SPECIAL EDUCATION ADVOCACY FOR YOUR CHILD AND YOUR FAMILY

CALL DR. LEVINE 609-839-0049

EXPERIENCE MATTERS

Educational Advocacy

Every child is entitled to a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE), to develop, learn, and grow.


Hello parents,


 I’m Dr, Barry Levine, a special education advocate with a passion for helping children create and achieve their educational goals. Every child is entitled to a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE), to develop, learn, and grow. I use my experiences as a former teacher, principal, and special education director to support and empower parents of children with special needs.  It is essential to understand and balance the parent's challenges and the schools’ perspectives, to effectively collaborate for the child to be successful. 

 

 I am also a certified reading specialist and Orton Gillingham teacher and trainer.



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Warning Signs the IEP Team is NOT Doing Their Job!

For the past twenty seven years, I have worked with hundreds of families of students with special needs. Every time I think I have seen the worst case of unethical behavior  another case comes along that is even more disturbing.


Here are comments I often hear that are really the IEP Team’s way of denying your child services.


  1. “Your child is not eligible for special education because she is doing fine academically.” IDEA specially states that grades and performance are irrelevant to determining if a student needs special education services.
  2. “The IEP goals are all written, all you need to do is sign that you approve.”Instead of involving you in the process of developing goals, the IEP Team is all prepared when you arrive. IDEA explicitly states that parents should be involved in the development process.
  3. “You should take your child to the doctor and request medication.” It is illegal for the school to suggest your child should be on medication. They are not doctors and are not qualified to determine that child should be medicated.
  4. “We decided your child no longer needs xyz services, so we are stopping them.” IDEA states that removal of services requires a formal evaluation, data and an IEP meeting. They cannot remove services just because they think they should.
  5. “We don’t have that service at our school.” The I in IEP stands for individualized, so if your child needs a service they do not have, they need to arrange another way for your child to get it.
  6. “We believe your child should be in a self-contained classroom because she is difficult to handle.” A self-contained placement may not be the least restrictive environment (LRE). A general ed class with aide support may be better. IDEA requires them to evaluate and use data to determine which placement is optimum for the child
  7. “I need to take this to my supervisor to get permission to increase services.” IDEA procedural safeguards require that a school district administrator be present at the IEP meeting so these kinds of decisions can be made.
  8. “We are keeping the same goal because he has not made progress and we have to keep working on it.” Lack of progress in a year is a sign that the goal or remediation method is not appropriate. The IEP team should discuss alternative options so the child makes meaningful progress. It’s important to organize all information in an IEP binder so you are ready to show evidence of progress.
  9. “This is a charter school, so we don’t have the resources to serve a student with special education needs.” Any school that receives government funding must provide support for special education services. They cannot refuse a child just because their support services are not already in place.
  10. “We are not allowed to assess your child for an IEP unless we first try RTI (response to intervention).” Unfortunately this statement has been so overused the Department of Education actually put out a memo clarifying that RTI cannot be used to delay or deny evaluation for special education services. Click here to read the memo. Assessment for an IEP and RTI can be done simultaneously. This way if the RTI is not successful, the child will get support as soon as possible.
  11. “We will not accept your parent concerns for the IEP because we disagree with what you have written.” The procedural safeguards for IEPs say that a parent can give their input to the IEP. The IEP Team may not censure what the parents write. Get a copy of your state procedural safeguards (parent rights).
  12. “Our cafeteria is not able to provide a sensory diet.” Okay, so I threw this one in for humor. But it does often happen at meetings that the school team doesn’t know what they are talking about. Educate yourself so you can provide information and evidence to show why a service or accommodation would benefit your child.

 KNOW YOUR CHILD’S RIGHTS!

Your child is your life. But what happens when your child with special needs isn’t progressing in reading? What happens when the school district decides to take services away from your child? What happens when the school isn’t following your child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP)?

By law, your child with special needs is entitled to appropriate educational services. But the school district may make decisions you don’t agree with. Trust your instincts – if you think your child isn’t receiving an appropriate education, let me  HELP YOU.


 If you are like most parents, you trusted the advice and recommendations from your school staff. Now you have come to realize that you cannot trust their advice. From your perspective the schools program is damaging your child as your child falls further and further behind. Under these circumstances feelings of anger and betrayal are nearly inevitable.


Are you worried that your child needs special education services? Does your child already have an Individualized Education Program (IEP) but  you are feeling that something isn’t right? Do you feel like the IEP team is speaking another language and you don’t know where to turn? 


Parents Are Natural Advocates For Their Children  


Who is your child’s first teacher? You are. Who is your child’s most important role model? You are. Who is responsible for your child’s welfare? You are. Who has your child’s best interests at heart? You do.  


You know your child better than anyone else. The school is involved with your child for a few years. You are involved with your child for life. You should play an active role in planning your child’s education. The law gives you the power to make educational decisions for your child. Do not be afraid to use your  power.


