Improving Your Child’s IEP Month by Month
A monthly article series by Jacqueline Lembeck, Esq.
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.
Gather Your Documents
The very first step toward improving your child’s IEP is assembling the documents. Most students with disabilities should have the following:
An Evaluation Report (“ER”) or Reevaluation Report (“RR”)—the date on the ER/RR should be within the last three years. School districts have the responsibility to reevaluate children with disabilities under the IDEA at least every three years and they have the responsibility to evaluate students with an Intellectual Disability in Pennsylvania at least every two years. Section 504 plans require periodic reevaluation, as well. If you have Speech Language, Occupational Therapy, Physical Therapy or other evaluations which are separate from the ER/RR, you should gather those, too.
An Individualized Education Program (“IEP”) or Section 504 Plan—there should be a current IEP or 504 plan for this school year. If you child has a Positive Behavior Support Plan (“PBSP”), you should keep the current plan with that year’s IEP.
Progress Monitoring—if your child has an IEP, you should be receiving at least quarterly progress monitoring to tell you how he/she is doing on the current IEP goals.
Report Cards—you should gather the last few years of report cards so you can compare how your child is doing academically year to year.
In addition to assembling the documents above, you should gather any outside evaluations (for example, a private speech and language evaluation or a report from a developmental pediatrician) and any other documents which give you a better understanding of how your child is doing in school (for example, a communication log with the classroom teacher, if you have one).
Once you have the documents compiled, I would recommend that you scan them so you will have an electronic copy as well as a physical copy. As you go forward, you may find yourself needing to share some of the documents and taking this step now will save you valuable time later.
If you are missing documents, you should contact the school to request them. Typically, your child’s IEP case manager can help you obtain them. Parents are entitled to review their child’s educational records under the Family and Educational Rights and Privacy Act (“FERPA”). Under FERPA, school districts must provide access to educational records pertaining to your child within forty-five (45) days of a request. Parents should make a written request to the school district, should save a copy of the request, and should be able to demonstrate that the school district received the request.
Once you have located, requested, and scanned the documents, you will be ready to begin your review. Next month, we will focus on how to read the documents, but for now you should read through once for familiarity and a second time for any inconsistencies or questions. I would recommend that you keep a list of your questions or concerns, but that you not write on the document directly if it’s your only copy. You should also go look up any unfamiliar terms or acronyms. A little bit of organization and Googling now will go a long way later!
January Action Items:
Gather ER/RRs, IEPs, Progress Monitoring, Report Cards, and other relevant documents
Create an electronic and a hardcopy of each for your records
Request any documents you are missing
Read through for familiarity first and then for inconsistencies or questions
Keep a separate log of your questions and concerns
Research any terms you do not recognize