Summer is just around the corner! Before heading to the beach, here are a few tips to help close out the end of the school year IEP and plan ahead for September’s IEP.
Tip 1: Collect Your Child’s Work Samples
Your child’s teacher is probably busy cleaning out the classroom. This is a perfect time to collect work samples, such as writing journals; completed consumable workbooks (Language Arts, Math); artwork; and work samples that the teacher may have saved in a personal or portfolio file. This information will come in handy to measure progress (or regression) over the summer and the next school year.
Tip 2: Ask for the Raw Data for the Report Card and IEP Goal Progress Report
Your child’s Report Card and IEP Goal Progress Report contain general statements about achievement (e.g., “Partially Proficient – Sometimes Meets Standards” or “Progress has been met towards the goal”). It is important to ask for the actual raw data that the staff relied on to reach conclusions about your child’s progress.
Tip 3: Request a Complete Copy of Your Child’s School Records
Summer is a perfect time to organize your child’s file. This is especially true if you plan on consulting with professionals over the summer. In California, a school district must provide a parent with a copy of their child’s school records within five business days of a parent’s request. Since a child’s school may be closed during the summer, a parent should contact the District Office to request a copy of records.
Tip 4: Consult with Professionals to Discuss IEP Concerns
If you have concerns about your child’s IEP and are thinking about consulting with a private assessor, an advocate or an attorney, it is a good idea to schedule appointments during the early summer plan instead of waiting until late summer or early Fall. It takes time to search for professionals, schedule appointments, gather records, analyze files, conduct assessments, prepare reports, discuss recommendations, and implement strategies.
Tip 5: Submit Request for IEP Meeting
If you need to meet with the IEP Team in early September, then it is a good idea to submit your written request before the end of the school year. In California, an IEP Meeting must be scheduled within 30 calendar days from the school’s receipt of a parent’s written request. However, there is an exception to the 30-day timeline: a district does not need to count the days between regular school sessions (e.g., the summer break). If you submit your written request at the beginning of June, then the countdown will start in June, stop during the summer break, and start again when school is back in session. The early bird catches the worm!
Tip 6: Measure Your Child’s Levels of Performance Before and After Summer
A child with an IEP may be eligible for special education services during the summer, commonly referred to as “Extended School Year” (ESY) services. Decisions about the intensity and duration of ESY services should be based on reliable data. Parents are in an excellent position to observe the extent to which their child’s levels of performance vary with instructional breaks over the summer (e.g., the end of June to the beginning of September). Parents can gather data or work with an educational consultant to measure progress or regression. A logical source for data is the child’s performance on his or her IEP goals and/or benchmarks.
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Caroline A. Zuk, Esq., is a former special education advocate and attorney for children. She has nearly 30 years of combined experienced as a special education teacher, diagnostician and attorney.
Most people have read the quotation, “History is written by the victors.” In special education law, victory is often achieved by the best historians. Obtaining, keeping, and organizing your child’s educational records for an IEP might be the single most important variable for your chances of a positive outcome in the event of a disagreement with your child’s school district.
Almost any special education attorney will begin your intake interview by asking for your educational records, and, should you be forced to press your child’s claims through a due process hearing, the majority of evidence bound up in heavy volumes that are ultimately presented to the judge will be made up of those same educational records. In fact, that’s a good way to think about your educational records during any phase of a special education dispute: EVIDENCE. With this in mind, follow the few simple tips below to maximize the utility of these building blocks of special education law and organizing your student’s educational records for an IEP.
Do Not Rely on the School District to Keep Complete Special Education Records: School districts are required by federal laws such as FERPA (Family Education Rights and Privacy Act) and IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) to keep educational records, and to make these records available to parents upon request. However, the increasing volume of records coupled with the growing ubiquity of digital or “cloud” storage has resulted in many Districts computerizing student’s educational files. While there are several obvious advantages to the digitalization of student records (conservation of storage space, environmental concerns, ease of transfer, etc.), one major drawback is that not every document which might be considered an “educational record” will find its way from the physical file to the hard drive.
Documents like IEPs, report cards, and District-provided evaluations tend to make the transition to digital format, while documents that are less easily scannable (e.g. student work samples) or documents which were not generated on a computer to begin with (e.g. teacher or service provider notes) can get lost in the shuffle. All of which is to say that documents containing valuable information about your student’s day-to-day performance and progress may not be among the records provided by a District subject to a FERPA or IDEA records request. This leads us to our next tip . . .
