DO NOT GO TO AN IEP OR 504 MEETING ALONE! By Mark Franceshini, Ed.D.
As a former superintendent of schools, I totally agree with the above statement. Parents of children with special needs often ask me what my advice to them is. The statement above is usually true most of the time. However, for an initial meeting or a transition meeting (into an intermediate or high school, or into life beyond school), the advice almost becomes a commandment. While a parent, especially one who has been through the process, everyone at the meeting has a different set of agendas. They are always looking for ways to help your disabled son or daughter to navigate through the academic, emotional, and behavioral emotions that the student may or will entail. However, only you, the child’s parent, knows what he or she has experienced and needs. Only you know the pitfalls encountered raising him or her to this point. You know all about your child’s disability. You know what his or her educational needs are. You will know if he or she demonstrates any progress. Only you are one hundred percent guided in your agenda to and for the best development of your child.
The other participants at the meeting certainly have your child’s development as it’s agenda. However, what may also be a part of their agendas?
- How constrained is the school budget?
- Do those constraints affect the decisions of the special services department?
- Does the school district have experienced special education personnel available to accommodate the needs and services that your child requires? Does the school already have a class in which he or she can enter?
- If the school district cannot provide the services and accommodations needed, is it reluctant to send your child out-of-district because of the higher costs, including transportation?
- Will your child’s disability be disruptive to the existing school environment, thereby necessitating the above-mentioned, more-expensive out-of-district placement?
- Is the district’s choice of an out-of-district placement the best placement for your son or daughter? Or is it the more convenient or less-costly alternative? One of truly bad decisions a colleague of mine made in a nearby school district, involved approving an inferior out-of-district placement to one which was perfect for the child, but was thirty miles farther. That school district lost the ensuing legal challenges at a significantly higher cost.
- In the above case, did the school district suffer as a result of the ensuing higher legal and punitive damages? No! It was covered by insurance as all districts are.
- Sometimes the confrontations at these IEP or 504 meetings leave the parent feeling as if he or she was coerced and frustrated. He or she often leaves unsure of the outcome and having had little input toward it.
Where does that bring us? If a parent should not go to an IEP or 504 meeting alone. Who should accompany him or her?
- A relative or friend who is knowledgeable of many of the applicable laws (maybe a special education teacher from another district or who is retired), and who is knowledgeable of you child’s issues.
- A special education advocate. He or she has the knowledge and experience of dealing with school districts. The advocate knows which evaluations should be conducted and how to interpret their results vis-a-vis your son or daughter. He or she can also advise on how to proceed if the school district is adamant in limiting their offered services and accommodations. An educational advocate may know or have connections to programs and services of you which you may be unaware. He or she is often a skilled negotiator and mediator.
- An attorney who deals specifically with matters of special education. Such an attorney is especially important at an initial placement AND when transitioning out of school and into adulthood, where matters of Guardianship, Special Needs Trusts, Wills, and Testaments specifically are important to a disabled individual. The attorney can also advise on proceeding beyond the school district to mediation, due process hearing and beyond. He or she often acts as a barrier between your opinions and the school district’s on adamantly-opposed positions. Like the educational advocate above, the attorney may be knowledgeable of other programs capable of providing what you child needs. Also, like the educational advocate, your special education attorney is a skilled negotiator and mediator. The confidence and peace of mind derived by bringing a knowledgeable person to mediate any differences between you and the school district is probably worth the cost.
What happens next? Having a third party assist you in preparing for the meeting will prepare you to:
- Know what you want before you begin the meeting. You should have a list of concerns, goals, services, and accommodations written when you begin the meeting. If you have an educational advocate or special education lawyer present, let he or she begin the talking.
- Your representative or you should explain how what you have written clearly helps your son or daughter academically, behaviorally, and/or emotionally.
- You or your representative should be prepared to slow down and modify the tempo of the process, as it can deviate from your mission of obtaining the special education services and accommodations you want. Often, other participants are talking simultaneously and not listening to one another. No one seems to be addressing your concerns. Further, you or your representative may wish to interject with a response to one of the statements. Lastly, try to bring things back to your concerns.
All of the above are my recommendations to special education parents when meeting with the child study team in determining their child’s best interests.
While I did not discuss it much, all of the above applies as the student with disabilities enters the transition army period of his or her life beginning in the mid-teens years. A special education attorney’s guidance through things like social security and the Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD), a division of the Department of Human Services, will assist the parents in planning for the child’s future. If there sufficient resources available, how a Special Needs Trust (SNT), or any other kind of trust should be formed. Even the parents’ Last Wills and Testaments should be addressed. Many people believe that a special education attorney’s services end when school ends. This is not the case. For more information on this and any other matter involving special education, visit our site or call us at:
Susan Clark Law Group
35 Court Street; 3C
Freehold, NJ 07728