Every new school year brings anticipation and anxiety for parents of students in special eduction. Parents may wonder, for example, whether this year will be better than or as good as last year. They may wonder whether their child’s teachers will “get” him or her, or whether their children will receive the services needed to make the progress they are capable of.
Maureen Fox, Professor of Educational Law, including Special Education Law, at Sacred Heart University, offers a short list of suggestions to help navigate, if not avoid, the bumps and pitfalls that may be in store.
Here are Fox's six tips to get the school year off right:
Special Education is a marathon, not a sprint and the best way to save your sanity is to be as organized as possible. Try to stay ahead of the curve—if something needs to be done in two weeks, finish it in one. Stay on top of any supplies your child needs sent to the school and send them in before the teacher runs out. Organize the paperwork, which is the bailiwick of many parents. Buy a big, three ring binder. Put everything you receive about your child, including emails you print out into the binder in chronological order, with the most recent things at the back. You can use post it tabs to mark any pages you need to refer to.
Review the IEP
Make sure you understand what the IEP says, what services your child is to receive, and where learning is to occur. Be clear about when and how the school will be measuring progress, and how they will convey that to you. Check this year’s IEP against last year’s for any repeated goals or objectives. If they do repeat, your child is not making progress. From the IEP, make a list of accommodations and services you expect your child to receive. Make a copy of that list and the IEP for the teacher(s) and give them out right away. You’d be amazed how many teachers do not know what is on a child’s IEP.
Create a one-page fact sheet about your child, with a picture of your family attached. This will let the teacher know that your child has a family that loves and supports him or her. Include some basic facts about the family, your goals for your child educationally this year, as well as in the communication and social arenas if there is need. Tell the teacher things you have found reinforcing for your child’s behavior and their favorite activities. This may give the teacher ideas about how best to motivate your child. Tell the teacher if your child has any sensory issues, or idiosyncratic behaviors and how you handle them. Allow the teacher to come to know your child as a whole person, and as part of a caring family.
Create a Relationship with the Teacher
You want your child’s teacher on your child’s side. Show support for what the teacher is trying to do. Meet early in the year with the teacher to talk about your child (be sure to highlight your child’s strengths). Ask if there is anything you can do to help. Volunteer, even if it’s to make copies. Find out how the teacher prefers to communicate—email, phone, a notebook sent back and forth between home and school. Ask the teacher for suggestions on creating a service provider log so that you can make sure Speech and Language are doing what they’re supposed to be doing, for example.
Create a paper trail. Start a communication log, so that you jot down the date, who you talked to (whether it’s on the phone or in the hallway), and what was said. Then follow it up with a polite email thanking the person for speaking with you and reiterating what was said. Print out a copy for yourself and put it in your binder. Remember, if it isn’t written, it wasn’t said!
Print out every email you send or receive; every letter you send or receive; everything, and put it in your binder.
Have your child included from the beginning of the year
Many IEPs call for a child to be slowly “transitioned in” to the general education classroom. You do not want this. Your child needs to be there during the first days, as the teacher creates community and class rules or you risk your child always being seen as an “outsider”. Also, transitioning a child in can take a long time and be very stressful. There have been parents who were surprised come December to find that their child hadn’t begun transitioning in yet!
If the school will allow it, have your child take photos of their school day
Invite your child to talk about the photos. This will give you a window into what they are experiencing and how they are processing their time at the school.
Maureen Fox is a Professor of Educational Law, including Special Education Law, at Sacred Heart University. She is a Special Education Advocate. You can find out more about her atwww.fairfieldcountyadvocacy.com, or call (203) 231-2936. Smart Kids with Learning Disabilities trademark. Reprinted with permission from Smart Kids with Learning Disabilities.