The worst IEP advice I’ve ever heard: “Make sure you cry at the IEP meeting, it shows them how passionate you are about your child!” I still cringe when I think about it. Please tell me who feels confident when they are crying? Especially if you have an ugly cry, right? No one feels good when they are crying, you feel exposed and vulnerable.
And, as if you didn’t already have enough to think about at an IEP meeting, now you have to focus on trying to cry? I.can’t.even.
Read also: Moms, stop crying at IEP meetings.
Honestly, regardless of how you feel about a person or are disagreeing with them about IEP issues, I think the one given is that parents love their children. Parents are passionate about their children. I think that’s actually the one item you don’t have to prove in an IEP meeting!
If you are reading this blog, chances are you are in at least one parent group for your child’s condition. It might be an IEP group (my IEP group!) or it might be for your town or specific condition that your child has. Parent groups may be in person or online. And these groups are a FANTASTIC support system. Nothing makes me happier than when a reader contacts me and says that because of the blog and the Facebook group, her child’s situation is really turning around. The internet has been a game changer in all of this. The amount of IEP advice and guidance that some families can receive now is amazing.
There’s also a not-so-wonderful side. I know that most everyone who shares advice is well intended. But sometimes their passion clouds their judgement. And as we say in advocacy, “You don’t know what you don’t know.”
Laws and regs can really vary from state to state. Also, some of the advice I see tossed around is not for novices. So, here it is, some of the most common and yet worst advice I see tossed around from parent to parent, about IEPs and special education.
Please note, that each item I am going to list below certainly has its merits within the right context. Advocates have to know the state, the situation, the family, and having all the data in front of you. The problem is that online, you generally don’t know everything about the situation. And then these items are read and completed in isolation. In full disclosure, I have said and done some of these myself, with either poor or zero results.
I hate to see parents spin their wheels. We have enough to do. So we should make sure that the tasks we do are valuable. When we know better, we do better!
Worst pieces of IEP advice for parents
- Get a doctor’s note! This is one I see often, especially when parents are seeking a 1:1 aide or para for their child. There are many reasons why this advice does not work out of context. First, it matters if the doctor is writing a note for something like Type 1 Diabetes or food allergies, which require accommodations. Or are they asking for Special Education, such as ABA programming or a 1:1. As part of the big picture, yes, a doctor’s note could help if you end up in due process. But a doctor’s note by itself doesn’t always provide the data that is necessary to get a child ABA or a 1:1. As it should be! Imagine if all it took to get a 1:1 was a doctor’s note! Ask the doctor for data. Can they provide a list of the manifestations of the disability? What treatments/therapies have been found to be successful with this? Once you have the note, you have to specifically request that it become a part of your child’s educational record.
- Sue the school! It doesn’t really work that way, though I’ve seen several variations of this gem on Facebook chats. IDEA gave us a Due Process framework, and I think it is very flawed. But it’s all we have. You generally cannot just hire an attorney and sue your school district. You have to use the process, disagree with IEP, and then choose mediation or Due Process and so on. If you choose to go straight to a lawsuit, the chances are very good that it will just be dismissed because you didn’t go through Due Process. You also cannot sue specific people in a school setting because your child is not making progress or was restrained. IDEA and the state regs are Administrative Statutes. Not following a statute is not the same as breaking the law.
- Give your 10 day notice and put in private school! This one is definitely not for novices! Yes, this is a strategy and it is a provision where you can pull your child out of public school (because they are unable to provide FAPE) and enroll them in a private school and let your district know that you intend for the district to pay for it. It’s a very bold move, and I would not do it without consulting an attorney or a very skilled advocate. If you don’t have the data to show that a private school is appropriate you could be on the hook for thousands of dollars in tuition. Plus, around here anyway, most of the APSs won’t even let you visit and tour without a referral from your district. A referral from your district at least shows the APS that they are considering private placement at district cost.
- Just pull him out and homeschool him! The homeschooling movement has grown in recent years. It’s a wonderful option for some families. But my son, in addition to getting all day ABA, gets OT, PT, speech, vision, O&M, music therapy, adaptive PE and more. I am a great mom! What I am not: a special ed teacher, a BCBA, an OT, a PT, an SLP, a TVI, a gym teacher or a musician. My child regresses on 4-day weekends, I can only imagine the damage I’d do as a homeschooling mom. I firmly believe that homeschooling should receive extra consideration if your child has special needs.