After an IEP Meeting Have You Ever Left Your School Wondering.  What just happened? 


What did I sign?  

Is my child getting the best possible services?

Am I asking the right questions?  

Does this plan truly meet my child’s needs?

You may have experienced these factors that have created a crisis for your child.  

Placed your child in a program that he doesn’t belong in despite your objections  

Refused to provide necessary services because these services are expensive but would establish a precedent.  

Refused to consider or include private professionals recommendations in the IEP  

Terminated the child from special education after the child’s IQ scores dropped because there is no longer a severe discrepancy between the child’s ability and achievement scores.  

Caused the child to be arrested at school and suspended or expelled the child for behavior that is related to the child’s disability.  


Does everyone walk out of an IEP meeting feeling like crap?

Beware of the Gatekeepers - Their Job is to Say "No!

She is the fast-talking wordsmith (used car salesman?) in an IEP meeting. She is the kind of person that talks in circles so most parents, who don’t have support at IEP meetings, are given very little opportunity to question her decisions because she won’t allow it. She is unable to think flexibly and does not like it when there is someone in the room who knows more than she does – she is the expert, no wait, she is the dictator.

IEP MEETINGS

These are the tough, uncomfortable meetings they are the experts and quite frankly, they have already determined the outcome of the meeting. This is when you need to be tough, not rude, but tough. 

It is important that parents become informed and involved in their child’s education. There are many sources of information and support in your state. However, the more skills you have and the more information you learn, the better you can advocate for your child. Over the past few years we have found that parents tend to make some common mistakes during the Individual Education Program (IEP) meeting. The following is a list of the common mistakes and some suggestions for avoiding them:

1.  Believing the professionals are the only experts.

It can be very intimidating to sit at a table with several educators and professionals. Professionals/Educators do bring a great deal of knowledge and experience to the table. Although most parents do not have a background or degree in education, they have a great deal of knowledge and experience regarding their child. Parents are experts in their own right; they also provide historical information and the big picture from year to year. They know what works and does not work with their child and can be a great asset to the IEP team.
Parents have an intuitive sense as to what is appropriate for their child. After working with parents for nine years, we are still amazed at how parents are usually intuitively correct about what will work for their child. We encourage parents to follow their hunches. If something does not sound right, check it out. Usually after some research, parents will discover their hunch was correct.

2.  Not making requests in writing.

Any request a parent makes needs to be in writing. This includes requests for assessments, IEP meetings, correspondence, related services, etc. Written requests are important because they initiate timelines that the school district must follow in response to your request. This will also create a paper trail. When you write a letter be sure to send it certified mail. When you have a discussion by phone with a school official, write a letter that briefly outlines what you talked about. Documenting your conversations helps prevent miscommunication.
Documenting requests (i.e., teaching assistant, speech, etc.) for the IEP committee clarifies to the committee what you are requesting and allows you to use your own words (as opposed to the note taker paraphrasing your request).  We encourage parents to type exactly what they think their child needs and list why they think it is educationally necessary. This helps parents think through why they are requesting a service for their child. Have the IEP committee record the written request as part of the IEP minutes.  At this point, the IEP committee has one of two choices: the committee can accept or deny the request. If the committee denies the request, then they must follow the procedural safeguards in IDEA and provide written notice of why they are denying the parents’ request. This method makes it difficult for an IEP committee to tell parents “no” without thinking through the options. If the request is not written down, the school district is not obligated to provide the service. Make sure you write it down.

3.  Not being familiar with Prior Notice of the Procedural Safeguards (34 CFR 300.503)

All sections of the Procedural Safeguards are important to parents. This particular section gives parents some leverage during the IEP meetings. Whenever parents make a request for their child in the IEP meeting, the IEP committee is required under Prior Notice to provide the parents with written notice with a reasonable period of time. The notice must include the following:
A description of the action proposed or refused.
An explanation of why the agency proposes or refuses to take the action;
A description of any other options that the agency considered and the reasons why those options were rejected.;
A description of each evaluation procedure, test, record, or report the agency used as a basis for the proposed or refused action;
A description of any other factor that is relevant to the agency’s proposal or refusal.
We have found many instances where a parent requests an assessment or service only to have the IEP team tell the parent it cannot be done. By making all requests in writing and by requiring the IEP team to provide Prior Notice, the parents make the team accountable for its decisions. This practice also takes issues out the emotional areas, allowing all team members to focus on IDEA standards.

4.  Requesting a related service instead of an assessment that supports the need for a related service.

Many times parents will request services such as speech, occupational therapy, physical therapy, etc. in the IEP meeting. Frequently the IEP committee will respond by stating that the student does not need the service. We recommend that parents do not request the service but request the assessment that supports the need for the related service. For example, instead of requesting speech for your child request a speech assessment.
Only a certified or licensed professional is qualified to determine if a  child needs or does not need a particular related service. As in #2, list the reasons why you think an assessment is educationally necessary for your child and submit your request to the IEP committee as part of the IEP minutes.

