Today, the Autism Support Network published an article on Developing long term relationships between school and parents
The article was written to the professionals, but I think it is good for parents to remember their rights and responsibilities in these situations.
“The annual case conference must be set up at a “mutually agreed upon time.” This means the school can suggest times. However, parents have the right to say when they can attend if the stated time does not work for them.”
As a parent, I have often felt pressure to work on the school’s time line. When I was working outside the home, it was often difficult to have to ask, again, for time off to meet with the school or attend a school related meeting. It is good to remember that you, as the parent, have the right to say, “this isn’t a good time for me.” On the flip side, you have a responsibility to be reasonable and work with the school (no matter how frustrated you are) to find a time that will work for everyone. In my experience, the sooner the conference can happen, the quicker your child can get the services and accommodations they need.
“Prior to the case conference meeting, provide parents with relevant reports and gather their input concerning their child’s instructional program.”
I have rarely received a complete report prior to a meeting. However, I have been fortunate to work with some wonderful teachers. Most of my son’s teachers have been excellent about communicating with me, some on a daily basis via email and phone. As a result, I usually know what is going to be addressed. For me the key has been a good relationship with the individual teachers rather than big meetings. Being aware of what is going on in the classroom makes it easier to deal with unforeseen items at an IEP meeting. However, the ease for me in these meetings has been hard won after years of finding my “sea legs” so to speak.
I would recommend parents who are new to the process, request in writing (again email is wonderful for this) the reports and planned topics as soon as you receive the first notice of the meeting. Taking the time to read these reports and make notes about your questions, concerns and input will help you navigate the meeting better and contribute more effectively. The way the school responds to your request will also give you a feel for the type of experience you are going to have during the year.
DON’T FEEL RUSHED
“At the beginning of the meeting, one should plan for a minimum of 15 minutes for each person who attends… During the meeting, everyone should be expected and encouraged to share information.”
Make sure you feel heard. Don’t feel as though you can not clearly communicate because of time. This may be your only chance for a while to speak to the entire team working with your child. This is your opportunity to make sure everyone has heard you. On the flip side, be a good listener too. Hearing the team members can tell you a lot about what to expect, how to work effectively with them and how to communicate better with each.
“Before the parent is expected to sign the IEP, the case conference coordinator needs to be sure the parent/legal guardian is comfortable with everything that was discussed at the conference. Remember the parent/legal guardian has the right to take paperwork home to view, discuss with a friend, or simply think about. Do not pressure parents to sign paperwork associated with an IEP.”
Again, don’t feel rushed. Never sign anything without reading it and being 100% in agreement. Your signature on the IEP paperwork says that you understand and agree. If there is something in that paperwork you do not agree with and you sign it you may have difficulty getting that specific item changed in the future. You can bring paperwork back so if you want to, take it home, read it to make sure it accurately reflects the meeting and the plan you have agreed to. You can make a written statement saying, “My signature reflects agreement with everything except… (note you specific concern/disagreement).” Remember, many schools can not implement items until the paperwork is signed. Don’t take longer than you really need.
In the IEP process, a balance of self assurance and respect for the efforts of others must be maintained. This can be difficult when dealing with the emotionally charged issue of your child’s care and education. For me, it has been easy to feel embattled at times because of the hesitation by the district to provide services. They are looking at financial strains while I am looking at my child’s well being. However, communicating a willingness to work with them has often paved the way to success when I have to insist on additional assistance for my child. It is a dance that each parent must learn.
What has been your greatest success strategy in dealing with the school district and the IEP process?