IEP ideas for Parents: 8 tips for avoiding a butt-long (and ugly) IEP

2 Apr
Let’s make a special note of my standard disclaimer since this post ight annoy a few people!
  • I remember a few years ago I went to an autism conference where a parent advocate was talking about IEPs. She described various methods she used in order to successfully advocate for her son and get him the services that she needed. I wish I could remember her name, but it is probably better that I don’t because right now I am am feeling very hostile toward these adversarial strong-arm tactics. I’ve been a victim of strong-arm tactics from both sides: those inflicted by the school system, and those inflicted by a parent. At the moment, I’m having issues with the stupid tactics parents are using. The main one being the long, drawn-out, slow, painful, watching-paint-dry, line-by-line meeting.
    We are getting more and more and more parents that are adopting this tactic in my county and it has some very real, very painful and very detrimental consequences.
    I’ve talked a bit before about how the itinerant teachers are in a bind when it comes to having IEP meetings. Feedback from other teachers around the country indicate that they help mediate the crush of meetings by having annual reviews throughout the year. This makes some sense to me if there some meetings at the beginning of the year, and some at the end, instead of doing them all at the end. However, given the nature of the educational beast (i.e. testing) there are end-of-the-year meetings that are unavoidable. It becomes difficult to plan for a student’s upcoming year if you don’t know if they will be able to advance to the next grade and that depends pretty much on test scores. Are you going to write an IEP for the 9th grade and high school or another year of 8th grade? There’s a big difference in the level of support needed. Depending on the the graduation test or end-of-course tests, it might be the difference between graduating or doing another year in high school. I suppose you could write an IEP anticipating a best-case or worst-case scenario, but you can expect to be holding some addendums later. I prefer just having the one meeting.
    Like it or not, we are in IEP-Full-Tilt season. And now we encounter several parents who arrive to an 8:00 a.m. IEP with a picnic basket for lunch and pizza coupons for dinner and possibly a cooler and snacks if they are feeling generous. These folks take a day off work and fully expect and anticipate spending an entire day for an IEP. I have major problems with this tactic, because it causes a hardship that radiates out beyond just the one school, parent and student. But the problem is that most parents that do this don’t care about the other students because they make it their sole business to advocate for their own. This is all well and good. The hard-core advocates are correct in that parents are the first and best knowlege-base when it comes to their own children. No one will advocate like a parent (mothers in particular) and parents should be willing to go to the mat. However, waiting until the day of the IEP to decide to become and Advocate Mom is not the best way to do it. Advocacy is a continuous thing that demands diligence the entire year and not just on a single day during a single meeting. Properly done, advocacy can actually make IEP meetings less traumatic. I’ll share a few ideas about that, but first I want to share why this is bugging me right now.
    It is our county policy that we need at least 3 people in order for an IEP to be legitimate. LEA, parent, and case manager are a minimum along with a regular ed. teacher and then other service providers on top of that. Of course, parents and teachers can invite many more participants. I’ve had meetings with nearly 20 people that included the nurse, cafeteria manager, someone from transportation, DFACS, a healthcare agency, and two sets of parents plus other teachers, administrators and therapists. That was just an annual review, not a manifestation. And we did go on for a couple hours on that one but it was only my second year at this level. But while all of the teachers and therapists were at my longish meeting, there were NOT serving any other students. They were not at any other meetings for any other students. They were in that one meeting, mostly not saying or doing anything when other students in the county were being denied services. There are no such thing as substitute OTs, PTs or SLPs. These are highly skilled positions that you can’t just grab someone off the street to do. Would you want the just laid-off Microsoft programmer giving your son or daughter PT services while the PT is in an IEP meeting? Substitue teachers might have a degree but they do not have specialized skills our kids need.
