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How to Get Help at School

When a child has learning problems, often the first step is an Individualized Educational Program. Here’s what you need to know. By Mary Martin Mason

An Individualized Educational Progam (IEP) is an agreement between parents and a school to pursue a course in which a child with disabilities receives individualized, specialized instruction. As a legal document, the IEP outlines a sequenced program designed to meet a child’s needs.

Shelley White, parent advocate and trainer, advises parents to approach the IEP process assuming the school district has the best intentions—unless actions prove otherwise. “Request everything in writing,” advises White. “Document everything, and make copies of what you receive. If, for instance, you ask for an assessment of your child and the school refuses, ask them to put the denial in writing. Following a meeting, write a letter that recaps it. If you don’t hear otherwise, assume everyone is in agreement.”

The Process
1. A child is identified by parents or school professional for referral or request for evaluation. Parental “informed consent” is needed before the child can be evaluated, and it must be given within 30 school days of the referral or request.
2. Results of evaluations are measured to determine the child’s eligibility for special services from the district.
3. Qualified professionals and parents decide if an IEP is appropriate. If so, the parents and the team formulate an IEP.
4. Once parental consent is given, the child receives services. Progress is measured regularly and reported to parents.
5. The IEP must be reviewed annually at the very least. After a meeting, IEP goals and strategies may be altered with full consent and knowledge of the parents.
6. Parents disagreeing with an IEP program and/or placement may request additional testing, an independent evaluation, medication, or a due process hearing. They may also file a complaint with the state education agency.

Before You Set Out
1. Get a written diagnosis from your child’s physician and/or therapist. Have them suggest classroom strategies that can be customized to your child’s style of learning.
2. Once you have a diagnosis, become a walking encyclopedia. Attend workshops, check out Web sites, read books, join support organizations.
3. Observe your child at home, tracking strengths and needs, stress points, nightmares and dreams, self perceptions. Observe your child at school, too. 4. Either request an IEP meeting or, if the school contacts you, ask that the school psychologist and director of special education be present.
5. Make a file and keep records of all paperwork and correspondence.

At the IEP Meeting
1. Bring a highlighter. Each time you hear the word “need,” highlight the areas that are being assessed.
2. Show your child’s teachers the child you know. If she’s at her prime in the morning, for example, suggest that her most difficult subject be scheduled early in the day.
3. Make sure you understand your child’s test results, including how she compares to peers. Don’t be afraid to ask for explanations. If necessary, speak to the school psychologist in private for an interpretation.
4. If the IEP educational team presents information that surprises you or differs from your knowledge, discuss it.
5. If the school proposes an intervention, you will be asked to sign the IEP. Although you can later revise it, be sure you understand what you are signing.

After the Meeting
1. Review the needs you highlighted during the meeting. See if you agree with them and the course to improve each.
2. If you disagree with a need, request in writing that an independent evaluation be done at the district’s expense.
3. Make sure that the IEP is being followed, using the interventions suggested at the IEP meeting. Schedule periodic teacher conferences to keep updated on your child’s progress.

Mary Martin Mason is the Adoption Information Clearinghouse Coordinator for The Minnesota Adoption Resource Network.

Copyright © 2002 Adoptive Families magazine. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.

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