If you are the parent of a student with documented special education needs, you know that back-to-school preparations involve much more than purchasing pencils, notebooks, and a few new outfits. You have the added responsibility of making sure your child’s special education program is being implemented properly and that the school district is providing all the services to which your child is entitled.
- Mark your calendar with all important dates. The beginning of the school year can be a busy time for parents. This is especially true for parents of students with special education needs. To help minimize the early-year chaos, be sure to jot down the dates and times of events like school registration, open house, parent-teacher conferences, IEP meetings, and any other important occasions that may pop up in the first few weeks and months of the school year. These events provide a unique opportunity to establish a rapport with teachers and staff, all of whom will play a critical role in your child’s academic success.
- Take time to review your child’s individualized education program, or “IEP.” Beyond establishing annual goals, an IEP sets forth the various supports, services, and specially designed instructions (known as “SDIs”) your child needs to succeed in school. In order to be an effective advocate, you should regularly review your child’s IEP and understand exactly what it provides. That way, you can make sure that the school district is implementing the entire IEP throughout the school year.
- Contact teachers to introduce yourself and ensure that they have a copy of your child’s current IEP. Though they may be aware that your child has special education needs, it is hardly a foregone conclusion that every teacher will take the time to review and understand their IEP. A simple introductory phone call or email can change that. It can also let teachers know that you are actively involved in your child’s education and are committed to their success.
- Contact the district to resolve any lingering concerns with your child’s special education programming. If you have concerns that were not addressed during previous IEP meetings, be sure to voice them early in the school year. This can be accomplished by requesting another meeting with your child’s IEP team. Parents may request a meeting with their child’s IEP team at any point during the school year if they have comments, questions, or concerns.
If your child does not have an IEP, but you are concerned that they have unaddressed special education needs, you should determine whether they are eligible to receive services.
- Federal law provides that all children with disabilities are entitled to a free appropriate public education. What is “appropriate,” however, may vary from student to student. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to special education.
- However, not every disabled child is entitled to receive special education services, and having a diagnosis does not guarantee eligibility. The inquiry is much more fact specific and requires the school district to perform a comprehensive evaluation.
- If it is determined that a student’s disability has a substantial impact on learning or behavior, he or she will be entitled to special education services, including the creation of a personalized IEP.