    In my case, my son is not going to get OT or speech services for the next couple of months because of IEP meetings. The kids that I teach will get a reduced number of services because of IEP meetings. And many of those same service providers will not be attending IEP meetings for my students because they will be attending one meeting that is sure to last all day. I tried to schedule several of mine during the one day when most services were at my school. That happens to be a day when Advocate Mom is having an IEP for her child at another school, so all of the itinerant services are going to be there and they will not be allowed to leave because Advocate Mom brought a lunch along and possibly an attorney. No special occasion, it’s just the way she decides to operate on a yearly basis.
    I need to be perfectly clear that I do not know who this particular Advocate Mom really is. I did not ask because even though the lives of my students (and my own) are being disrupted here, it isn’t any of my business. I do happen to know more than one Advocate Mom who does operate in this way and if I happen to get an opportunity I intend on sharing my concerns directly in a less public forum to whoever. So indulge me in making some suggestions as parent and teacher so that you can have your say, your rights and your time while not wasting the time and efforts of others:
    1. Keep communication open all year. Do NOT wait until the annual review to unload a bunch of issues that have been brewing for the last 7 months. If you are concerned, you have a right to bring them up at the point you are concerned directly with the provider responsible. If you make no headway, work your way up the chain of command as needed. But communication is truly the key. If everyone is open and transparent, there really is the possibility of everyone walking away happy.
    2. Submit proposed goals and other input ahead of time. I strongly advocate that teachers share their proposals well in advance, and this also goes for parents. If you have stuff you want included in the IEP, let it be known far enough in advance that it can be included in the draft presented at the meeting. If you have independent evaluations and data from other providers, it can really help write a better draft that requires less niggling.
    3. Try to cut a deal before hand. Yeah, I know that the IEP is supposed to be a committee process, but as a parent you have most of the cards. Go ahead and play ahead of time and see if there are points that you can get agreement on before the meeting from the folks who you need to win over. If you want para support for your son or daughter, try running it by the director of special ed. in advance. Your case manager is likely to support your efforts, and he/she can help you make your case. If you run into a dead-end, then at least you know ahead of time and can go ahead and pack the lunch and pizza. But a lot of bargaining and discussion can take place ahead of time over the phone and with stakeholders. It happens at schools among the staff all the time. There’s no reason why you can’t be in on the preliminaries. A few things to put on the table in advance: ESY, para support, major placement change, adding service hours, an evaluation request. These are all things that may require extra forms, paperwork and consultation. If I know you might want an evaluation we can actually start getting consents and screenings done ahead of time instead of waiting for the meeting.
    4. Request a draft of the IEP, copies of mastery records and data ahead of time. I know teachers and service providers really grouse about doing this, but it really can save a lot of grief in the long run. If they are not giving their stuff to you voluntarily, send a note in demanding it by a certain time, say 5 days or so before the meeting. I suppose you could make the holding of the IEP contingent upon that condition. If they refuse, you simply turn the tables…go to the meeting and table it as soon as you get the stuff. School systems will automaticaly table a meeting if you show up with an attorney without giving them advance notice. You have the same right to NOT be surprised.
    5. Look for other ways and times to communicate. Special Olympics can be a good time to touch base as well as other events that happen during the school year. Some of it might involve volunteering. Afterall, you don’t have to be a nuisance ALL the time!;-) Communication and being open is a real key to getting the best services possible for your student. If I know you want a certain service or device in advance, I can hunt around and look into it. I might find something better than what you wanted. But if I’m surprised by something at the annual review, I’m going to have a more difficult time agreeing to it. We all have a hard time agreeing to things we don’t understand or are unprepared for.
    6. Be realistic. “Realistic” is a very subjective thing, and I get that. In fact, this concept of realism probably causes more conflict than anything else. Yes, we have the technology to put your son or daughter inside of a space capsule and launch them into orbit around the moon and bring them back safely. But when you’re asking tax payers to foot the bill for your moon shot, we’re going to have some problems. And do you really want the school system building that rocket? While school systems are capable of many things, I’ve come to realize that the school system is not terribly capable of doing many things very well. You’ll get para support and ESY but the folks doing those things may not be as skilled and committed as you want. It’s a given that they will not be as committed as you, the parent. So by “realistic” I think parents need to realize that they are much better equipped to deliver most of the skills their kids need themselves. I only have 7 students, but they are the neediest students in the building! On a good day, I can get 45 minutes with each individual student, and that includes changing diapers and feeding. If you want your child mainstreamed, the ratio gets worse. Para support involves a new level of devilry addressed next…
