When IEP Is a Four-Letter Word

A new study reveals a troubling fact: Parents aren't involved as they should be in planning classroom accommodations. Do schools do enough to loop families in when it's time for special-ed services?
The Experts | posted by Wayne Kalyn
teacher and parent discuss iep and 504 plan with child in school classroom

Well-intentioned shortcuts won’t turn around a child who needs medication and lots of classroom accommodations.

For every parent who has a productive IEP meeting with special-educators at school, there are three or four moms and dads who feel they’ve spun their wheels.

In fact, a new study in the Journal of Disability Policy Studies found that parents and students are less involved in mapping out services and accommodations than they should be, despite the fact that the federal law specifically mandates their intimate involvement in formulating the plan.

Why are some parents left out in the cold? There are lots of reasons. Meetings are hard to schedule for parents who may work day and night jobs to keep food on the table. Or schools and parents can’t agree on the services that are needed to help a child reach his goals. Or the IEP team throws around jargon that some parents don’t understand — and are too embarrassed to ask about. Low-income families, the study found, have the worst outcomes in IEP meetings.

Which raises the question: How welcoming are schools to parents seeking services for their child?

Several friends of mine are married to teachers, and the stories they tell about today’s unwritten rules of qualifying a child for school services are unsettling. Some teachers are encouraged — sub rosa, of course — to discourage parents from asking the school to evaluate their child for special-ed status.

Instead, some schools try to meet the child’s challenges through extra take-home work and tutoring sessions with a high-achieving classmate. These well-intentioned shortcuts won’t turn around a child who needs medication and lots of classroom accommodations.

Other stories range from slowing down the evaluation process — like an NBA team trying to kill the clock — to “forgetting” to send a response letter to parents who ask about special-ed services.

Teachers are the most dedicated careerists I know, but down-sized school budgets have caused some school districts to play rope-a-dope with special-ed students and parents. They stall and make signing on the dotted line of an IEP longer and more convoluted than it has to be. If teachers — not bean counters — had their way, families would get a fair shake in the classroom.

Does this description match your experience with school services? Share your story below.

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