How to Fight for Your Child's IEP
If your child attends public school in the United States, whether your child is struggling academically, behaviorally, or both, he/she has the right to be evaluated to determine whether or not he/she is "qualifies" for special services at school (it is important to note that private schools do not necessarily have to abide by these accommodations, but some will abide voluntarily). The catch is that many districts will find as many ways around qualifying students because they simply do not want to pay for them. This ads to the lengthy, difficult process for the parents.
Although the process may vary across states, for the most part, it usually begins with a meeting with the parents, teachers, guidance counselor(s), special education teacher, and possibly, the principal. As the parents, you may request the meeting, or the school may request the meeting, but be aware that this meeting, in itself, is difficult for the school to schedule because it requires the school to gather much of its faculty at the same time. Some districts will hire substitute teachers for this purpose, but some districts will try to find ways around having to pay anyone extra for the meeting, as your child is not the only child who will be having this type of meeting. Once this meeting occurs, the person who requested it will have the opportunity to express why he/she feels an evaluation is necessary. Then, everyone else in the room will have an opportunity to speak to or against the fact that the child may need services. If there is agreement that your child needs to be evaluated, you will have the opportunity to sign, giving your permission for the services. If the school believes your child does not need to be evaluated, you will have the opportunity to sign your agreement with the school. The important thing for you to know here is that you do NOT have to sign to anything with which you are not in agreement (for example, if the school believes your child does not need evaluated, but you know he/she truly needs help, you do not have to sign).
If it was determined, at the meeting, that your child is going to be evaluated, the school has 60 SCHOOL DAYS (at least this is the time period in Pennsylvania) to complete the actual evaluation (summer break does NOT count towards these 60 days). Once the evaluation is complete, the school will (or should) call you to have another meeting, in order to discuss the results. Most likely, if your child scores "below the line," he/she will qualify for special education. Do not be afraid of this. Special education is not the same as it used to be decades ago. This simply means that your child may get to go to the "Resource Room," with the special education teacher, to learn certain subjects in a smaller-group setting, which creates much less frustration for your child. It could also mean that your child will get simplified homework, or be able to take his/her tests one-on-one with a staff member, or in a small-group setting. The accommodations are set on a case-by-case basis, according to the needs of the child that were discussed in the meetings. The trickier part of getting services for your child is when your child scores "right above the line."
The "Right Above the Line" Child
When your child scores "right above the line" on the IEP evaluation, you will be told that your child does not qualify for special education. If you do not speak out at this point, no services will be put in place for your child, so by all means, SPEAK OUT at this moment. If you know your child is desperately struggling, and becoming overly frustrated during school assignments or homework, you MUST state that here. This is your opportunity to suggest a "504 Plan," as they are called in PA, or, at the very least, RTII (Response to Instruction and Intervention) services. It is best to get a 504 plan in place because there is more room to adapt/change it (versus the IEP), but if your child moves to a different district, the new district must also follow the 504 plan (it is the same with the IEP, but the IEP is more difficult to change, to my knowledge), however, if your child does not qualify for a 504, the route of RTII may be the route for you.
When the Evaluation is Complete
When your child's IEP evaluation has been completed, and it has been determined that your child needs some type of services (whether it is an IEP, 504, or RTII), another meeting with you will take place, and you will work with the school to implement specific accommodations/services that will best meet the needs of your child (for example, shortened or simplified homework, a "buddy system" in class to organize assignments, etc). Once these services have been determined and agreed upon, you will, again, have the opportunity to sign your permission (or to sign against the services, depending on your view), and the services will be implemented almost immediately.
Summary of Steps to Take to Fight
- Request an "IEP intent to evaluate" meeting with your child's public school.
- Attend all of the related meetings.
- Express the need at the meeting.
- DON'T BACK DOWN!!!!!
- Don't sign to the fact that your child DOES NOT need services, if you feel that he/she truly DOES NEED them.
- Bring documentation of law and/or any disorders your child may have with you. All of this will benefit your child.