Families of students with disabilities must always remember that they are a critical member of their child’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or 504 Plan team. Family members have the greatest expertise on their child and often know, from experience at home, what interventions will really work. In order to convey that knowledge more effectively, it helps to do a little extra homework before meeting with the team at school.
Find out as much as you can about your child’s disability(ies) through research online, at the library, and speaking with the child’s doctors and service providers. Study how the disability can affect the child’s learning and what interventions have been used successfully by others.
Learn about the special education process, the different laws that protect you and your child, and what all the unfamiliar terms being thrown around in IEP or 504 meetings mean.
Find support groups of other families dealing with the same disability(ies) locally, on Facebook and other social media, or in online groups. You can get some great ideas and advice and feel less alone.
Organize all of your child’s educational and medical records, including evaluations, report cards and progress reports, test reports, IEPs and 504 plans, samples of work, etc. in a binder or box, and take this information with you to meetings.
Contact teachers and therapists ahead of meetings and ask for a status report on how the child is doing to help ensure present levels of performance are accurate.
Feel free to bring others with you to meetings for moral support and advice, and to help hear what is going on without the emotion that you are feeling.
During eligibility and IEP/504 meetings to determine or tweak the interventions to be used, don’t be afraid to ask questions, to speak up when you disagree with something someone says or suggests doing, and to insist that the explanations and your objections and reservations are reflected in the meeting notes. There are many forms presented to families for their signature during these meetings. Although the parents sign a form to indicate they participated in the meeting, no signature is required in Florida to indicate the family’s agreement with the IEP, 504 plan or the eligibility decision. However, families must sign their consent for evaluations, for allowing the school to provide a 504 plan or ESE services, and for withdrawing consent for any of these things. The team generally makes decisions by consensus, and in some cases, that means a decision by a large group of school employees and a small team for the family. If the school proposes doing something you disagree with or rejects a request that you have made, listen carefully to its reasoning and ask for Prior Written Notice. This allows you to develop better arguments and evidence for pursuing the issue in the future and reserves your right to pursue due process or other complaints if it is an important issue on which you cannot compromise.
Remember that your relationship with the school is an important and ongoing relationship, so even when angry or frustrated, remain respectful and insist that school staff do the same. Although not all problems can be resolved immediately or with one meeting, these tips will help you accomplish your goals.
Kimberley Spire-Oh, Esq.
Law Office of Kimberley Spire-Oh, PA
6141 Lake Worth Road
Lake Worth, FL 33463
561) 307-9620 Phone
561) 537-7034 Fax
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