17 Apr

Note to self: if you want lots of traffic, be sure to use Oprah’s name somewhere in the title. 


We’re down to the last 6 weeks of the year and it will streak by quickly, except for the last week which is longest of the year.  IEP season is in full swing and my dance card is rapidly filling up as teachers are looking for someone to LEA.  LEA = Local Education Agent who represents the local educational agency (also sometimes referred to as an LEA).  I don’t know how well I represent our district as much as I try to do best by the kids while balancing against local resources.  But most of the time my best move is to be quiet while parent and teachers work it out.


With the decreasing supply of trained special educators, more demand is placed on those of us who are trained.  Functioning as the local agent is one of those increased responsibilities. 


Teachers introduce me as the LEA and I’m not sure what parents think.  Administrators probably do most of the LEA duties around the country, and yet I’m not one of those nor am I their child’s teacher.  It’s not until we are well into the meeting that my role sometimes shapes up and becomes clearer.


My primary goal is to make sure that every parent leaves feeling satisfied.  The route to doing that involves different paths for different parents.


One way I do that is by trying to make sure the teacher is at ease.  It’s important to be a bit nervous without being a wreck.  Being confident is the best way to instill confidence in a parent.  If you’re new to special education and IEPs, make sure there are some other competent teachers at the meeting to support you.  Having that sort of support can be crucial to being at ease and keeping people at ease.  As a parent, I’m every bit as nervous as I am as a teacher which might contribute to tension in the room.  A decent LEA should be able to keep tensions low.


Another way is through competence.  While I have not met most of the students I’m doing meetings for, I do know enough about disabilities and have been around the block enough to know what I’m hearing when a teacher or parent begins to describe difficulties they are having with a student.  I can tell when I’m hearing about learned helplessness or problems with self-regulation which are common amongst those with milder disabilities.  Sometimes I can spot a problem that hasn’t been addressed before.


Another thing I do is push without being pushy.  I am definitely an advocate for a lesser restrictive environment if at all possible.  Most of the time, parents also seem to want to move their students ahead while a teacher may take a more conservative approach.  If I get the feeling the student has a chance of handling more time in regular education, I’ll see about making it so.  I’ve noticed that new teachers are more prone to wanting to keep the status quo, because that’s their comfort zone.  But with a bit of encouragement the committee can take a chance in favor of the student. 


One of the most common experiences I hear from frustrated parents is that they feel they are not being heard by the school system.  A big part of my job as the system’s representative is to listen and make sure they know I’m hearing.  There are certain points where a parent needs and wants to speak, and it is important to give them the opportunity.  The present level is a big one, but since it comes at the beginning, parents are not warmed up yet.  I can often hit some present level concerns later during the discussion about transition since this takes place later. 


It’s during the transition discussion that parents and students often hit their stride in the discussion.  At the high school level, this is a hugely important discussion that is too often rushed over.  I’ll do another post about it in the next couple of weeks, but this does impact goals and service options most heavily.  It’s also where every parent’s anxiety lives. 


I’ve been to meetings where the LEA was an absolute pinhead.  They knew nothing about special education and treated parents as idiots.  At other times, when tensions were abnormally high, they got stuck in an adversarial posture nearly dooming themselves to a future court appearance.  At some point, these administrators would do well to turn down the administrative intimidation and think like human beings. 


If you’re a parent who is stuck with one of these jokers and paired with a new or incompetent teacher, look to the specialized service provider for some competence and sanity.  The SLPs, PTs and OTs have likely been around the block enough times to know the business.  And since their stake isn’t as intense as the caseload teacher, school system or parent, they might be more objective.  They still have to tow the company line but they usually see dozens and scores of meetings per year.  Ms. Cleo has a caseload of 50-60 this year which is not far out of line for PTs and OTs.   


Last week I did a meeting with a teacher who has a history of difficulties and she had a parent who she described as difficult.  It turns out the parent was a former special education teacher who knew a thing or two about the business.  Her son was doing well enough and had actually made a stellar transition to high school.  So listening to parent and student talk, we actually moved the young man from resource to a consultative model.  What we ended up with was a meeting where the parent was thrilled and so was the teacher.  And that’s really the beauty of cooperation.  If the parent is thrilled, everyone else on the committee will be too.  If the parent is not happy, neither will anyone else feel good about the meeting.  This is why committee members and especially the LEAs need to have some background and knowledge in order to deliver something everyone can feel good about.





6 Responses to “IEP LEAs”

  1. Kathleen April 17, 2007 at 6:23 pm #

    I did a search for special education teacher’s blogs and found you. I am a parent of two special education students and I am a new special education teacher. I am putting your blog in my favorites and will be back to read more. You are invited to visit my blog. Make sure you leave a comment so I know you stoopped by!

  2. Dick Dalton April 18, 2007 at 7:15 am #

    Thanks for stopping by! I stopped in, but don’t have a Windows Live Space account and am not likely to get one (see the Linux link to the right to my other blog). Good luck with your blogging adventures!

  3. cityteacher April 18, 2007 at 6:02 pm #

    An excellent article on the role of an LEA and how crucial it is to help a parent understand and leave the meeting happy! Cooperation is key to a student’s success, and more so when we’re talking about Special Ed student. Thank you for the positive message!

  4. Barbara January 3, 2008 at 9:08 pm #

    Thanks for a great article. I have a question I am hoping you can help with. I have a horrible LEA. I am at a crossroads with my school in regards to speech services and the LEA (who was a former teacher of my child’s) had not a single kind thing to say about my child. She and the special ed director repeatedly backed each other up and made comments about my daughters ‘low level’ (which she’s not) and ‘problem behaviors’ (she laughs too much). I left the feeling with the distinct impression that she actively dislikes and is annoyed by my child.

    Can I request a new LEA or am I stuck? My teacher (wonderful) is new and won’t talk against them. Neither will the principal or ST.

  5. Dick January 10, 2008 at 5:39 pm #

    Barbara, I have some experience with incompetent LEA’s, and some assistant principals can be idiots. Sorry to put it that way, but there is no nice way to say that they can sometimes say the stupidest things.

    You can always ask for another LEA. You can ask for someone with more authority. If your LEA is not competent, call a meeting and let the teacher know you are bringing an advocate. The incompetent LEA will be replaced, pronto. Or you could bring a lawyer which guarantees that the highest level person will be representing the school system. If a parent has the reputation of being “difficult” you will see higher level LEAs at the meeting. I am one of those “difficult” parents and they have someone from the county office at every meeting I attend. It kind of annoys me, because I’m not really THAT difficult, I’m simply educated! I’m also not a pushover, which probably annoys them. So being more assertive will compel the school system to exert more effort.

    Good luck!


  6. Barbara January 11, 2008 at 4:13 pm #


    Thanks for the reply. Currently, the special ed director for our city attends all of my IEP meetings, so I’m not sure if there is anyone higher up. Quite frankly, I’m not sure why the special ed director isn’t the LEA and my only theory is that they both want the other there for back up (stacking the table basically). I’ve received compensatory services before, so yes, they see me as difficult (and I’m really not, I do all I can to support my child, her teachers and the school).

    I’ll try requesting a new LEA and see what happens.

    Thanks again!

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