It’s the middle of the night.
I can’t sleep.
I don’t usually have troubles falling or staying asleep. So what’s on my mind?
Yesterday, the yearly message, “We need to schedule your IEP meeting by February 24.”
I’d been waiting. I knew the message was coming. If you have an IEP, your child is assessed in several areas and goals are written. These goals are monitored throughout the year and evaluated once a year. Last year the meeting was on February 25 and the next meeting has to take place (by law) before a year passes.
The message came. My heart stopped, the smile left my face.
What is it? If your child receives special education services, s/he must have an Individualized Education Program (IEP). A federal law called the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires the legally binding document. To be eligible for an IEP a child must have one of 13 ‘disabilities’ (by the way – that is NOT my word…that is the legal word):
- Emotional disturbance
- Hearing impairment
- Intellectual disability
- Multiple disabilities
- Orthopedic impairment
- Other health impairment (including ADHD)
- Specific learning disability (including dyslexia, dyscalculia, and dysgraphia, among others)
- Speech or language impairment
- Traumatic brain injury
- Visual impairment, including blindness
The IEP is meant to address each child’s unique learning issues and includes specific educational goals. In a perfect world every child would have an IEP. Every child would have the opportunity to have their learning catered towards their needs. An IEP attempts to address this:
Creating an effective IEP takes time, effort, and patience on everyone’s behalf. Parents if you are going to be part of an IEP process – take some time to learn the system, to advocate, to be creative, and to learn how to ask for accommodations you think would help your child.
During the IEP renewal meeting a team of folks work together to review old goals and create new goals. In the beginning of our IEP process the team included an Occupational Therapist (OT), Physical Therapist (PT), Speech Therapist (ST), Guidance Counselor, Classroom Teacher, School Psych, Principal, and Special Education Teacher. All of these people came together with me to create the best (and most inclusive) learning environment for Tucker. (You may hear school staff say the phrase, ‘least restrictive environment’)
The school must provide everything it promises in the IEP. It really is that ‘simple.’ The legal document spells out Tucker’s learning needs and the services the school will provide to help him meet those needs. It also clearly defines goals and how progress to those goals will be measured. Here are the parts that are usually listed in an IEP (from the super amazing website https://www.understood.org/en/school-learning/special-services/ieps/understanding-individualized-education-programs):
- A statement of your child’s present level of performance
- Your child’s annual educational goals
- Special education supports and services that the school will provide to help your child reach goals
- Modifications and accommodations the school will provide to help your child make progress
- Accommodations your child will be allowed when taking standardized tests
- How and when the school will measure your child’s progress toward annual goals
- Transition planning that prepares teens for life after high school
All of that sounds great – so why would my heart stop? Why would my face go pale and my smile leave for another universe?
Well – these IEP meetings are generally not fun. Not that everything in life has to be fun…but these are not fun. No amount of cupcakes, cookies, or donuts can make these meetings fun (trust me – I’ve tried). My difficulty in writing and experiencing the IEP comes from a very real place, a place of competing ideologies.
I am an advocate. I understand the need for accommodations. I know how they help. I have seen the progress. I am an active participant in this process.
I am a mother. I understand that he is different. I also want you (the teachers) to try to not set him apart. He already feels ‘different’ every day. I will fight for him…he is my flesh and blood, the reason for tears and laughter.
I am a teacher. I understand the difficulty and ‘extra-work’ of accommodation making. I know it takes more time. I also know that some parents have given other parents a bad name when it comes to necessary accommodations.
I am a realist. I know he won’t live the rest of his life with an IEP. I know he won’t always receive accommodations. I have to balance the what is best now and what is best for the ‘rest’ of his life. I have to figure out what struggles I want him to have and when life should be a bit easier.
I am an educated researcher. This is different from simply teaching. I understand learning and teaching. I understand theory. I am a creative, wholistic thinker. I will ask for things that other parents maybe haven’t thought of and I know what schools (and teachers) are required to do.
I knew the fateful message was coming because February 25 is my birthday. Yes, last year what has notoriously been the ‘worst’ day of the year was on my notoriously ‘best’ day. Scheduling the annual IEP meeting on your birthday? Gives you two reasons to have a beer. One for celebration. The other? Well for celebration or for wallowing in the yuck, or both.
For the next couple of days this confusion will become painfully obvious as I write about trying to balance the ideals of the advocate, mother, teacher, realist, and educated researcher.