Summer is rushing past us, and the new school year is nearly here. One of the things we have been focusing on in our weekly parent support group is recharging parents’ batteries for the school year. With permission of parents in group, I am going to use specific, real-life examples (without revealing names or particular schools) to support the suggestions we have which the parents in group thought we should share.
Volunteering at your child’s or children’s school(s) is a powerful way to make a contribution to the educational community while getting a feel for the culture of the school(s). Each school is different, because schools are made up of individuals! Be one of those who shapes the schools in a direct, positive way. NOW is the time to go in and get your paperwork done so that you can be an official volunteer from day one. If you have to take time off of work each week or month to be there, do it. The investment is worth it. For more CEG information on this topic, search our blog for the word “Volunteering.”
Get your child’s schedule/teacher assignments as soon as they are available. This varies by school. Remember, even a kindergartener has several teachers; don’t forget the coach, music, art, and media educators. They also encounter staff on a daily basis who directly serve them: for example, the cafeteria workers including any teachers who are assigned cafeteria duties. Find out who these people are, do a portfolio for your child (contact CEG if you need help with that) and put both a portfolio and a copy of the IEP in those individual’s hands yourself before the first day of school. Many parents feel that they shouldn’t “have” to do this, that it “should” be done by school-based personnel. Well, we say, “fair is where you ride the merry-go-round.” If you have experienced frustration in the past about implementation of your student’s IEP, learn from that experience. YOU are your child’s best advocate (how many times have you heard THAT in a meeting with school personnel?), so get in there and make sure the IEP is implemented. Don’t take excuses. Don’t give them “time” to get it started. An active IEP is implementable–by law–fully, the first school day following the date it is completed. Allow zero wiggle room for that. Staff issues are not your child’s issues.
I am taking some accommodations on a current, live IEP to use as examples. Above these is the statement: Unless noted accommodations are daily, in class, and for the duration of the IEP. Think about that. I will refer back to it.
- Repeat, clarify, or summarize test directions [ this is daily, in class, and for the duration of the IEP for EVERY TEST]
- Preferential seating [this is daily, in class, and for the duration of the IEP. This is not teacher preference; this is student preference. This is not, the teacher thinks the child should sit up front next to the teacher’s desk. This may be a child who needs to sit in the back, or near a specific peer model. Make CERTAIN this is in place, day one, class one]
- Allow extra time for assignments [ this is daily, in class, and for the duration of the IEP: this is not for whatever assignments the teachers decide to use it for. This is for EVERY assignment, EVERY class. You may, for example, if you bring that up, hear all kinds of arguments that you are setting your child up for unnatural dependence on the accommodation or to stick out or to get behind or to get lazy, etc etc, if you insist on this. That isn’t your, or your child’s, problem. You are not responsible for making sure the IEP is implemented with fidelity. That is the responsibility of the educators. It is NOT their responsibility to modify the IEP without you. If they feel it IEP is wrong, it is their job to call a meeting to change it]
I am using only a few examples, above, but I am sure you get my point. Do not sit by for one more moment and allow your child to go without their by law IEP implementation. As many of you have learned by experience, these things must be in place and working at all times. You cannot (and will not be allowed to focus on them anyway in an IEP meeting) go back and correct the mistakes of the past. Don’t let them happen again. Take a different, assertive, preventative tack.
Remember, the school personnel have a chain of command within the school system. You do not. You may contact the Director of ESE, the Superintendent, the Principal, the Programs Administrator, and anyone you’d like as often as you’d like. Of course, nobody wants to muddy the water and be a nuisance. But, you also don’t want to get to the third nine weeks and find out your child has had twenty math tests and the teacher repeated or clarified for two. And he’s failing. And they don’t want to do anything but look “forward” at the IEP table.
We suggest putting every single contact with school and county personnel in writing in e-mail for a paper trail. Put all your concerns, every time your child comes home with assignments graded for which they had no extended time; every time you have spoken with a teacher about your child; your meeting requests;–even your expectations of implementation with fidelity from day one of the IEP— in writing. Even though e-mails to public servants in Florida are public, those with a child’s name are expunged even from a freedom of information request. For safety and security, you can leave out the child’s name and use their alpha ID. We realize this is a lot of work. It is worth it. Your child is worth it, and even if it isn’t fair that you have to, if you front load this effort, and you are the broken record of expectation with the school system, eventually it will be done by habit for your child. We work with several parents whose children have paid the price of not having IEPs implemented; some have sued their district. But, you can’t fix damage done. You CAN prevent damage, and it is damaging when a child loses valuable education because an IEP was not implemented fully every single school day.
Thank you to the support group parents who came up with these suggestions and asked that I share them.