When my son first got his IEP at age 4, I had a hard time accepting it. At the initial meeting, all I wanted them to tell me was that he had scored amazingly well on all the aptitude tests. I wanted them to say that we were worrywarts and should go home and accept his issues as just quirks.
Instead, the school staff told me that he was “deficient” in several areas, like fine motor skills and speech. They said he qualified for services, and they smiled at my wife and me like we should be overjoyed. I wanted to cry—and not tears of joy.
Two years later, my wife sent me to my son’s grade school for the triumphant meeting to make official that my son’s IEP was coming to an end. My son’s motor skills and speech issues had improved significantly. He was doing well and now working at grade level.
This time, I had light, awkward banter with the staff seated around the table. However, they looked at me with almost guilt in their eyes, like they were taking advantage of me in some way. I wanted to be happy, and I was happy. But I also had some other feelings...
Should I be fighting this? I didn’t really want to fight it, but I also knew that many parents had to advocate for years to receive services. Here I was about to relinquish them willingly. I suddenly feared I was being a dupe.
“Is there something you want to discuss?” the IEP case manager said, sensing my change of mood.
“Are you sure he’s ready to go without services?” I asked.
“Yes,” his second-grade teacher said from the table, “he’s holding his own.”
Was I being selfish? I didn’t like that my son was receiving , but that was admittedly my personal baggage. It didn’t seem to bother my son at all. Was it possible that his IEP was ending now, not because he was ready, but because I had been pushing for it to end?
“When you say he’s ‘holding his own,’” I asked his teacher, “does that mean he might not hold his own if we stop the services?”
“No,” she said, “I don’t think so.”
“But there’s a chance?” I asked.
Once you stop services, can you turn them back on? From what I was hearing, it would be quite difficult, like getting back together with an old girlfriend who’s moved on. I reminded myself that my son wasn’t stopping cold turkey. The school promised he would still get some speech services (which had always been his primary issue).
I looked at the energetic who had done such a great job working on my son’s handwriting. “You can still check up on him, when you’re in the class for somebody else?” I asked.
“But it won’t be the same,” I said.
Should I let them do an outgoing psychological assessment? The thing I hated most about the IEP process was all the testing. I couldn’t stand people, no matter how well meaning, casting judgment on my son’s intelligence and other abilities. Now, as the IEP was ending, the staff wanted to repeat a psychological test to document my son’s improvement for their files.
I was looking at the faces of all the teachers and specialists who had dutifully cared for and helped my son over the last two years. The test would make their jobs easier. I also knew my son didn’t mind being tested.
However, I didn’t want to go through that again. And I felt there was nothing in it for us since he would no longer be on an IEP regardless.
The staff put up little resistance when I objected to more testing, and they said they’d send me papers to sign. I got up, thanked them, and walked out of the school. And I felt liberated—mostly.
Now that the IEP was over, I realized we were going to have to start looking more closely at our son’s homework and at the graded work his teacher sent home to make sure he continued to thrive. But as I headed for my car, I told myself I was happy with that trade-off.
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About the author
Michael Bahler, JD is an attorney and writer living in New Jersey, and the father of three.