Back to School for parents of children with special needs can be a stressful time. The prospect of a new school year, new teachers and new providers can be daunting. The following tips, however, can help make the new school year as successful as possible.
First, parents should make sure to read and fully understand every page of his or her child’s Individualized Education Program (“IEP”). If there is anything contained in the IEP that is unclear or that a parent does not understand, that parent should immediately reach out to school district staff for clarification. It is also important to note that not every child will start the new school year with a new IEP. Although valid for 12 months, this doesn’t necessarily mean the IEP begins in September. An IEP can start and expire at any time during the school year. Thus, it is critical for a parent to note the expiration date of the IEP. If that date is approaching and school staff has not yet scheduled an IEP meeting, parents should reach out and schedule the meeting.
Every one of a child’s teachers and service providers should be familiar with the child’s IEP, which includes information such as the child’s classification, goals, related services, present levels of performance and functioning levels. However, IEPs frequently do not contain anecdotal information about a child which a teacher or service provider may find useful. Parents should consider writing a letter that contains such information and provide it, together with a copy of the child’s current IEP, to each of the child’s teachers and related service providers on the first day of school or as soon as possible thereafter. Parents can also use this letter as both an opportunity to introduce themselves to their child’s teachers and service providers and as a reminder that they would like to be notified of any issues which may arise as soon as possible, rather than waiting for scheduled progress reports.
At Fitzgerald & Sadove PLLC we recommend that Parent’s keep copies of all their child’s school documents. Parents should consider creating a binder that contains their child’s current IEP, progress reports, teacher and provider names and contact information, the student’s daily schedule and a communication log of all communications between the parent and school district staff. Keeping this information organized in one location by date can assist with making sure that a school district is implementing an IEP appropriately. Parents should have frequent conversations with their children about the school day to make sure the school district is providing the accommodations and services that are listed on the IEP. Do not be afraid to ask the school district for copies of all related service attendance records if there are any concerns with the provision of related services or implementation of the IEP.
Communication is key to establishing a successful relationship with the school district. Therefore, it is important that parents communicate frequently with school district staff and share any concerns, changes and questions they may have as soon as those issues arise. Working collaboratively with the school district is a great first step towards ensuring that a child has a successful school year.