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