Recently I had to attend the dreaded IEP re-evaluation meeting for my daughter, she has been on one for about 3 years now. I am only bringing this topic up in my blog because for many parents it can be the bane of our entire experience with the educational system. It is dreaded and many times misunderstood by so many parents that have had to attend many of these meetings, (myself included I have 3 children currently on IEPs), and some that may even be new to the whole process. If you have never been to one count yourself lucky! So, first off you might be thinking what’s an IEP?
An IEP is what is known as an Individualized Education Plan for children receiving any special education services. It is a legally binding document, (if your child is receiving any type of special education services they are required by law to have one). In the IEP it specifically states your child’s learning needs, services the school will provide, and how the progress will be measured. Seems easy enough right? Wrong! If the IEP is not used effectively the entire process can be a disaster and leave your child even further behind.
Many times the problem can be that the guardians can be overwhelmed and not quite understand their rights when attending these meetings. I was one of these culprits, when my first child was placed on one I was clueless and just went along with all the recommendations and special jargon, not realizing I was my child’s biggest advocate when it came to his education. I trusted the teachers and that they understood what they were doing far more than I did, (I guess I related them somewhat to a doctor and took their degrees to mean they knew my child better than I did). You know your child their strengths and weaknesses better than anyone do not sit quitely in these meetings if you do not agree with something say it, no one else will stand up for your child the way you do.
One of the biggest pitfalls of the IEP can be a teacher’s ability, inability, or unwillingness, (I tend to hope it’s more leaning towards inability or lack of understanding of the IEP than an actual unwillingess due to optimism) to fully and correctly follow each and every recommendation and goal to the letter. Think about it in a school of hundreds of kids many teachers end up with quite a few children on IEPs and 504 plans. This can be a bit overwhelming and burdening to teachers who are already overloaded with day to day school planning and curriculums.
At the beginning of the school year the teachers receive the IEPs of each student and depending on the size of each school this can be anywhere between 5-20 students per class receiving special education services. These can be rather large documents considering they are a legally binding document they include goals, recommendations, etc. for each specific child. As parents many of us expect the teachers to be aware of each child’s needs but that is just not true and we are living in a dream world, (which I quickly learned). Many of these teachers are not aware because they just do not have the time to learn every IEP to the letter and it is our job to convey relevant information to each teacher to make sure their IEP is being met.
Other issues concerning teachers is if the goal or recommendation is vague or can be can be interpretated improperly it once again can lead to failure or just not enough progress as anticipated. This happens to us everyday in real life, right? When reading or even listening to a conversation one person may interpret or infer something quite different than the next two people. So, once again it is up to us as the parent at the IEP meeting to read and ensure that any information on the IEP is specfic as possible so there is little to no room for open interpretation of a said goals or recommendations.
So, no I don’t actually believe IEPs are leading so much to failure as not being implemented and used properly. It is our job as the parent and advocate of our children to make sure the schools are delivering the services in the ways stated in the IEP through monitoring, negotiating, and advocating. If all else fails there are legal avenues that I will not get into but you can find through reviewing your legal rights that you are given at the beginning of each IEP meeting as well of advocates that can be retained privately or in some states free legal advocates who specifically deal in this area.
Cheers and here’s to next year’s IEP meeting If I survive the next few!