Cultivate Healthy Relationships With Your Student’s Teacher or Service Provider: Parents naturally consider issues surrounding their student’s education to be both important and personal, and when disagreements arise relationships can quickly turn contentious. That said, teachers, aides and service providers can be the most valuable sources of the sorts information and records missing from sanitized District educational files. Periodic progress reports (even monthly or bi-monthly) from those on the front line can go a long way toward filling the gaps between annual or triennial data collection like IEPs and formal assessments. Get these records yourself. Keep them. The contrast between your set of records and those maintained by the District can make all the difference.
Organizing Your Records Is Almost as Important as Having Them in the First Place: If you’ve followed the above two tips, you’ll almost certainly have a voluminous set of records for your student. When parents have thousands, or even tens of thousands of pages of documents, it will be difficult for anyone – even your lawyer, or, more importantly, a judge – to distill from this record all of the subtlety and detail that you, the parent, understand simply by being a first-hand observer. Anything that you can do to begin to isolate the issues and tell the story of your student will begin to define the trajectory of your case. In organizing your records, be attuned to a couple of focal points.
1.) Chronological organization works for everyone. There may be better and more intuitive ways to organize your educational records than chronological order, but we won’t know that until we’ve read them all. Organizing records chronologically makes their initial presentation more cohesive to advocates and attorneys. Like most things that appeal to people immediately, it’s just the simplest way.
2.) Think concretely. Dealing with educational issues on a daily basis can grind anyone down. It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day slights and mistakes that seem most offensive at the time they occur. However, these things in isolation often do not amount to legal claims. Keep in mind that addressing your student’s educational needs is the District’s obligation, and proving concrete and specific ways in which the District failed to address those needs over time is how parents prevail in due process matters. This is best shown by demonstrating lack of progress or a persistent area of weakness for your student, not by what happened in a classroom on any given day.
Summaries are an Invaluable Tool: Remember that history may be written by the victors, but victory goes to the best historians. No one knows the story of your student better than you, and educational records are your best tool to tell that story. Challenge yourself to summarize your student’s educational records at least annually with a one-to-two page document that outlines the concrete issues that have arisen over the year and the remedies you believe may address those issues. If you can master your evidence, your advocate or attorney will have a running start in mastering it too. Take a hand in writing your student’s history.
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Valerie Vanaman graduated from the Ohio State University College of Law in 1967. After law school, Valerie worked in legal services for several years and received from the National Legal Aid and Defenders Association the Reginald Heber Smith Award for Dedicated Service. In 1980, Valerie founded with Joel S. Aaronson the Law Firm of Newman.Aaronson.Vanaman and through that Law Firm carried on her work begun at the Children’s Defense Fund in developing the practice of special education law. Since opening Newman.Aaronson.Vanaman, Valerie has been a tireless advocate for students and the parents of students with disabilities and educational needs, and a preeminent authority on the field of special education law. She can be reached at: 818-990-7722 or visit her website at: www.navlaw.net
The single most important source of information on your child’s progress is the classroom teacher. The teacher talks with you after school, at the IEP meeting, and at consistently scheduled conferences. The teacher completes your child’s progress reports and corresponds back and forth with you. The teacher talks with the school psychologist, the physical therapist, the speech and language therapist, the resource specialists and administrators about your child’s needs and progress, and then the teacher communicates with you.
The abundance of information between you and the teacher will depend mainly upon your relationship with one another. If the teacher perceives you as a proactive parent who also understands the needs and problems of a teacher, and if you believe the teacher can teach your child effectively, you will probably receive plenty of up-to-date, specific information about your child’s progress. But how do you as a parent develop this cooperative relationship with your child’s teacher? You may wish to try some of the following suggestions:
- Try to develop a personal relationship with your child’s teacher. Let the teacher know that you are working together with them as a partner in educating your child.
- Give the teachers and specialists sufficient time to get to know your child before asking their opinions about your child’s progress, problems, the appropriateness of the program, and so forth.
- Let the teachers and specialists know you understand the difficulties they frequently face in doing their jobs – be empathetic to their needs, too!
- Prepare for conferences in advance by developing and bringing with you a list of questions, concerns, and comments. This saves everybody time and ensures that nothing important will be overlooked.
- Let teachers and specialists know what is important to you in the education and development of your child.
- Discuss and share your plan for monitoring your child’s IEP, and follow through with that plan.
- Discuss problems you believe have arisen in implementing the IEP with the teachers and specialists involved. Don’t begin by going right to the school administrators.
- Consider ways you might volunteer time or materials for the classroom.
As these relationships are developed and strengthened, you will experience more and more confidence in your ability to know and understand your child’s progress and the extent to which her IEP is actually being implemented.
