IEP Participation by Mercedes Alejandro

You are a part of the decision making process on the IEP Team and as your childís first teacher and the one who knows her best, your input is invaluable.

The IEP Team works towards building consensus and that is something we parents arenít "trained" to do, so we end up in the we vs. them cycle. If we are to build consensus then we must do two things:

(1) develop working relationships with other team members (eg. The teacher) so that when it comes time for decision-making they will vote on with you and know why the decision benefits the student. In elementary school my sonís teacher and I were so attuned that she would write the IEP a couple of weeks before the meeting. I would go over items that I agreed and wrote in some where I thought the goals were too easy for him. In one instance I wrote and IEP for him to learn to read maps working towards eventually reading a map of the streets in our neighborhood. The teacher had not thought of this as an IEP goal (I was looking towards skills for the future).

I could write a chapter on how to build working relationships with a teacher, but suffice it to say they are overworked, underpaid, and always welcome a parent who wants to be a "room mother/father" or who will cut-out worksheets and make copies for them, one who goes on field tripsÖ. You get the idea. If you are a full-time single-parent be creative and find other ways to contribute to the class and ease the teacherís workload.

Back to building working relationships with team members, what about the administrator? You ask a good question, Grasshopper! Try to see the situation from their point of view, they have complete responsibility over the school from each child to each brick and pipe, personnel issues, and district demands. Often they send a vice-principal to the meeting, get to know them as well. The administrator will be pleased if you and the teacher have already set attainable goals and worked out an IEP you both and the student can agree on. Their main objective is the studentís needs, we tell parents in our group not to use the words "I want such and such" but rather "my child needs such and such" and take the emphasis away from what the parent wants and thinks is best and follow the letter and intent of the law: the studentís needs. This verbiage is critical, the IEP committee members may "tune you out" when you start a sentence with "I wantÖ.."

Negotiating is an important part of reaching consensus. We had a mother who wanted 4 hours per week of Speech therapy for her child so she went in asking for 8 hours per week and negotiated down until she got what she really wanted in the first place. Consensus is a give-and-take know in advance what items you are willing to "give up" as part of the negotiation (you know when to stick to your guns as well).

The easiest way to get out of "fighting" so much is to get to the heart of the matter. You can argue for hours about how much or whether or not, but the bottom line is word-for-word what you get in writing in the IEP pages and minutes. (Your summer teacher was not present, but the IEP goals for summer could be set up and then have a separate meeting with the teacher on the best implementation) I helped a mother get her child (who has Down Syndrome) out of a self-contained class with 3 other children who had Autism and minimal academics. He daughter had been in that class since age 3 and was now 6 ready for kindergarten. Of course the child had zero social skills, broke toys, didnít know how to share, frustrated from lack of speech ability she would often be a "wild child." What helped the mother get full inclusion w/an aide in kindergarten was that the therapist who did the evaluation wrote (in the IEP minutes) about how well she tested, she sat still, very calm and interacted very well with face-to-face contact. The little girl completed her year in kindergarten and learned lots of social skills and is doing marvelously.

We tell the mothers to always request things in writing (even if its in Spanish) because the law has provisions for how many days the school has to respond to this or that. I met a mom who asked for her 15 year old to be tested to see if he qualified for special education services since he was repeating the 9th grade for the third time(!) but since she asked verbally the school never proceeded with the testing. A year after her verbal request, we requested it in writing with cc to various people, the school took action. If there is a paper-trail the school will be more attuned to their responses to your request. Without getting argumentative you just begin to send copies to the State Education Agency, the District Superintendent, etc. Having this procedure in your back pocket will help you to feel like a full participant and have more pleasant meetings since you have new tools at your disposal: build relationships with team members andÖ. get it in writing.

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