Thursday, April 26, 2012

We Had The First Meeting, What's Next?

So, you went to the school and you had your first meeting.  You took good notes, you asked your questions, you put a plan in place and you have a second meeting scheduled.  Good job!

Now it's time for the results meeting.  You go to the meeting and discuss the observations of the teacher, the counselor and your home observations.  It's time for a decision. 

Let's say that you come together and decide that your child probably doesn't need an IEP.  What are your options then?

This is a tricky situation because every school is different.  However, if you have legitimate concerns about your child's academic progress, you need to press on and find a solution.  In the results meeting, you should have clearly identified academic areas of weakness and strength for your child.  Ask the teacher and guidance counselor if there are any after-school tutoring programs or homework assistance programs.  If there are, ask about getting your child into such a program.  If there are not, you can ask if the school has a list of approved tutors or if the teacher would be willing to tutor your child after school.  (It is, in my opinion, unethical for a teacher to charge a fee for after school tutoring if they are tutoring one of their own students AND if they are tutoring for a fee on school property.  Many states and districts have policies regulating this process.  In my opinion, it is NOT unethical for a teacher to tutor after school and to charge a fee if he/she does so on his/her own time and at a neutral location as long as it is not a current student of his/hers.)

You may also want to look at businesses that specialize in tutoring or working with children who are behind academically.  If no such business exists in your area, there are online tutors available.  Before agreeing to pay for online tutoring, make sure all of the details are covered.  Ask for a contract spelling out the tutoring agreement. 

If, at the meeting, it is decided that an IEP is necessary, then you will have to take a different course of action. I'll cover that in the next post.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Does My Child Need an IEP?

In my tenure as an assistant principal and principal, I was asked numerous times if I thought a child needed an IEP.  Principals, teachers and any school staff members are in a tough place when asked that question.

Parents are concerned because they see their child's grades slipping.  They feel like he/she is not paying attention well.  They are concerned because he/she can't grasp simple mathematical concepts.  They watch as the child struggles to read a simple paragraph.  That nagging feeling develops and before long, the parent is concerned that "there might be something wrong with my child."

It's natural and it's understandable that most parents want their children to excel in school.  When they see their child constantly struggling with a concept, they go into parental worry mode and begin to watch more closely.  That's good parenting. 

For many parents, there's a fine line between a child who may be struggling to understand a concept and one who may have a learning disability.  The only way to determine the difference is for the school to conduct a screening and/or evaluation. 

Because I had received good training from my wife and others I considered to be mentors, I always answered like this:  I'm not able to make that call.  If you think your child needs an IEP, you can always request that he/she be screened and/or tested.  I followed that up with asking why the parent thought there might be a need for an IEP. 

I hated that answer but it was the one I and every other school employee HAD to give.  I was a junior high principal.  Most of my students were diagnosed in elementary school so they came to me with IEPs in place.  However, we still did find students who had progressed to the junior high and would qualify for an IEP.  The vast majority of students with serious learning disabilities are diagnosed in elementary school.  Typically, students will be diagnosed in third or fourth grade.  The intensity and amount of learning explodes in these grades and students with true learning disabilities will begin to struggle at this point.  

Because the need for an IEP is based on a number of factors, it is unethical and inappropriate for any one person to make the statement that a child needs one.  I may suspect that the child will qualify in a certain area, but I am not capable of making that determination. 

The only way to determine if your child needs an IEP is to go through the process.  The process begins with you, the parent or guardian, speaking with the teacher(s), counselor, principal and anyone else involved in the child's education.  Following these steps will help you in the first stage of your search for answers.

1. Request a meeting with the teacher and counselor. 
  • Clarify the time parameters for the meeting.  Many of these meetings are scheduled during a teacher's planning time.  They may truly only have 40 minutes for a meeting with you.  Make sure you address key issues, questions to him or her early. If you do that and they have to be excused from the meeting later, there won't be as many unaswered questions.
  • PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE...BE A FEW MINUTES EARLY FOR THE MEETING. The teacher and counselor have scheduled this meeting for YOU. Being late sets a bad tone for the meeting. Everyone will feel rushed and will be watching the clock. If you are going to be late and you know it, call ahead and ask if it's okay to come on in or if you need to reschedule.
  • If you plan on recording the meeting, let them know in advance.  Pulling out the digital voice recorder at the meeting without prior notice makes everyone jumpy.  Be prepared for the school staff to have a recorder as well. 
2. If you think the principal needs to be there, ask for him/her.  Understand that he/she may only be able to stay for a little while because of other duties and responsibilities. 

3. Let them know that you are concerned about your child's education and that you wonder if there is a learning disability or something interfering with his/her progress.  Be as specific as possible.

4. Make a list of your concerns.  What do you see at home?  What does your child say or do when he/she becomes frustrated with homework?  How do you respond to your child's frustration?  Be specific, give examples.

5. Bring a list of any and all medications your child is on.

6. Bring a list of any and all surgeries or medical procedures.  Include EVERYTHING!
  • Were there problems during pregnancy?
  • Was there drug or alcohol use or abuse during pregnancy?
  • Were there any problems or complications with the delivery?
  • Was your child healthy during infancy?
  • Were there chronic ear infections, sinus infections, allergies, etc.?
  • Has your child been diagnosed with any chronic illnesses?
  • Has your child been diagnosed with any syndromes?
  • Has your child been previously tested for anything?
  • Has your child been tested for genetic abnormalities?
  • Is there a history of mental health issues in either side of the family?
  • If there are siblings, do any of those children have any significant health concerns, physical or mental?
7.  Ask the teacher, in advance of the meeting, to watch your child a little more closely and to make a list of anything he/she sees that might be atypical.  (Remember:  most teachers have 20+ students in their classes.  The teacher cannot keep a constant eye on one child.  Give the teacher an idea of your primary area(s) of concern and ask him/her to take note of those issues.)

8.  Come to the meeting with the following:
  • Your notes from watching your child do homework.
  • Questions you may have about classroom procedures, homework expectations, classroom set-up, etc.
  • Your specific concerns.
  • Medication and medical history.
  • A positive attitude that is focused on doing what is best for your child.
9.  Never, never, never start a meeting with a statement like:  "Either you can't teach or my child has a problem!"  You may have snickered or grinned but I've been in meetings that began that way.  They seldom end well. 

10.  Listen and take notes.  Don't be afraid to ask questions or to say, "I don't understand what you are talking about." 

11.  At the conclusion of the meeting, clarify the details of what is going to happen next.
  • Ask this question and the school staff will love you:  "What do I need to do before we meet again?"  They may simply tell you to keep watching and helping your child and to keep taking notes. 
  • Make sure you understand what the teacher is going to do before you meet again.
  • Make sure you understand what the counselor is going to do before you meet again.
  • Set a definite day and time for the next meeting.
12. End the meeting by thanking everyone for his/her time. 

The single most important thing I can tell you is that most of the teachers I've worked with are genuinely concerned about your child's education.  Many are so disheartened by the lack of parental involvement that they will welcome your involvement as long as it is positive and productive.