- Call the school board! I know and like many school board members, from my own school board and others. I can tell you now that they’d pretty much rather do ANYTHING than get involved in an IEP dispute. And they really can’t. They are not a member of your child’s IEP team. And we don’t really want a corrupt system, right? I mean, imagine it this way: You call the school board person, you tell them your complaint and what you want, they call the administrator and get it done. That’s not really how the system should work, imo. Now, if there are abuses going on, or if you are filing state complaints for either compliance or professional conduct, then by all means, include the school board on your correspondence or let them know, if you want. But I would not expect them to resolve an IEP dispute. If you believe this is a common occurrence, then gather parents, document your concerns and ask to be put on a school board meeting agenda and present them. Note: I have recently softened my opinion on this, take a look.
- Go to the Dept of Ed! I just saw this one the other day. Mind you, I have called the Dept of Ed (in my state) and have gotten clarification and answers that I needed. Ours has a hotline just for this purpose. But this mom was telling the other mom, “Don’t call, just go there!” Um, no. It’s not the DMV or the Post Office. You don’t just walk in to a counter and get help. And mine is 2 hours away. It is not productive to waste a day driving there and back. Look online for complaint procedures, call if you need to. Maybe they will ask you to come in. But certainly don’t drive down there without an appointment.
- Don’t sign anything! Ok, I get it. You’re ticked off, the IEP is garbage and everyone knows it. So you’ll be damned if you’re going to sign it. But here’s the thing, in Pennsylvania, we don’t sign IEPs (at least not as far as agreeing or disagreeing with them). We sign a form called the NOREP which is really our PWN. So when PA parents receive their final IEP copy, they receive this NOREP to sign. If they follow the advice of “don’t sign anything!” guess what happens? It automatically goes into effect in 10 days. Not signing is an agreement. I have seen parents lose pendency/stay put over this! This is important! By all means, don’t sign anything at the meeting except the attendance sheet and the sheet that says you’ve received Procedural Safeguards. Use your full 10 days to review the finalized IEP. But blindly following a “don’t sign anything!” philosophy can get you into a lot of trouble.
- Don’t complain! They’ll take it out on your child! Stay child focused. This isn’t about complaining. This is about reviewing your child’s IEP and progress. If there are issues, you use the IEP process to get it resolved. That’s it. Stay professional, stay child focused. Focus on what your child is or isn’t getting, and not what staff is or isn’t doing. Retaliation is both illegal and difficult to prove and I’ve seen it happen. But what happens if you don’t speak up? Do you think the situation is miraculously going to resolve itself?
- Call the media! Um, no. Our kids are the last marginalized population of people on the planet. (Disabled adults too.) It’s unfortunate, but not everyone sees things the way we do. It can backfire on you. Bigly! There are still lots of people who do not “believe in” ADHD and think it’s poor parenting. That the kid with autism just needs to pay attention. Many think our kids are a financial drain on the system, and the reason that their school isn’t doing better overall. “Those damned special needs kids…..” still gets tossed around. A lot. I have had more terrible personal experiences with this (myself and close advocate friends!) than I can count. Tread carefully, you’ve been warned.
- Can you transfer to a different school? Transferring, moving, I’ve talked about these issues before. I’ve seen very poorly rated districts do a good job with special ed and I’ve seen top-rated schools suspend kindergarteners. There are no guarantees, all schools are in crisis. Public education in this country is in crisis. And transferring and moving only creates more tasks for the parent. It creates more transitions for everyone. I think your time is better spent getting some really good training under your belt and learning how to effectively use the IEP process.
- You are your child’s best advocate, you don’t need one. I agree that no one knows a kid like his parents do, and you probably are his best advocate in life. But, that doesn’t mean that you know all the ins and outs of the IEP process. Most parents don’t know about PWN and how to use it to their advantage. Most don’t know how to develop a strategy for the IEP process, they just dive in head first. Remember, we don’t know what we don’t know. I have spent the better part of the past 10 years doing nothing but learning about IEPs and I still learn new things every.single.day. Personally, I think it’s a dangerous and pretty egotistical thought to say “I don’t need any help with this.” We all do.
- If you cry at IEP meetings, it shows them how passionate you are. I just disagree with this. I have not cried at an IEP meeting in years, and I’m quite proud of that. There is a time and a place to mourn our kids’ losses and struggles, the IEP meeting is not the time. Treat it as a business meeting. Would you cry at a business meeting? I’ve been there. I’ve cried at IEP meetings. And I know what happens when you’re crying, you’re not thinking about your kid, now you’re thinking “Oh shit, now I’m crying.” And trying to compose yourself.
- Take them donuts! I hate this one. It’s not a continental breakfast, it’s a business meeting. No donuts! Are they bringing gifts for you? Then why are you bringing gifts for them? Save gift giving for the holidays and Teacher Appreciation Week.
I’m starting to lead into other posts so I’ll stop now.
Now, here’s some great IEP advice!