Question: My daughter got her first IEP last spring when she was a fifth grader. She started attending middle school this fall and it seems to be taking a long time for the school to line up some of her service providers. Is there anything I can do to help get her IEP going at the beginning of the school year?
Unfortunately, this problem is not uncommon. Schools often have to deal with faculty and staff leaving and new faculty and staff starting. Schedules sometimes change at the last minute. A new school year may also come with shifts in policies and procedures.
All of these changes help explain why it can be challenging to transition your child’s IEP services from year to year—and especially from school to school. These kinds of things can fall through the cracks. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to help the transition go as smoothly as possible for your child.
I’m grouping my advice for you in three buckets: what you can do now, what you can do to prepare for next year and how you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar.
What You Can Do Now That the School Year Has Already Started
If the new school year is off to a bumpy start, here are a few things you can do to help get your child’s IEP services up and running.
Send your child’s teachers an email about and . Last-minute schedule changes mean it’s possible some of her teachers might not have read her IEP or might not even have a copy of it.
That’s why it’s good to reach out to her teachers as early as possible in the school year. Be brief but also specific about which accommodations and modifications help your child succeed in the classroom. You can also attach a digital copy of her IEP, just in case the teachers don’t have one handy.
Ask the service providers to check in with your child. Let’s say your child is going to be working with a teacher and with a . If these people are already working with other students in the school, it could help your daughter if they check in with her to see how things are going.
They can do this even if they haven’t started to provide her services. But they might not check in with her unless you request it.
Keep track of the your child is missing. Taking good notes can help you be specific when you ask the school to make up these sessions.
Keep in mind that kids are often pulled out of the classroom to receive and other related services. Ask the school to consider your child’s strengths and weaknesses when scheduling the make-up sessions. It won’t help for her to miss classroom instruction if she’s likely to have a hard time catching up in those subject areas.
It might also not be best for her to be pulled from recess or elective classes, especially at the beginning of the year when she’s trying to reconnect with friends and make new ones.
What You Can Do to Prepare for Next Year
Once your child has started receiving all of her IEP services for this year, you can start to think about how to help get things off to a better start next year.
Ask for an IEP meeting at the end of April or beginning of May each year. This is late enough in the year that most schools will know of at least some of the pending staff and schedule changes. It’s also early enough that the end-of-year crush of paperwork hasn’t started to overwhelm many teachers and administrators.
Request a summer meeting with an administrator. Ask to meet with the principal, assistant principal or another year-round employee during the months when school isn’t in session. Summer is a great time to speak with someone who’ll be able to make sure your child’s services are put into place quickly.
The two weeks after the Fourth of July might be an especially good time to schedule this meeting. Most of last year’s issues will be wrapped up by then, next year’s have not yet emerged and administrators tend to take their vacations in August.
Send a copy of your child’s IEP to certain people. This is particularly important if your child will be switching to a new school next year. As soon as you can, send a copy of the IEP to the counselor or administrator at the new school. And as soon as you find out who will be teaching your child next year, consider sending those teachers a copy of the IEP too.
When you send someone a copy of your child’s IEP, include a little introduction. Mention that you and your child are looking forward to the new school year. Include some suggestions about what most helps your child get off to a good start in a new school year.
Talk to your child about positive ways to remind teachers about what’s in her IEP. Practice talking to teachers at home. This can help your child feel more comfortable speaking up in school.
For example, she could practice saying, “Last year I got to do my in-class writing on a computer, and it really helped me. I have an IEP for it, so I hope I can use a computer in your class, too.” Teachers are likely to get things moving if a student points out that she has an IEP and mentions something specific that really helps her.
How You Might Want to Think About Tone
Delays in starting up IEP services are frustrating. But parents who escalate tensions with the school may not make as much progress as parents who remain calm and cooperative. Here are a few things to consider.
Learn about your child’s rights. The law is clear. IEPs are to be fully implemented on day one of each school year. But when things aren’t getting done, you’ll have to decide what you can tolerate and what you and your child cannot tolerate.
While you’re deciding this, think about which parts of the IEP are the most important to put into place first.
Look for ways to work with the school. While there’s no legally acceptable reason for a school not to implement an IEP right away, it usually makes sense to look for ways to cooperate with the school while making sure your child is getting what’s she needs most. At the same time, it’s good to document all delays in case the situation doesn’t improve.
If the delays last for more than a few weeks, request an IEP meeting to formally address your concerns or even to ask that the school pay for private services. If that still doesn’t resolve the issue, consider requesting an impartial hearing by contacting the school or the school district’s special education office.
Be calm, clear and focused in your communications. Remember that communication between you and the school is the key to making sure your child’s IEP services are in place as soon as possible. Simply talking to teachers or administrators about your child doesn’t usually get the result you want. I recommend that you follow up in writing.
You’re also likely to get the best result if your emails or letters hit each of these three targets:
Ask for something specific.
Make clear that your request is based on your experience with what most helps your child.
Remain optimistic about what a great year awaits your child with the new teacher or school.
Clear, concise, positive communication can help everyone focus on what’s most important. In my experience, that’s the best way to get things done.