    7. Get the student involved (as appropriate). With my SID/PID population, it is going to be somewhat negligible as it is with very young students. However, by the time they are a middle schooler, most students should be writing some sort of “Fact Sheet” indicating their own interests and their own understanding of their limitations and strengths. I have been in many meetings where parent and school system are squared off and a very capable student is in the middle left saying absolutely nothing. That student needs to be in the middle, but not as a spectator. Which gets back to para support, because a para often becomes a sort of surrogate parent. For the very young or the very impaired, this is often what is needed. But as students age, that para support needs to be dimished and independence needs to be increased. Same with testing accomodations. The best example of a student self-advocating was one time when we were discussing testing accomodations and the teacher was ready to include extra time and a small setting “just in case he needed it.” The student shot back (quite forcefully) “I just took the PSAT and had no problems with 100 other students for 3 hours. I hink I’ll be okay taking other tests without all that!” Okay, this fellow might be an exception but the point is, is that he was ready to shed the support and let it be known.
    8. Let My People Go! It’s not just something Moses said to Pharoah, it’s good for the rest of us. If you feel the need to have an IEP that lasts several hours, okay. But please let the service providers go do what they get paid to do or at least attend some other parent’s meeting. I have 5 meetings on one day, and all 5 of those parents deserve a shot at talking to people who serve their children, just like you. Allow those participants who need to leave after the first hour to do it, if you can. I know no one likes the “revolving door” of many meetings with people coming and going, but this truly is the nature of this beast. We simply have not mastered the ability to be several places at the same time. It really is rare that a teacher or service provider can spare more than an hour for these things, but we do what we have to.
    Surprises are NOT anyones friend during the IEP process. Time is also not a friend. The whole “wear them down by making everyone stay long” might get you what you want but there are consequences which I’ve outlined. Okay, you don’t give a crap about other students, the teachers, the service providers or anyone else but your own kid. But the bad will you generate WILL trickle down to your student whether anyone intends for it to be so or not. It’s just human nature. While I don’t know exactly who Advocate Mom is, if I ever found out, I do not think I would be looking forward to ever teaching this child no matter how sweet he or she is. Every one of my students deserve my time and attention and I resent stuff that gets in the way of that, even if it is a well-intentioned parent. For my son, I expect the teachers and service providers to do their jobs to the best of their ability with a minimum of fuss. If Jane and I have to fuss at the school, we will. But by and large we’ve found ourselves taking up more and more of an active role in the education of our children. And we’re trying to teach them how to take a more active role in their own learning. If you’re depending on the government school to do it all, you’re going to be perpetually frustrated. As parents, we’re not just a child’s best advocate, we’re also their first and best teacher. Teachers, parents and administrator; I haven’t met any of them who really looked forward to an IEP. But if we work together we can make this a bit less stressful for everyone. Surely there must be someone else you’d rather have a picnic with than an IEP committee!
  • 5 Responses to “IEP ideas for Parents: 8 tips for avoiding a butt-long (and ugly) IEP”

    1. Trekga April 14, 2009 at 7:16 am #

      As always informative and right on the money:)
      Would you be interested in speaking at local support group that has started in county next to you?

    2. Daniel Dage April 15, 2009 at 7:34 pm #

      I might be. Drop me an email, found in my “About Me” page,and let me know the particulars. Drop me a line about the particulars of your group in anycase, as I might be interested in checking y’all out regardless.

    3. Trekga April 17, 2009 at 7:55 pm #

      Hi tried the email you referred to and is did not work for me. The next meeting is on Tuesday, April 21. Email me at of you are interested in the details.


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