IEP season is in full swing and indeed we’re but a few weeks from it being all over. This year, I have not had any LEA duties since our department head has taken over those duties full time. I’m exceedingly thankful but I don’t regret the experience and knowledge previous years and scores of meetings have lent me.
However I did have a middle school that needed a high school representative and have been busy trying to get their meetings scheduled. Whenever I speak to an itinerant teacher or therapist about this particular school and IEP meetings, they roll their eyes. They (the middle school) seem to have some problems in this area, so I’m blogging it to help them and anyone else who cares to look into it.
Scheduling an IEP is a lot like herding cats. Everyone is everywhere and it seems like no two people are headed in the same direction. The primary responsibility for scheduling an IEP should fall on the case manager, who should be in regular contact with parents through progress reports and other avenues anyway. I remember my first try at being a special ed. teacher, I was told that I had to talk to my parents. I didn’t want to, and soon learned that if I didn’t contact them, they would be contacting me, and not necessarily under the most ideal of circumstances!
The students I teach are very involved and get many services from many people. An IEP involves bringing all of these people together on the same day at the same time, when there are many, many other meetings and people competing for their time. But it is sometimes the only time a parent gets to see and talk to everyone. How can we get all of these people together who are all running amok at this time of year?
A month or so in advance
1. Set Options and limit them. This part is done by our department head. Basically she designates a given week when we (each caseload manager) are supposed to hold our meetings. Having an online calendar accessible to everyone has been a great help, because several caseloads can occupy each week. So now it can be a bit of a free for all, but now at least there is a time frame to work from and each teacher has a guideline within to work. Of course manifestations and eligibilities can wreak havoc, but we’re talking about annual reviews, here. They happen annually so we know when they should take place. Annually.
2. Talk to the Parents. There’s some disagreement as to who you should talk to first, but I start with the parents. I let them know what week we’re doing annual reviews and get a feel for their own feelings. I want to know how they feel about attending, when the best time of day for them and what their concerns are. Basically we begin the process I’ve written about before.
3. Talk to other service providers. Get a feel for their limitations and preferences and any issues they might have. I’m just trying to get a general feeling here and I let them know the general time frame I have to work with.
4. Set up the time. Notice that I haven’t set a specific time up until now. Sometimes the planets align and service providers and parents all have a common time when they can meet. Hallelujah! But most of the time, this is not going to happen. So my first point of contact is the parent. I get them to committ to a time from the best possible options and try to nail them down. Hard. By that, I mean to say that I make it easy for a parent to say, “No, I’m not going to be able to make it.” without guilt while I also press them to commit and make their yes mean yes. I do this by reassuring them that we can talk before the meeting or after the meeting anytime about any issues. Once they sign that they are or are not attending, I set it in the calendar. This should be done about a month out, if possible. I don’t know many teachers who are doing this, but it is best practice for annual reviews. At this point, I try to get as many service providers as possible on board, but if some can’t make it, that is the nature of this beast.
Within 1 week of the meeting
5. Keep in touch! That especially means parents, but also everyone you have invited to the meeting Service providers need time to input their portion of the IEP and compile notes, grades and reports. Reminding everyone is good practice but reminding parents also helps cover yourself later as part of the due process.
6. Draft the IEP. You need to have this draft done several days in advance of the IEP whether other service providers have their portion completed or not. This will help you move things along as part of due process.
7. Send home some forms and the draft. I try to do this 3 or more days in advance. There are a lot of forms that can be done in advance, like the bus/transportation forms, consent for evaluation, and any surveys that might be due. This will speed things up and they are part of due process. Have extra forms at the meeting, in case the parent forgets, but anything done ahead will help in keeping the communication line alive and active.
When someone wants to change the date and time of the meeting.
Someone better have a good reason that is burnished in gold. Fact is, at our school with hundreds of annual reviews taking place, we do not have room to niggle about with the foolishness of small inconveniences. If that person is a parent, I’m not going to move at the last minute unless I’m dying. Even then, you can roll me up in a wheelchair because when we are a week out, we are going forward at the appointed time. If the parent wants to reschedule, I’m going to try to make it an individual conference, after the fact. The reason why I can do this and get away with it is because I have a draft of the IEP I can send home a few days in advance and the parent can rewrite any portion that they see fit ahead of time. We can do so many things in advance that the actual IEP is merely a ratification of several turns and rounds of negotiations and discussions. Note that this only works if parent contact is an ongoing thing. The most important thing is to include parents from the beginning and give them adequate time and opportunity for input. Leaving parents out has dire consequences.
What’s happening at the middle school, is that these meetings are being scheduled without following the above steps. Consequently, they are constantly being rescheduled and canceled at the last minute. Parents end up jerking the process because they are not being empowered enough at the earliest stage of the review process. The other thing that is happening is that case managers are not getting the things done on time, so they simply reschedule. For a busy itinerant, who may have hundreds of meetings, this is simply untenable. It ends up being a nightmare for everyone involved and a backlog of make-up meetings accumulates and the end of the year turns into a snake pit of frantic hell. Do not let this happen! Teachers who have gone through this more than once have no excuse. It is a violation of our own professional code of conduct as well as our contract by not having the thing written on the appointed day. By starting the process early and collaborating with everyone involved, you can make the process relatively easier on everyone.
As a parent, I like to know the general time line, even if we are a month out. Right now, we have less than a month of school left, and we have not heard a word from my son’s case manager about his annual review. I’ve tried and tried over the years to get his various teachers and case managers to draft stuff in advance, but it never happens. I totally understand procrastination but I’ve managed to simply move my own deadlines up so “last minute” for me is 2 days before the meeting. Having a draft a few days ahead would really help streamline the process plus lessen whatever anxiety Jane* and I might have about it. Having a scheduled date well in advance helps us keep the calendar clear and helps to keep us from feeling jerked around. It makes it less likely that we’ll be the jerks. A smooth process requires advanced planning. Sure, things happen and come up, but it is easier making provision for such things with advanced notice and preparation.