Tuesday, September 3, 2019

10 Things You Must Do If Your Child Is In the IEP or 504 Evaluation Process

Many of you are in the midst of having your child evaluated for an IEP or 504 right now. And I feel your pain. I've had the same "sweat and tears" many times. 

First, you know your child has something going on. Maybe multiple somethings. That alone is stressful, exhausting, disheartening, and confusing. The last thing any of us want is for our kids to suffer.

Second, the evaluation process is overwhelming. It's all new territory for many parents.

Our introduction into the world of 504s and IEPs started with adoption. Before we completed a fourth homestudy, we were required to take a class through DCFS (our state child and family services department). The only class available at the time was called "Educational Rights and Responsibilities." 

I readily admit, my attitude was absolutely terrible. I didn't want to sit through an all-day, Saturday class, learning about a topic I had zero interest in. 

But as the minutes and hours went on, and we learned all about special education services in our state, I began to perk up. By the time the class wrapped up, we were first in line to talk to the instructor. Because we had a child who seemed like these services might be appropriate. 

I've learned a lot, through research and experience, since the day we took that class. And I'm here to share that experience with you, hoping to make your journey a little less terrifying. In fact, I want you to be confident.

1: Get (and keep) everything in writing.

It's important to keep a running-record of the process. This includes any official documents, any e-mails between you and school staff, etc. Keep every single paper that comes home from school: from the nurse, homework, tests, notes from the teacher, etc. The more you have in writing, the better. You can refer back to these documents as needed, as well as have a collection of evidence (if things go south). It's also OK to ask for things in writing. One of the best tips I ever got from our educational advocate (see #5) was to follow up with in-person conversations via an e-mail, stating everything discussed and asking if there's anything they'd like to add or change to that conversation. (Now you have info in writing!)

2:  Audio record the meetings.

Give your child's team a heads up that you will be audio-recording the meeting. You can then go back and listen to the meeting again, catching what you missed. Again, this is also to your benefit. If things don't go well, the audio recordings can serve as proof of what happened.

3: Be assertive.

After reading #1 and #2, you might think I'm asking you to be aggressive, but that's not the case. When you're trying to find out if your child qualifies for a 504 or IEP, you must be assertive. You are your child's #1 advocate. This is not the time to be timid, uncertain, or polite. Of course, I'm not telling you to be a jerk. But you also need to become Mama Bear.

4: Keep a log of events.

This is something I wish I would have done from day #1. Create a Word document and then log everything. E-mail communication, a meeting or conference, a paper your child brought home, your child's grades, any incidents from school, etc. Log it all.  Is it time consuming? Yes. But it's not nearly as time consuming as trying to do it retroactively. 

5: Find an educational advocate.

Some states have FREE (yes, free) educational advocates that work on behalf of the parent or child. some will attend meetings with you, while others will communicate with you via phone and e-mail. They help you understand the process, your rights and responsibilities as a parent (and member of your child's educational team), and overall, feel supported. 

6: Seek support from experienced parents.

Other parents can be one of your best sources of information and support. Of course, you want to protect your child's story and struggles; however, you also need to work to be as educated as possible. You want the best possible outcome for your child.

7: Know your rights and responsibilities.

You should be given a document from your district explaining policies and procedures and your rights and responsibilities. And yes, it can be mind boggling. That's why you need other parents (#6) and an educational advocate (#5) to help you understand your rights and responsibilities. For example, you don't have to sign an agreement IN a meeting. There are allowances for time for you to consider the proposed outcome after a 504 or IEP meeting.

8: Be prepared.

Go into every interaction prepared. Have a list of questions or discussion points. Take copies of documents. And know your rights and responsibilities (#7) so you can ask for what you're entitled to.

9: Take a support person.

Meetings can be extremely overwhelming. They are fast-paced (talk about a time crunch!). Don't underestimate the power of discussing your child. You are IN this for your baby---which means your emotions can overpower your critical thinking at times. Having a support person with you is your right as a parent--and it can be helpful when you're discussing the meeting outcome afterward. 

10: Remember: you know your child best.

Yes, our kids can be different at school versus at home. However, a special need is a special need. You cannot ask too many questions. You cannot ask for too many explanations. You need to fully understand what's being proposed, evaluated, and considered.

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