If you are the parent of a child with special needs, at some point, it is likely that you will be faced with decisions regarding your child’s individualized education plan (IEP). You are undoubtedly your child’s best advocate during this process so you definitely want to do all that you can to get it right.
Below are some tips to help you ensure that your child receives the best possible public education they can via their IEP.
Understand your rights
As a parent, you play a vital role as your child’s educational advocate. To best fulfill this role, however, you need to become familiar with your and your child’s rights under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA). You should also understand the differences between an IEP and a 504 plan, such as the following:
- What is an IEP? Once a student is designated by school district officials as eligible for special education, they will then get an individualized education plan (IEP), which is covered under IDEA. Your child’s IEP is considered universal and can, therefore, follow them when they change schools or school districts mid-year. Under their IEP, they may qualify for specific services and accommodations because of their disability.
- What is a 504 plan? This is not as formal as an IEP and is specific to your child’s school. Should your child change schools, the new school may use the old 504 as a blueprint but will still need to draft a new version. A 504 plan may not cover all of the services or accommodations that an IEP will.
Prepare for your child’s IEP meeting
Do your homework. Talk to other parents of children who have IEPs to learn what resources might be available and to gather information about the process. Use a worksheet to document any concerns that you might have with your child’s academic situation. Be prepared to speak in-depth about your child’s specific interests, abilities, likes and dislikes.
Listen to what the professionals have to say
Understand that to a certain extent, all opinions are selective. But if there appears to be a consensus that you haven’t acknowledged, consider the possibility that the professionals may be correct.
Take notes during the meeting
It can be a lot to absorb, so take handwritten notes of key points and areas of focus.
Speak up for your child
Remember, you are your child’s best advocate. Politely interject if something does not appear in alignment with your child’s educational goals.
Bring a legal representative
If you fear that your child’s needs and best interests have gotten short shrift, don’t be afraid to have an education law attorney along to observe the process. They can intervene if the IEP meeting begins to go off the rails.