Monday, September 24, 2007

Disability Rights

Read all about the challenging IEP Process here
This post brought me back to my many, many IEP meeting experiences as an Education Law Attorney for Legal Services. God Bless you all who are in these sticky mediations. (I found that domestic violence hearings were less tense than facing an irate second grade teacher who was fed up with the ADHD kid in her class.)

Here's are ten tips for surviving IEP meetings.

1. BRING FOOD to the meeting. This starts everyone out on a good note. The adage "The way to a man's heart is through his stomach" also applies to IEP team members. It also lets you say, "Oh I didn't realize that there would be 15 staff members here today. I only made brownies for five." Next time, they will make sure to give you an accurate count of IEP members in advance.

2. If the meeting is going to ugly (not always easy to predict in advance like 'Lissa's post shows), shake things up by sending in the other parent. For example, if Mom is the one who usually goes to the meetings. Shake things up by sending in Dad to sign the final IEP. The teachers will fall all over themselves trying the help the "new" & "lost" parent.

3.Every family should own a copy of "From Emotions to Advocacy" available here. Read it cover to cover. Highlight it. Sleep with it under your pillow before each IEP meeting.

Seriously, I cannot recommend this website enough. Wrights law is founded by a severely dyslexic student who went on to break all odds and become a lawyer. (His wife is a counselor.) Mr. Wright performed a miracle intervention for one of my middle school classmate's brothers. The Wrights truly know of what they speak, and they are very, very encouraging. The Wrights lead IEP trainings all over the country. Go to one in your area. Immediately! You'll learn all kinds of valuable tips and make alliances with other parents and "friendly" experts.

4. Pay to have a neutral assessment of your child. Even though the school must provide free assessments, at least one comprehensive exam during your child's school career should be on your own dime and with the very best "expert" in your area. Even if you have to save up for three years for this exam, it is worth it to have at least one person without an agenda give you medical advice about your child's personal strengths and weaknesses.

5. Start a huge binder filled with every single examination ever given to your child. (Kids tend to float up and down, even on supposedly stable things like IQ scores.) Pull out the six pound volume during IEP meetings. This highlights how knowledgeable you are about your kid and gives a quick double check to see if a disputed test result was a "fluke" or ongoing trend.

6.Always, always take a 10 min "clear your head break" before signing the IEP. I used this time to go over each option with my client. If your alone, you can call your spouse at work- have him remind you what your initial goal was and double check your rational for any compromises.

7. You can LEAVE an IEP meeting without signing a new form. An unsigned IEP is better than a signed, less than 100% agreeable one, for the reasons explained above.

8. Remember, never lose your temper! (You will need to cultivate heroic examples of
"meekness"as explained below.) The most important thing to maintain during the IEP meeting is the good relationship between your kid and his teachers.

9. Think like a lawyer. Build up your case. If you've reached a logjam with the school system, calmly end the meeting. The old IEP will stay in place. (IEP's never "expire" they only get updated). Start getting the proof that you need to support your position. Schedule another IEP meeting when you have the proof you need to add weight to your proposed changes.

10. Get support. School politics are a local beast. You'll need to know how to navigate inside your kids individual school system. A great reference can be the district's IEP parent support person. If this post is vacant in your area, volunteer to fill it. A ten minute monthly chat with a new parent in your area will be a life saver for her child for the entire school year!