5.  Accepting assessment results that do not recommend the services you think your child needs.

Sometimes parents receive assessment results that do not accurately describe their child and/or do not recommend the amount and duration of services the parents think the child needs. Under 34 CFR 300.352. Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE), parents of a child with a disability have the right to obtain an independent evaluation at public expense if they disagree with the results of the school’s assessment. When the parent requests the IEE (in writing) the school has one of two choices: they may either provide the IEE in a reasonable period of time or they may take the parents to a due process hearing. When an IEE is agreed upon, parent and school must come to an agreement as to who is qualified to assess the student. The examiner for an IEE cannot be employed by the school district . Parents should request the school district’s policy on guidelines and qualification for their examiners.

6.  Allowing the assessment information to be presented for the first time at the IEP meeting.

Parents are entitled to have the assessment information explained to them before the IEP meeting. we encourage parents to have the person who administered the assessment give them a copy of the report and meet with them to explain the report several days before the IEP meeting. This enables the parents to think through the information before making decisions for their child. If all IEP decisions are based on the information from the assessment, it only makes sense for the parents to be knowledgeable and informed about the assessment results in a way they can understand.

7.   Accepting goals and objectives that are not  measurable.

Measurable goals and objectives are paramount for your child’s IEP. Without measurable goals and objectives, it is difficult to determine if your child has had a successful school year. In working with parents, we have encountered many IEP goals and objectives that are not measurable.
All goals and objectives should come from assessment data. Assessment has four different components: 1) Formal assessment (i.e., WIAT, Woodcock-Johnson, Brigance), 2) Informal assessment (i.e., classroom work), 3) Teacher/parent observation, and 4) Interviews. After the information has been collected about the student it is compiled into an assessment report. Recommendations on how to work with the student are listed toward the end of the report. If you receive an assessment report that does not give recommendations for potential goals and objectives, the assessment is not complete.
After the assessment has been completed, the IEP committee determines the student’s present level of performance (PLOP) and states what  the student is currently able to do. The committee then develops the IEP goals and objectives. The goals state what the student is expected to accomplish by the end of the year. Objectives break the goals down into increments. For example:
PLOP
Based on the Brigance and classroom work, Johnny is currently able to read on a fourth grade level with 90% mastery.

Goals
By the end of the school year Johnny will be able to read on a fifth grade level as measured by the Brigance and classroom work with 80% mastery.

Objectives
By October 1, Johnny will be able to read  on fourth grade, second month level with teacher assistance as measured by the Brigance and classroom work with 80% mastery.
By January 1, without teacher assistance, Johnny will be able to read on a fourth grade, sixth month level as measured by the Brigance and classroom work with 80% mastery.
A method of determining if your goals and objectives are measurable is to ask someone who is not on your IEP team to read them (i.e., a teacher, another parent, advocate, etc.). Then ask “Hypothetically, if you were to go into the classroom, would you be able to see my child working on these goals and objectives?” If someone outside of your IEP team cannot answer “yes”, then your goals and objectives are not measurable.

8. Allowing placement decisions to be made before IEP goals and objectives are written.

Many times after assessment is discussed, the IEP committee will determine the child’s placement. Goals and objectives are always written before placement is discussed. To ensure that the child is placed in the Least Restrictive Environ-ment (LRE), the IEP committee must determine: Which of these goals and objectives can best be met in the general classroom?
With any remaining goals and objectives that cannot be met in the general class-room,  the committee determines: Which of these goals and objectives can be best met in the general classroom with modifications and support?
This line of inquiry continues until all placement options have been decided upon for all the goals and objectives. The committee must always start with the LRE and then work toward a more restrictive environment only as necessary. IDEA is very clear that the IEP committee must always consider the general education classroom as the first option for students with disabilities.

9. Allowing your child’s IEP meeting to be  rushed so that the school staff can begin the  next child’s IEP meeting.

This practice is particularly common at the end of the school year when educators are frantically trying to have IEP meetings for all the students who receive special education services. IEP meetings may be held one right after another. There is no problem with this practice as long as the members of the IEP team feel that all issues have been adequately discussed. Many times, however, parents feel rushed. It is important that all issues are adequately addressed before ending the IEP meeting. When the educators have not planned adequate time to address all relevant issues, request that the IEP team meet again at a more convenient time to further discuss your child’s education.

10. Not asking a lot of questions.

It is very important to ask questions and lots of them. Educators use many terms and acronyms specific to special education. Parents may become confused when these terms are used during the IEP meeting. This can add to the frustration that a parent may already be feeling when they do not under-stand what is being said. It is important to ask what the terms or acronyms mean. Unless a parent has a background in special education, they are not expected to know the terms and acronyms.  Informed decisions cannot be made when parents do not understand what is being discussed.