IEP Parent Participation

This is a concept that I really need parents to grab on to and internalize. I hope that this brings you that “a-ha!” moment in IEPs. Because I get the feeling that many parents do not fully grasp the enormous responsibility of parent participation in the IEP process. Because parents are the only ones policing the system. Yes, that’s right.

iep parent participation

Understanding Public Education

I love public education. I truly do, and spend a great deal of time lobbying and advocating for improving public education and special education. That does not mean that I do not recognize the flaws in public education.

By design, the very concept of public education is in conflict with the concept of IEPs. The foundation of our public school system was a system designed to educate kids en masse. En masse is not the I in IEP, is it?

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So right out of the gate, it’s like IDEA was doomed to fail. Because this federal law was dropped on the states and is seemingly in direct opposition to what public schools had been doing for over 100 years. Sure, as time progresses and society changes, so do philosophies. But progress is slow.

I think it’s important to view those conflicting concepts in perspective.

It’s also important to note that in our public school system today, the goal is to prepare the child for “next.” “Next” usually means the next reading level, math level, grade or school building.

This is not a diss of teachers or public schools, it’s just how it is. Over the years, my non-disabled child often comes home and says, “well our teacher said that next year, we’re going to have to know/do…..”

Preparing for next is very different from preparing for forever. They hope that the students will retain the skills and knowledge they were taught to be successful at the next level.

Black Hole or Cliff of Age 21

However, when you are the parent of a disabled child, we don’t just look at next. We’re looking at forever.

At some point in your child’s educational career, you will become aware that when your child leaves the public education system at age 18 or 21, that the supports and services out there for them as an adult are very limited.

So, we are forced to not just look at what’s next, but we have to focus on “what is this going to look like the day he walks out of here for good?”

IEP Monitoring

Which brings me to IEPs. For the most part, parents are the only ones with our eyes on age 18 or 21. (Yes, there are good teachers out there who do this too, I know you exist, I wish there were more of you.)

Your IEP team likely changes from year to year. Kids get different teachers, different therapists, and everyone has caseloads that are too big. So things fall through the cracks.

This brings me to my point…..

Who is policing IDEA/IEPs?

No one.

No, seriously. No one monitors your IEP for quality of programming, efficacy, outcomes, etc.

States have compliance monitors. I am a state compliance monitor. All we check for is administrative timelines–did they get the IEP evals done in 60 days, did you sign a form that you received IEP procedural safeguards and so on.

We do not look at outcomes. A compliance monitor is not asked to judge whether or not that child’s IEP is appropriate.

You, parents, you are the police.

IDEA is a complaint based statute with its own Due Process procedures. If you do not complain (file for Due Process) it is assumed that your IEP is satisfactory.

If your child has a garbage IEP that has the same goals year after year….no one will even notice if you don’t challenge it.

If your IEP progress monitoring data is junk, makes no sense, not objective or measured against baselines….no one will care if you don’t challenge it. If your child doesn’t make meaningful progress toward their goals, and the IEP team does nothing to change it…doesn’t matter, if you don’t do anything about it.

Again, I cannot stress this enough–if you don’t say or do anything, it is assumed that things are fine.

No QA System in Place

I have never seen nor heard of a district having a QA system in place. No one asking “Are we doing what we need to be doing for these kids?” There are no committees checking up on this.

The government doesn’t have a system set up either.

Sure, some state agencies collect data. But it’s usually on a building or district basis, not individual. And, I have yet to see any of that data used for any meaningful change. We have plenty of data to show us all the areas where our schools suck. For example, for decades, the unemployment rate for adults with autism or IDD is around 80%. We know this. Nothing changes. The data collected on disabled people only gets used in political arguments and not much else.

No one comes in behind you, reads through a district’s IEPs to find out if they are ‘good.’ No one. Each IEP pretty much exists in a silo. No one is lining them all up, comparing them, monitoring progress not just toward IEP goals, but from year to year to year.

IDEA had its last reauthorization in 2004. No one on the Senate or House committees has reauth on their radar right now. I don’t think I’ve ever heard our current Secretary of Education even mention IDEA.

This must be you. No one else is going to do it. No one.

And while it wasn’t my intent of this blog post, I just realized that this is huge advertisement for both the IEP Organizer and IEP Goal Tracking Spreadsheet. Buy it, or don’t.

But you’ve got to figure out some kind of system to meaningfully engage in the IEP process all year long and track progress consistently.

It’s all on us.

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