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8 steps to a successful IEP meeting

Page 4 of 7

By Wayne Steedman

Step 5: evaluating the draft IEP and other documents

The IDEA requires schools to encourage parent participation in the development of the IEP and considers parents equal partners. It is hard to participate equally if you are shown documents, including the draft IEP, for the first at the IEP meeting.

Therefore, you should request in writing that you receive a copy of all documents that the school team expects to review at the meeting at least five business days in advance of the meeting. Five days may seem like a lot but given the amount of work involved in preparing for the IEP meeting it is quite short. At least one state, Maryland, has recently enacted legislation requiring schools to provide parents with all such documents at least five business days before the meeting. You should stand firm on this demand and postpone the meeting if you have not received the requested documentation in advance. Note: Some states do not allow schools to draft an IEP prior to the meeting. In that case I recommend that you attend the meeting, obtain the IEP but state that you can not decided whether it is appropriate for your child until you have had a chance to review it with your experts. You can then request another IEP meeting to revise the IEP.

In reviewing the draft IEP, first break it down into its components: present levels of performance, supplementary aids and services and classroom modifications, goals (and objectives or benchmarks if your state requires them), transition goals if your child is 16 or over (or younger depending on your state’s law), hours of special education instruction and related services, and placement. Present levels are discussed in Step 4. Be sure they contain complete information including information provided from your private assessments. In this same section should be a “parent statement.” It may not be in the draft IEP so you should prepare a statement that comprehensively addresses your concerns. You are not restricted by the space provided on the form. If you have multiple paragraphs or even pages, ask that they be attached to the IEP.

The supplementary aids and services and classroom accommodations often directly impact the placement. Thus, this section, often overlooked, should be carefully reviewed. If the classroom modifications include your child receiving all instruction in small groups with reduced auditory and visual distractions and with children having similar academic skills, your child will likely be placed in a self-contained special education classroom. If this is what you believe your child needs, there is no problem.

However, if you believe your child can be educated in an inclusive setting, that is the general education classroom, the aforementioned modification will work against that. Hence the need to review this section carefully. Supplementary aids and services can typically be provided in the general education classroom or in a self-contained class. They are often vital to a child’s success in either class.

However, care must be taken not to “over accommodate” a child so as interfere with the child’s progress toward independence or to provide an inflated impression of what the child is capable of performing. For example, an IEP team sometimes assigns a one-to-one aide to assist a child in navigating the school environment and participate in classroom tasks. However, an inadequately trained, albeit conscientious aide, may foster increased dependence by doing things for the child which he or she needs to learn to do independently.

Or, the aide may complete academic work for the child leading the teacher to believe the child is functioning higher than he actually is which leads the teacher to report inaccurate progress. The best way to avoid the development of such problems is to set very specific parameters in the supplementary aids and services of what supports the aide will provide and the type of training the aide will receive. Additionally, a data collection system is essential to monitoring the fidelity and efficacy of the aide’s services.

As noted in Step 4, it is important to compare the draft goals with the goals on the current/prior IEP. Aside from that, the draft goals should be Specific, Measurable, contain Action words, be Realistic, and Time limited. (ie, SMART goals.) Also carefully review the criteria for mastery and the method(s) by which progress will be measured. “Teacher Observation” should not be the only method of assessing progress. The goals are dictated by the needs identified in present levels of performance. That is, if a need is identified, there must be a goal to address it. Thus the importance of having comprehensive and accurate present levels cannot be over stated.

If your child is going to be 16 or over (younger in some states) during the IEP implementation year, the IEP should include appropriate measurable postsecondary transition goals and services. Transition goals must meet the same requirements as other goals on the IEP. That is, they should be “SMART.” Transition services are defined in the federal regulations as “a coordinated set of activities for a child with a disability that is designed to be within a results-oriented process that is focused on improving the academic and functional achievement of the child with a disability to facilitate the child’s movement from school to post-school activities.”

Post-school activities include postsecondary education, vocational education, integrated employment, continuing and adult education, independent living, and community participation. (For a more extensive explanation of the IDEA’s legal requirements for transition goals and services,check out Drabut Public Schools, No. 08-5330, Massachusettes State Education Agency, March 13, 2009.)

The service hours on your child’s IEP may be the most important section because it dictates the type of services and intensity of services your child will receive. Remember that special education is a service not a place. Your child could receive 30 hours of special education instruction per week without ever leaving the general education classroom. So the service hours should also identify whether the services will be delivered in the general education setting or in a separate special education class.

This section of the IEP should be specific enough that you know exactly how many hours per week of special education instruction your child will receive in each academic area, i.e., reading, math, written language, etc. The IEP goals will dictate what areas of special education instruction your child receives and, to some extent, the amount of time. For example, if there are no reading goals, there will be no special education instruction in reading. If there is a single reading goal the amount of time identified on the IEP will be minimal. The same rule applies to related services. Whether a child receives speech/language therapy, occupational therapy, or other related services depends on the IEP goals. Thus it is important to ensure that the IEP contains not only SMART goals but a comprehensive set of goals so that the child receives all the services he or she needs.

Your child’s placement is based on all the other components of the IEP. The IDEA requires placement to be in the least restrictive environment (LRE) meaning that to the maximum extent appropriate, the child should be educated with his non-disabled peers in the regular classroom. Appropriate is the controlling word and courts have consistently found that appropriate trumps LRE. Obtaining the appropriate placement for your child is your ultimate goal but you will not be successful unless all the components of the IEP are properly aligned.

Wayne Steedman is a co-founder and President of Callegary & Steedman, P.A., a law firm located in Baltimore, which primarily focuses on disability law. He is a graduate of the University of Maryland Law School and the School of Social Work, and has practiced law for 19 years with his primary focus on special education. Wayne has represented his clients in due process hearing, state and federal court, and the Third and Fourth Circuit Courts of Appeals. He is admitted to practice before the United States Supreme Court. He has presented nationwide on special education law and written numerous articles which have been published on-line and in print journals.

Comments from readers

"My wife and I were victims of an IEP system and a school system that cared more about covering their collective backsides than helping my child. Am I mad? YES! This system was run as a for profit prison that used my child to collect money but only cared about what was best for the school. Once my child reached middle school the "teaching" never materialized and the caretaking began. I eventually had to remove my Autistic child from the system due to lack of concern over my Childs welfare. These people (I won’t honor them with the title of teacher), should quit this line of work and go into something more commensurate with their skill level. Mopping floors and scrubbing toilets would probably be just about Wright. EFMP, what a joke. IEP and special Ed what a joke. "
"Shiela, our doctor's diagnosis trumped the school psychologist in our case. Our Primary Care doctor sent us to a Child Neurologist for a full neurological workup. She sent us to the Children's National Medical Center, Children's Center on Autism Spectrum Disorders for extensive evaluations. Fantastic Team. John's Hopkins also has a great team, I'm told. It's not all about what happens at school, as you know. The right team of doctors can help parents learn about their child. The advice we received at Children's has helped us as a family for over 8 years because we understand our son better with their help. School? Well, we're still working on that. Early intervention is key. "
"My nephew has not been diagnosed with autism but it is apparent that he has the symptoms. We would like to find out more to get him diagnosed. The school has tested him but we feel we need other testing entities. We have friend that have an autistic child 10 years old and the school tested him and their test was negative and eventually he was diagnosed with severe autism. If he doesn't have autism he has something. He is 5 and acts like he is 3. He talks ok but communication is not there. He has a 3 year old sister who treats him like he is a baby. His parents are going crazy and we need to get something started now. His favorite thing are spinning tops. Thanks for listening, Sheila "