By Mari-Jane Williams
Washington Post Staff Writer
a child for school usually means showing up with a birth certificate,
proof of residence and basic medical records. Five minutes,
and you're done.
for kids who need special education, whether they have an attention
disorder, fine motor delays or a more serious medical condition,
that process is much more complicated and can begin as early
as age 2. Something as simple as advancing to a new grade can
mean an army of specialists performing hours of tests and parent
interviews in the preceding months.
all culminates in long, sometimes contentious meetings to hammer
out an individualized education plan. The IEP determines such
factors as classroom placement, the number of minutes per week
a child spends with a speech therapist and whether a child will
get extra time on assignments. It can also address extracurricular
are often fraught with worries about what would be best for
their child: Should he spend most of his time in a general education
program or in a special-education classroom? Will her inability
to focus present a problem amid 25 other kids? Adding to the
stress, schools aren't always able to provide all of the services
a parent would like for their child, because of money and resources.
parents are initially dealing with coming to terms with the
fact that their child has a disability," said Pam Wright,
a psychotherapist who co-wrote "Wrightslaw:
From Emotions to Advocacy" (Harbour House Law Press,
2006) with her husband, Pete Wright.
are already vulnerable coming in," she said. "They
have a lot of anxiety and helplessness and fear about the future.
That doesn't set the stage for parents to feel like they are
an equal partner in developing an educational program for their
recently spoke with the Wrights and other experts in special
education who offered the following suggestions for parents
preparing for an IEP meeting.
your rights. For example, your child's IEP must include measurable
goals; you can request that the IEP committee reconvene at any
time to review and tweak the document; and the schools are required
to notify a parent, in writing, when they plan to change their
of books and Internet resources explain the ins and outs of
the Individuals With Disabilities
Education Act of 2004, which regulates special-education
services. Most school systems also hold workshops for parents.
Additionally, the Parent Educational Advocacy Training Center
an IEP checklist iPhone
application that helps parents access and organize information.
about 350 pages of regulations [that govern the IEP process],
and even those are not always followed by the schools,"
said Cherie Takemoto, executive director of the Parent Educational
Advocacy Training Center in Alexandria and a co-author of the
fourth edition of "Negotiating the Special Education Maze:
A Guide for Parents and Teachers" (Woodbine House, 2008).
ahead of time. Once you find out who is part of your IEP meeting,
e-mail or call them to discuss your expectations. Knowing what
is on the agenda can help you better prepare any questions or
concerns you might have for the teacher and other specialists.
don't really want a whole lot of surprises," Takemoto said.
"A lot of the advance work will get you to the place where
it's not a surprise that he hasn't made any progress this year
and they're thinking about holding him back."
a statement of your concerns. Note anything that you see going
on with your child at home. Write down what you think are his
biggest trouble spots and greatest strengths so the committee
can take them into account.
lot of times it's hard to go into a meeting," said Gail
Holloman, manager of the Parent Resource Center for Fairfax
County Public Schools. "You walk in and there are a number
of people sitting there. They have information to share. It
can be very empowering for a parent to also have information
they want to share. . . . It ends up being more of what we hope
looks like a partnership, with give and take."
a polite detective. While you are seeking answers to the tough
questions, be polite and try to keep your emotions in check.
often, parents' own emotions become one of their biggest stumbling
blocks to getting services," Pete Wright said. "You
really have to go into it visualizing this as a business meeting.
You always have to be nice and polite, creating a persona that
is a merger of Miss Manners and Columbo."
up on the plan. Just having an IEP isn't enough. Communicate
with your child's teachers throughout the school year to make
sure the plan is being carried out and to find out what you
can do at home to support their efforts.
the teachers; let them know that you're there to work with them
. . . so if later you feel the need to ask a lot of questions,
no one's feeling defensive," said Alison Steinfels, supervisor
of the equity assurance and compliance unit in the Department
of Special Education Operations for Montgomery County Public
Schools. "We really do urge parents to advocate for their
"How To Get The Extra Help Your Child Needs" Washington Post