Improving Your Child’s IEP Month by Month
A monthly article series by Jacqueline Lembeck, Esq. of McAndrews Law Offices, P.C.
In talking to parents of children with disabilities, I’ve realized that answering the question, “where do I begin?” is sometimes the hardest part. Navigating special education can feel like drowning in a sea of acronyms (IEP, RR, PTRE, NOREP, LEA . . .) or climbing an endless mountain of paperwork, or both! For those of you who have a resolution to make 2017 a more organized, successful, and peaceful year, this article series is for you! Month by month, I’ll discuss a way to improve your child’s IEP and give action items to focus your journey. It will still be a mountain, but I hope these tips will provide some trail markers along the way.
Where Do I Go if I Need More Help?
At various points in your journey through advocating for your child with special needs, you may find that you need additional help or resources to effectively push the ball forward. There are many avenues you can take in this regard and understanding who/what is out there may help you on your way. A good starting place is actually your child’s latest Notice of Recommended Educational Placement/Prior Written Notice (“NOREP/PWN”) which includes a list of resources including contact information. In addition, you may want to look into state and federal department of education websites, advocates, parent groups and educational/disability rights organizations, or attorneys for guidance and advice.
State and government websites offer parent guides to the IDEA and Section 504 which can be helpful for parents who are looking to better understand their child’s special education rights. For example, there is a December 2016 guide from the Office for Civil Rights which explains Section 504 and may be very useful to parents (https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/504-resource-guide-201612.pdf). Likewise, the U.S. Department of Education has a parent resources website related to the IDEA (https://sites.ed.gov/idea/parents-families/). (I also like this list of commonly-used acronyms found at https://sites.ed.gov/idea/acronyms/.)
Like the U.S. Department of Education, your state’s department of education may have helpful resources online. In Pennsylvania, the Office for Dispute Resolution has useful guides to due process and mediation available on their website (http://odr-pa.org/due-process/overview/; http://odr-pa.org/mediation/overview/). If you need more specific answers, the Pennsylvania Office for Dispute Resolution has a ConsultLine for questions (http://odr-pa.org/parents/consultline/).
Advocates may be helpful to review your child’s special education program and help you communicate with your school district or charter school. Many will attend meetings with the family, provide programming advice and recommendations, and follow up to ensure that program changes are put in place. Having an advocate can also put a parent at ease at a meeting if he/she misses something that is said or would like back up to help express a point to the IEP team.
Parent groups are a great resource to meet others who have firsthand experience in this area. Other parents have often encountered the same questions or frustrations you may be experiencing and may have useful tips for advocating for your child. Some parent groups have parent partnerships where parents will go with each other to IEP meetings to offer another set of ears and moral support, as well. Similarly, organizations that focus on education and disabilities may be able to help or provide additional contacts or resources to get you on your way or may be able to help you with your concerns directly. The list of organizations in the NOREP/PWN is a great starting place, although there are likely others that may be able to help too.
Finally, if you feel that you would benefit from an attorney reviewing your child’s case and making recommendations, there may be options for free consultations and free or pro bono representation to ensure that legal help is not a financial hardship for your family. If you think that you may end up at a due process hearing or that you may have claims against your school district or charter school for a failure to provide a Free Appropriate Public Education (“FAPE”) or other claims, you may want to reach out to an attorney to ensure that you are not missing any necessary filing deadlines.
November Action Items:
- If you have not already requested an IEP meeting and you think you need one, review the advice from October and April.
- Familiarize yourself with the resources listed on the NOREP/PWN form and available for free online.
- Reach out to advocates, parent groups, disability/educational rights organizations, or attorneys if you think you would benefit from some outside help.