No Free Lunches Here

23 Feb



Coach Brown recently wrote a post about his experience with special education and IEPs. In his post he gives several suggestions for regular education teachers participating in the IEP process.

One of Coach Brown’s major complaints is about how parents interpret the modifications part of the IEP. The law is pretty clear that modifications and accommodations for sp.ed. students have to be a part of the IEP. As far as regular ed. teachers go, it is THE major part of the IEP where their input is crucial.

Coach Brown gave an example of where a written modification includes “extra time to complete assignment or tests.” Coach Brown, who evidently teaches a college prep coach, interpreted this to mean a few extra minutes whereas the parents interpreted it to mean a few extra DAYS. In his list of recommendations, Coach Brown goes on to encourage vaguely written modifications.

Anyone else see a problem with this? His example highlights the problem with vagueness in IEPs. He correctly interprets the IEP process as creating a legally binding document. In effect, it is a piece of mini legislation. Vagueness in making a law is an invitation for a lawsuit! For if neither side can agree to the interpretation of a section or clause, it becomes a judge’s job to do it when one side challenges the other. Coach Brown’s recommendation is a contradiction to his own bad experience. So let’s see if we can straighten this out with some new recommendations.

– Accommodations and modifications should be as specific as possible. This is where a regular education teacher’s input becomes very important. For if a regular education teacher refuses to comply with those IEP directives, they can be held personally liable. Yes, you can be sued.

– Keep documentation of how and when you are implementing accommodations. It might be easiest to do this in the actual lesson plan. I can understand why a regular ed. teacher would want these to be vague. For if there are several sp.ed. students in a class, it is a lot easier to put a vague note that says “extra time offered” in the plan. This is where regular ed. teachers can work together with those in sp. ed. to work out the interpretation and implementation of these modifications and then they can be properly written.

-Is the student going to complete tests and assignments in the resource room? Back when I taught Ag., when I had a test, I made two copies of assignments for my special ed. students. One they did in class and one in the resource room. Or, when I collected the tests, I would forward the ones for special ed. to the resource teachers.

– Talk to the case manager about the student. This should be done fairly regularly, but especially when you get a notice of an IEP meeting. Yes, writing these things is a bitch. But more input makes it a lot easier.

– Let the case manager know of any “issues” prior to the meeting. If a parent is going to be hot and angry, the case manager can do a better job of helping you if they have some prior warning. Is the student failing? Is there behavior problems? Getting blind sided at the meeting in front of parents is NOT fun.

– If there is going to be some problems implementing a modification, speak up at the meeting! That’s why you are there! Coach Brown is correct that you should never say “I’m not going to do this.” You can be held personally liable! Work with the team to develop meaningful accommodations for the students that are also practical. I don’t LEA a lot of meetings where students are actually in the regular curriculum. But when I do, I try to be sensitive to the regular ed. teacher’s circumstances. With 30 students to a class, time and resources are limited. It’s better to have modifications that teachers feel can actually be done and are willing to do than try to burden them with a lot of extra work.

– Don’t be defensive. Be sensitive. Parents of students with special needs have the hardest jobs of all. They have YEARS of experience with their child and can be either valuable allies or formidable opponents. No matter what happens, THEY are the ones that are stuck with the final responsibility long after they leave your classroom. And here’s a newsflash: They hate the IEP process as much as anyone. They dread it and feel anxiety walking in. More than you.

IDEA 2004 has stronger language in it than any previous version of the law where the “appropriate” part of “Free and Appropriate Public Education” is concerned. It goes from the minimal requirements of earlier case law and expands it outward even more. Times may get tougher for school districts.

Special Education and Regular Education teachers need to work closely together and communicate regularly when they have students in common. While regular ed. teachers may not want to do modifications at all, the law says they have to. Failure to do so can be costly to the district and to the individual teachers. You can be held personally liable! Even though the IEP process is a pain, it pales in comparison to a due process hearing.


Update: See Ms. Ris’ take here.

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