The process of preparing an Individual Family Service Plan (ages birth to three) or an Individualized Education Plan (ages three to twenty-one), can be a nerve-wracking process for even the most resilient parent of a child with hearing loss. These meetings can be stressful, emotional, painful, confrontational… and good. While there are many factors that may be out of your control, there are also quite a few things that you, as the parent, can do to build the strongest case for what your child needs.
The following is a compilation of resources from my article archives and other sources to answer some of the most common questions and concerns about the IFSP/IEP process.
Learn how to respond to common school district objections (examples include legal references to back up your claims) ***This is one of my all-time favorite resources. I recommend that all parents read through it, even the questions that you think may not apply to you. I like this because it provides legal citations and succinct answers written in the “language” of bureaucracy. These answers don’t veer into emotion (which is easy to do in heated IEP battles), but instead use buzzwords and legal arguments that speak loud and clear.***
Wrightslaw is a large online database of special education legal rulings and other information on IEP advocacy. The site also include a directory of links to resources by state.
For techie parents, the Parent Educational Advocacy Training Center offers an IEP Checklist iPhone App in both English and Spanish.
Some important things to remember during the IEP process include:
Don’t sign anything until you’re satisfied. No matter what school officials may tell you, you are not required to sign anything at the meetings (aside from an attendance sign-in sheet or meeting roster). If you do not like what is written in the IEP, or if you do but wish to have more time to look over and review it, do not sign! Ask for time to take the document home, look it over, consult with advocates or other professionals, or make suggestions for modifications, before you sign on the dotted line.
Don’t say “best,” say, “most appropriate.” Remember, the district is not required to place your child in the “best” place for him, only one that is appropriate. Take your “best” choice and come up with a list of reasons why it is more appropriate than other placements that the officials may be offering. For example, if you want your child in a spoken language environment and the district is pushing a total communication, self-contained placement, you could say that the spoken language option is “more appropriate” because it fits with your goals for your child, because the staff of that program have specialized training (for example, LSLS certification), and because your child will be surrounded by spoken English language models. Take the word “best” out of your vocabulary. Substitute “most appropriate,” and be prepared to back it up with a rationale.
You can bring whomever you wish with you to an IEP meeting. It is often helpful to have an extra set of eyes and ears in the room, especially during meetings that may be emotionally charged.
Come prepared. Bring notes, documentation, legal references, etc. — highlight and sticky note the heck out of these things. Put your game face on and come into the room looking like a force to be reckoned with.
Prepare a list of your “musts” and your “wishes.” Determine which items are your priorities, things on which you refuse to compromise (e.g.: my child will be in a classroom that uses spoken language), and things that would be a nice bonus, but are not crucial to your child’s academic success (e.g.: it would be nice to have an extra set of textbooks to keep at home, but my child will not fail without them). Be willing to be flexible on items that do not matter as much to you to gain capital and goodwill for items on which you cannot budge.
Remember that the IEP meeting is about the CHILD. It is not about school budget, the teacher’s workload, or even the other children in the school. If school personnel start to offer excuses like, “We simply don’t have money for that,” or, “Other children with hearing loss have been fine with this,” bring the discussion back to the child by saying things like, “I recognize that we are all in tough economic times here/this has been beneficial for other children, but this discussion isn’t about the budget/other children, it’s about what’s most appropriate for X and the services to which he is entitled under the law.”
Remember that GOALS determine PLACEMENT, NOT the other way around. The child’s classroom or school placement should be determined LAST and should be in accordance with the goals decided by the team. If the school starts off the conversation with saying something like, “So, X will be in a self-contained classroom,” and then begins to discuss goals, stop them right there! First, the team should determine the child’s goals and objectives for the year. Placement should only be decided AFTER goals, and the placement should be the one that is most appropriate for achieving those goals. For example, if your goal is for your child to learn to listen and talk, his placement should be in an environment that is supportive of that objective.