Seven Tips for Parents for the Beginning of the School Year

July 24, 2018 by DRO Attorney John Price / special education

DISCLAIMER: This blog is meant to be used as a general resource for parents. It does not constitute legal advice. If you have specific questions about your child, please contact our office at 614-466-7264 and select option 2 for intake.

As a parent of a school-age child with a disability, the last thing you may want to think about during the summer is your child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) for the upcoming school year. This is understandable because the process can be daunting and emotionally draining, but summer is a great time to take stock of where things stand with your child’s educational program, particularly as it relates to his or her long-term goals and trajectory.

Here are a few tips on what you can do as the school year approaches to try to make sure your child has the most productive year he or she can have.

1. Get organized. Use this time to figure out a system for keeping things organized. Start a folder or a binder that contains the IEP, Evaluation Team Report (ETR), progress reports, prior written notices, behavior sheets, daily communication sheets, school work, and other documents the school sends home. Your system could be as simple as a binder with tabs or a folder, as long as it works for you. This will allow you to keep track of what your child is doing and have a record that will be important if you run into conflict.

2. Review your child’s ETR. ETRs are critical in the special education process not only because they determine eligibility but because they also drive your child’s goals and—in turn—services and placement. All too often, teams only think about evaluations every three years, which is when the law says they have to be redone. But, in terms of childhood development, three years is a long time. Review your child’s evaluation to see if it still paints an accurate picture of your child’s levels. Compare it to any outside evaluations done by private professionals and your own observations. If you think the report is no longer accurate or complete, write a letter to your special education contact documenting your specific concerns and request a formal re-evaluation.

3. Review IEP goals. Goals should be (1) individualized, (2) data-driven, (3) skills-based, (4) challenging, and (5) measurable. They should flow logically from skill deficits identified in the evaluation. Each goal should state your child’s present level of performance in measurable terms that mirror the goal language, establishing a baseline that everyone can understand. To determine if a goal is objectively measurable, read the goal and see if you could test the child yourself at home and determine if he or she met the goal. If not, there is a good chance the goal is not measurable. The goal should also be challenging, as the law requires districts to maintain high expectations for students with disabilities. Look at your child’s previous IEP goals. If you’re seeing the same goal year after year, that is a problem, as it indicates either that the goal is inappropriate or the services provided are ineffective. If your review reveals any problems, set up an IEP meeting as early as possible to revise the goal.

4. Build relationships. Once you know who will be working with your child this year, start building a relationship of trust with those people very early on. Contact your child’s teacher, paraprofessional and related services provider and ask to set up an informal time for you to chat so that they can get to know you and your child. Let them know you want to be an active part in your child’s education. They will appreciate the gesture, and it will give you an opportunity to give them a fuller picture of your child.

5. Set up a plan for regular communication. You cannot fully serve your role in the IEP process if you do not know what is going on in the classroom. That is why it is critical for you and the team to develop a plan for regular communication between you and your child’s teacher. The form and frequency of the communication will depend on the specific circumstances. Some examples are daily tracking sheets that the child takes to and from school or daily or weekly emails. The important thing is that it is regular and in writing, so that you know how your child is progressing, and you have a record if a dispute arises.

6. Familiarize yourself with your rights. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) firmly establishes parents as full and equal members of an IEP team. But you cannot exercise your rights if you do not understand them. Read A Guide to Parent’s Rights in Special Education, which you can find online here, or you can request one from the school district. You can also utilize DRO’s resource page here. And of course, you can contact our office with specific questions.

7. Let go of grudges. For many parents, this is a hard one. You should use the new school year as an opportunity for a fresh start. Keep your focus on your child’s services and what will help them develop from this point forward. If you believe your child has been denied a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) in the past, use the procedural safeguards available to you to request a remedy, such as compensatory education. If you believe your child’s placement or services are inadequate, use the IEP process to advocate for changes. Personal animosity, however, is not useful, and you will be better served if you leave any hard feelings out of it.

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