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Special Education Planning Meetings: What's Really Important?

In a hurry and need a quick reference list for your IEP Meeting? Keep in mind what the purpose of an IEP meeting is. It's main function is not to discuss issues regarding daily functions, personal issues, classroom issues. Those things needs to be discussed prior to the meeting. Have in mind a clear idea of what you want to accomplish in the meeting. This is a committee and you are a member of it. It is a meeting to decide on the program, the location of the program, the level of inclusion, the amount of time spent in programs, and related services as well as it being a 10-month or a 12-month IEP.

Here are the most important things to keep in mind to help you stay focused during what can be an overwhelming process.

1. Are there measurable annual goals and objectives tied to the general education curriculum. Not just "teacher observation" as the measure. Tests and data scores do matter in the long run no matter what type of diploma your child will obtain.

2. Present levels of performance - how is he doing in school and what is the growth? Or lack of growth? Ask for a linear graph of exactly how many months/years your child has progressed in speech and how many grades your child has progressed in reading and so on. If there is no progress being made there needs to be a written explanation as to why and what the next recommendations are. These types of topics should have been discussed prior to the meeting.

3. Related Therapies: Speech, Occupational Therapy, Physical Therapy, paraprofessionals. What is the exact amount of time my child will receive for each of these? Do not consent to a reduction unless it has been discussed with your prior to the meeting.

4. Transportation: Is there an aide on the bus? Is there a distance of more than 30 minutes each way? Will your child endure that long ride? Is there a "hand-off" of aide on the bus to aide at school and then aide on the bus to parent at home? Do not allow the child to be dropped off. Remember the bus ride is an extension of the school day and if extensive time is spent travelling, then supplemental aides for learning needs to be implemented during the ride. Remember physical and health issues as well. Are they trained for an emergency? How about a seizure - would the driver and/or aide know how to recognize when your child is having a seizure?

5. Extended school year. This is to make sure your child does not lose any skills gained during the school year. How do you prove that? This is a big source of contention between parents and school districts. Take a note book that the school does not have access to (a separate daily book from the one that is used for home/school communication purposes) and write down at the end of every weekend and at the end of every school break. Write in the notebook the behaviors and the skills you see a difference in when your child is not in school. That will be proof enough to get an extended school year. Some parents and kids want the summer off and that's okay too.

6. Positive Behavior Supports and Social Skills Attainment: What are the proven teaching methods for your child. Make sure there is a baseline Functional Behavioral Analysis (FBA and no it's not just for those who use ABA for autism). This way there can be a baseline Behavioral Intervention Plan (BIP) put into place for when there is a meltdown or inappropriate behavior displayed. What is the plan for the generalization of skills? How are social skills addressed? Is there a plan in place for your child to have a meaningful and relaxing exchange during lunch and recess? Or is he/she scared to walk into the cafeteria? This is an important part of development which needs to be addressed as well.

7. Transitions! Starting at age 14, there should be something in writing about what the level 1 assessment showed - that's the one where they ask your child what does he/she want to be when they grow up. Seriously, there is an assessment that asks a few questions about whether it's animals, science, writing, people or what "area" they would like to work in. Usually the kids don't know and that's okay because at this point just know that you as the parent need to push the schools to have something in writing. Because by the age of 16 there should be a plan in place. Will they stay until 21, go to a community college, or away to college with supports?

8. Statewide assessments: How are these handled. Is your child exempt? What happens if their anxiety overcomes the ability to actually attend school that day and his misses the test? What if they take the tests and do not pass? How are report cards delivered - how often will you as a parent be able to discuss your child's progress.

Lastly, it's your child. You are the one who will be responsible for her future when she graduates. It's a long life ahead of them and if we are lucky, it will be over 70 years! So don't sweat it, take your time, and pace yourself. But most importantly remember there are always other parents to reach out to. Contact me through email at any time with any questions, comments or concerns and I'll be happy to chat with you.

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