Karina Richland, M.A. is the Founder and Director of PRIDE Learning Centers, located in Los Angeles and Orange County. Ms. Richland is a certified reading and learning disability specialist. Ms. Richland speaks frequently to parents, teachers, and professionals on learning differences, and writes for several journals and publications. You can reach her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the PRIDE Learning Center website at: www.pridelearningcenter.com
PREPARE FOR THE NEW SCHOOL YEAR
As you and your child await the beginning of a new school year, now is the time to review your child’s IEP and determine whether the IEP proposed at the IEP meeting held last school year is appropriate for the new school year. Children, especially younger children, can transform during the summer; physical development, new experiences and opportunities to engage with other children during the summer can significantly impact a child. Before your child begins school, carefully review his/her IEP and determine whether changes are in order.
If you believe revisions should be made, clearly identify concrete examples of how your child has changed. For example, stating, “My child is talking more” is not as helpful as, “This summer, my son starting using adjectives to describe things. I made a list of the ones I have heard him use and I will provide you a copy.” You should also identify what specific changes you are seeking.
Asking for “better goals” or “more services” will leave school staff confused, whereas, asking that a goal be developed in a certain area or that your child receive a particular service will allow your requests due consideration. A school district must provide a detailed response to parental requests to a change an IEP. If the changes are simple, you may be able to make those changes through an IEP Amendment without the necessity of a meeting. However, you are always better served to make a written request for an IEP meeting and cancel the meeting if it is not needed rather than request a meeting at the last minute. In California, a school district is required to convene an IEP meeting within 30 days of receiving a written parental request for an IEP meeting (prolonged periods where school is not in session generally do not count towards those 30 days). Ca. Ed. Code §56343.5.
EVALUATE AND PROVIDE INFORMATION
If parents find that changes in their child warrant changes to their child’s IEP, they should not hesitate to make their concerns and requests known to their school district. (One way to determine whether changes need to be made to the IEP is to mentally walk through the child’s school day to visualize how the child is doing across a wide array of settings, activities and events, and see whether the IEP provides the appropriate level of support for the child.) If you request an IEP meeting, prepare well for the meeting. Carefully review the IEP so you can specifically focus on your areas of concern. If you have documented information that your child has changed, provide it to the IEP team. Parents are also permitted to bring anyone they believe may have “knowledge or special expertise” regarding their child to the IEP meeting. Ca. Ed. Code §56341(b)(6).
THINGS TO LOOK FOR AS YOU REVIEW YOUR CHILD’S IEP
- How has my child’s performance across activities, settings and events changed?
- Are the components of the IEP prepared last school year appropriate for the new school year?
- Should I request an IEP meeting to make changes to the IEP?
- What documentation can I provide that will demonstrate the changes in my child and/or how the IEP should be changed?
- Are there professionals or other individuals with specialized knowledge regarding my child that I should invite to the IEP meeting?
Michael E. Jewell graduated from Brigham Young University Law School and has been a practicing attorney for more than twenty years. He may be contacted by calling (714)-978-0110, emailing email@example.com or on the web at www.jewellawoffice.com.
He has represented parents of children with all types of disabilities from autism through specific learning disability and traumatic brain injury and has represented parents in IEP meetings throughout the State of California. He has presented to both parent groups and professional groups. He has represented families at mediation, in due process hearings and in the United States District Court. Mr. Jewell has argued before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Mr. Jewell is married and the father of three children. He lived in Argentina for two years and is fluent in Spanish.
Walking into an IEP is nerve-wracking. You’re thinking about what goals your child needs, the services that are essential, and the staff that will be most resistant to working with you. In fact, many parents are highly focused on the services that will be provided and lose sight of the purpose of the annual goals. Too often, parents readily breeze through goals in order to get to the meat of the IEP – placement and services. Similarly, parents often know why they want services, and they know their child’s unique needs, but they aren’t as versed in how the law obligates the District to provide the services. Using the right language can avoid common pitfalls that allow a District to reduce or eliminate services.
The most important thing to remember about the goals is that they are annual goals. Making sure you have goals in all areas of need and that they are measurable is important, too. But none of that matters if the District sets the bar so low that any student could achieve the goal.
When thinking about goals, it’s important to consider where you want your child to be a year from now. Often, a school district will propose a goal that merely works on the next logical step, rather than where the child should be in a year. For example, I had one case where a young child had mastered single digit addition. The school district’s proposal? Addition of two digit numbers. While that is a worthy objective, it should not be an annual goal. If a child who can already do single digit addition spends all year and only learns that same skill with two numbers, rather than learning to subtract or multiply, it can hardly be said that he has made meaningful progress.
