The biggest thing that I was not prepared for when the Coronavirus pandemic shut down our schools? Becoming a teacher to all four school-aged children, all in differing grade levels — and one being an IEP student.
(For those that don't know, an IEP student is a student with educational needs addressed by an Individualized Education Plan.) And I wasn't alone, families across America had the same struggle, and my mind constantly was the fear of regression for my IEP child, as she was finally making headway in her studies.
Even if your child does not have an IEP, I urge you to familiarize yourself with the process at your school.
"We are all a breath away from a disability." -MJ Boice said during a Facebook live I watched, and her statement stuck with me. I never expected my daughter to need me to be a fierce advocate so that she could access appropriate health services and have a proper education. It became evident that she needed help after our PCS to Jacksonville, where she was placed in a school that for a variety of reasons, was not a good fit for her. We withdrew before the end of the year, as we felt that we could do a better job of preparing her for First Grade.
From the moment I requested that my daughter be evaluated at her new school, she started receiving additional services at school, such as tutoring and speech therapies, thanks to her school's very proactive approach to IEPs. Throughout this time, she had been receiving Occupational Therapy outside of school, which was moved to an in-school service after her IEP was issued, allowing her to be more present during her therapy days instead of being pulled out early before the end of the day to drive across town. However, this also meant that when school was shut down, until we got her online, she wasn't receiving any therapies for about two weeks.
Across the United States, IEP children were either going without services entirely or being forced to access services in a new way online, which for children like my own daughter, was a rough adjustment. Military families found ourselves without respite, some of us had deployed spouses, and many of us had to choose between continuing to work or taking over our child's education.
More than ever, IEP parents must advocate right now for our children.
As we head into a new school year, some schools across the nation are continuing to rely on distance learning while others are giving parents the option to distance learn at home — and some districts are mandating that you cannot receive IEP services while distance learning, almost forcing IEP students back into schools to receive their services, many of which are even immunocompromised due to their disabilities.
If you don’t know where to begin, start with an IEP binder.
My binders are organized by school year and divided into sections. In the front is the IEP for that year with logs of meetings and any missed services. If my daughter missed a session at home, I logged it and the reason why she was unable to make that session. Next is a log of every specialist she sees, when and why she saw them, the results of those visits, and their contact information.
If my child goes back to school and lacks goals that she previously attained, these logs will help me advocate properly for her because I'll know exactly why, when, and even possibly how things happened into the present.
Keep all present-level assessments and performance paperwork.
This makes up the next tab of my folder – any assessments, performance paperwork sent home throughout the year, and any report cards. This can help me and her IEP team see a pattern over a period of time, even years, so we can ensure that she progresses.
My final tab in our yearly binder is a Miscellaneous/Notes section.
I personally am a fan of recording IEP meetings and then transcribing them into this section for my personal records, which could make for some great fun in future meetings if I ever quote anyone. "Ms. K., according to my records which are based on audio recordings of our IEP meetings, it shows you said x,y,z, in our meeting two years ago regarding this matter." It sounds a little crazy, but it is hard for people to argue with themselves. Extensive records are also helpful when we move, as we all know how hard it can be to get new services set in place for our neediest children — the best thing we can do is lay it all out for the gaining school so that an IEP and services can be put into place as soon as possible.
Partners in Promise is also a great resource for IEP families, and is currently introducing legislation that would make it easier for children to take an IEP with them to a gaining school and allow the IEP to remain in place for six months.
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