“Back to School with an IEP”
Marie E. Buczkowski, M.Ed.
The new school year can be an exciting time for many students as it signals new teachers, schedules, and classmates. However, the new school year may also cause numerous children levels of anxiety and stress. For those children who experience learning difficulties, the new school year can be especially stressful. When the previous school year ended, students and teachers had their everyday routines. Unfortunately, when the new school year begins, routines, classmates, and teachers will change. An Individualized Education Program (IEP) is a document designed specifically for your child based on his or her academic, social, and emotional needs. The IEP is developed from the results of your child’s previous evaluation report. This document includes goals to ensure your child’s success and is required by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) if your child qualifies as a child with a disability of which requires Specially Designed Instruction (SDI). The IDEA and its regulations, Section 300.8, lists thirteen disability categories, including: Autism, Blindness, Deafness, Emotional Disturbance, Hearing Impairment, Mental Retardation (Intellectual Disability), Multiple Disabilities, Orthopedic Disability, Other Health Impairment, Specific Learning Disabilities, Speech/Language Disability, Traumatic Brain Injury, and Visual Impairment.
You may want to introduce students who qualify for an IEP to their new teachers and classroom prior to the first day of school. This accommodation should be included as a SDI in their IEP. Although not all students who receive an IEP are in need of this specific SDI, many students may require a variation of this SDI to be successful. It is never too early to begin discussing the new school year with regards to teachers, homework, and classmates. If students are transferring to a new school district, parents may want to inform the new district of their child’s IEP and his/her academic, social, and emotional needs.
If the new district is capable of implementing the existing IEP, the new district must do so as per the terms of the IEP. However, if the new district is unable to implement the existing IEP from the previous district, the new district must then issue a Permission to Evaluate (PTE), conduct and issue an Evaluation Report (ER), and issue a new IEP all within the timelines set forth in IDEA. As the new school year approaches, a formal IEP meeting is not always necessary, unless it is a yearly review; however, parents are free to request a meeting to discuss their child’s program with their child’s new teachers and administration. This meeting could address existing goals, SDIs, homework, grades, etc…If a parent would like goals altered, a formal meeting may be required. To ensure a successful school year, parents and teachers need to exhibit open lines of communication. For instance, many elementary school teachers and parents will utilize a communication book wherein each day notes of success and/or concern are written in the book for the other party to read. The use of email may be utilized for secondary students, parents, and teachers as way of daily or weekly communication. Either method of communication must be indicated in the student’s IEP under the SDI section.
All in all, returning to school for the new year may be a mix of fun, excitement, stress, and anxiety. Parents, teachers, and student should discuss ways to alleviate any anxiety causing factors that the new year may cause and also how to address them. Parents and students should be prepared for new teachers, classmates, and routines; however, these new routines should NOT jeopardize the implementation or the appropriateness of your child’s IEP.