Finding individualized education for your child: Part 2

Posted by Reeve Staff in Daily Dose on August 25, 2017 # Mobility, Caregiving

Welcome to the second part of our Special Education Tips. In the first part, we had an overview of the Special Education Program, its laws, and advice on Early Intervention and topics before interacting with the Child Study Team (CST). Here we provide advice on how to deal with your CST and considerations about appeals. As always, remember that a good attitude, research beforehand, and a well-documented path are your strongest tools to make this school year as stress-free and successful as reality allows.

Preparing for the Child Study Team…

  • Yes, people have horror stories from CST meetings. We all know funding for special education is lacking, and sometimes it seems that caseworkers are trying to fight us rather than help our children. Take a deep cleansing breath, put those stories aside, and leave your war paint at home. An offensive approach seldom brings good results or allows you to have a collaborative relationship with your CST. Rather take the high road (read less stressful and more effective) and be positive, assertive, and well informed.
  • Think ahead about the purpose of the Individualized Education Program (IEP) meeting: is it your first meeting? Do you want to revise, take out, or add a service or accommodation? Do you need to provide the CST with feedback? According to your purpose, organize your research, evidence, and questions/comments in an easy to find manner. A folder with tabs or a file in a smart device usually does the trick.
  • No matter how prepared you may be, IEP meetings can still be overwhelming and emotional. By bringing a family member, friend, parent advocate, or a combination of them, you'll have the support you need, an extra pair of ears, and someone who agrees and sympathizes unreservedly with your viewpoints. By the same token, make sure that your support system is aware of your plans, research, and desired outcomes.
  • Taking notes during the IEP is essential (this is where that second person comes in handy) to make sure you have a reference of what you spoke about, points that you may need to follow up on, or as evidence for mediation or due process. Many parents suggest recording the IEP meetings as an alternative to note-taking; which is unfortunately not as easy as finding a recording device. Please see this article to learn the regulations regarding recordings meetings and possible outcomes.
  • If you disagree with the IEP after the meeting, don't feel obligated to sign it right away, though you should sign the attendance and other routine forms. Rather express your concerns, request a copy of the IEP draft document, and request a second meeting (both orally and in writing) to further discuss your concerns. Please remember that your signature is not mandatory to implement the IEP in most states, so work closely with your CST.

Mediations, appeals, and other measures you didn't want to resort to…

  • Before you consider any of these escalations, make sure to write a summary of your concerns, complaints and/or requests. Provide your CST with a copy and attempt a final discussion to resolve these issues.
  • Due process and mediation are alternatives that bring a third party (mediator or judge) to resolve IEP conflicts. The Advocacy Institute has a great Guide to Mediation and Resolution Sessions and CADRE provides a Guide for Due Process and Hearing Requests.
  • Advocates can range from a parent with some experience or training to a paid advocacy consultant or lawyer. The Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates has guidelines for choosing advocates/attorneys and a database to find one in your area. You can also find advocacy help through the Center for Parent Information & Resources.
  • If you need an attorney, consider contacting your local law school's special education/child law clinic. You may be able to get representation free of charge or for a small fee. The American Bar Association provides a list of Children's Legal Clinics that you can consult.

By Patricia Correa. Patricia has worked in the Early Intervention System for over 6 years and is the mother of a child living with a disability. She is an Information Specialist at the Paralysis Resource Center.