here are some tips that will help relieve some of the anxiety:

Before The IEP Meeting

  1. More than just once a year:  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. Write a letter to your principal asking for the meeting. 
  2. Plan to take someone with you:  There are so many things that happen in an IEP meeting, and most parents just do not know what to watch for, what to listen for, what to pay attention to.  As a result, so many things can get by you and you won’t even realize it until after the meeting is over. That is why you should take someone with you.  Take your spouse.  Take your mother or sister.  Take your best friend.  Take an advocate or another parent who has been to other IEP meetings.
  3. Ask for copies of the evaluations, IEP, and anything else in advance of the meeting:  Before your IEP meeting, write a letter to the principal or staffing specialist asking for copies of any evaluation results, testing or proposed “drafts” of the IEP.  Ask to have these copies sent to you at least three days before the IEP meeting so you have time to review them, read them page by page, and write down your questions, concerns and ideas.  Take your notes with you to the IEP meeting.  The “spirit” of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) supports the parents being able to be informed, and make informed decisions. 
  4. When You Get A Pre-Printed “DRAFT” of the IEP:  CAREFUL!  The slightest change, even one word, can dramatically change the IEP.  When you get your draft, lay the new IEP right next to the old IEP and – I’m very serious here – compare the new IEP against the old one, WORD FOR WORD, NUMBER FOR NUMBER.  Do not skip a single section.  Here’s why:  Unfortunately, some school personnel will omit, delete and/or change parts of the IEP without telling you.  In one IEP meeting I was in, the staffing coordinator had deleted the child’s behavior plan from the new IEP.  When we noticed it was gone, she said, “Oh, I didn’t think he needed it anymore!”  Well, we disagreed, and requested it stay on the IEP, which it did. 
  5. The school must tell you in advance who is coming to the IEP meeting:  This is called “Prior Written Notice.” The positions of attendees, not necessarily the individuals’ names, should be listed on the meeting notification form they send you  before the IEP meeting.

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
Find more articles at The IEP Advocate Blog: www.theiepadvocate.com/blog/