One tactic to think about is what other kids will be learning in his or her grade level. If your child is in second grade now, he or she will be a third grader at the next annual. So what does a typical third grader learn? Even if your child is a grade level behind, you want them to make meaningful progress. So if they are at the first grade level now, you want to at least shoot for a second grade level goal. Tying annual goals to grade levels is a good way to ensure that progress will be made.
When it comes to services, you should be aware of what the law requires – and what it doesn’t. Legally, the District must provide sufficient services for your child to get “some educational benefit” or “some meaningful benefit” from the education. In other words, it has to be enough for your child to make progress on goals. Some courts have compared it to a high school student progressing with about a C average.
Federal law, and the courts agree, does not require “best” services or services that would “maximize a child’s potential.” If you go in asking for the “best,” the District might even agree that what you are asking for is best, but will be well within its right to cut those services down. Instead, ask for what you want, but call them “appropriate” services. Anything less is “inappropriate.” While those words won’t magically sway the District, they will keep you from falling into the common parental pitfall of asking for the “best” – and then being promptly denied.
Drew Massey, Esq. graduated magna cum laude from Pepperdine Law School in 2006. Since that time, he has represented children and families with special needs in obtaining the necessary services so children can learn. You can reach him at (714) 698-0239 or email him at: DMassey@edattorneys.com or visit the Adams & Associates, APLC website at: https://californiaspecialedlaw.com
By JEFFREY A. GOTTLIEB, ESQ.
I am always bewildered at the number of parents with children that qualify for an Independent Educational Program (“IEP”); where those parents do not understand the concept of “Stay Put.”
Put simply, stay put is one of the most powerful tools a parent has to control proposed changes to the placement and services offered by a school district at an IEP meeting. It is the power of a parent to say NO!
First, context. An IEP meeting is supposed to be a team meeting. The reality is that anything offered in writing at an IEP meeting is ultimately controlled by the school district. Parents DO HAVE significant influence by addressing what is in the best interests of their child; however, an IEP meeting is not a democratic event. However, parents have two critical tools at their disposal when the school district offers an inappropriate placement or scope of services; that is, stay put and due process. Due process often requires the services of an advocate or an attorney; it is where the parent litigates against the school district. In contrast, stay put is simply the power of expressing NO to either an entire IEP or specific components of an IEP; thereby taking away the power of the school district to implement its proposed changes to the child’s placement or scope of services; except by court order. That is, the unilateral power of a parent to stop inappropriate changes to an IEP.
When a parent takes the steps of imposing stay put the parent leverages that power to negotiate a better offer on behalf of their son or daughter. Stay put stops the school district from implementing specific changes. Thus, from a school district’s perspective the IEP is unresolved. School district administrators prefer certainty to uncertainty; thus, if the school district wants resolution it must either negotiate with the parent or litigate the matter.
From a legal perspective, under federal and state law, a special education student is entitled to remain in his current educational program pending the completion of a due process hearing; this entitlement is referred to as “stay put.” [20 U.S.C. § 1415(j); 34 C.F.R. § 300.51; Ed. Code §§ 48915.5, 56505]. For purposes of stay put, the current educational program is defined as the last agreed upon IEP implemented prior to the dispute arising [Thomas v. Cincinnati Bd. Of Educ. (6th Cir. 1999) 918 F.2d. 618, 625].
Stay put is not discretionary for a school district; it is a requirement. Most importantly, the purpose of stay put is to prevent a school district from unilaterally changing a student’s educational program without the parent’s consent [Honig v. Doe (1988) 484 U.S. 305,323]. Thus, even if a parent has not filed for a due process hearing, a school district generally cannot unilaterally change a special education child’s placement or scope of services except by the parent’s consent or a court order. There are always some legal exceptions to every general rule of law; for example, if a parent explicitly consented in a previous IEP that a specific service was to be terminated on a specific date and no longer to be provided, that situation under some circumstances can be an exception to “stay put.” However, more likely than not in most circumstances, stay put is operative when a parent simply expresses NO to an adverse offer by a school district.
Please note, that stay put should be expressly stated in writing by a parent, ideally within the IEP document.
As former first lady Nancy Reagan often expressed, simply say NO!
Please note, that this Newsbrief is a general explanation of the law and may not be appropriate for a unique set of circumstances. Attorney consultation should be considered.
PROVIDED BY SPECIAL EDUCATION ATTORNEY, JEFFREY A. GOTTLIEB, ESQ.
Serving Los Angeles and Orange County