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Tips for a good meeting... and response to questions

Posted Dec 30 2011 10:06pm
Let's dive into the questions and frustrations many of you expressed on my last article on IEP meetings.

Generally, I encourage all of you who are frustrated to bring tape recorders to your meetings. IEP's and 504's are legal documents and if they are not being upheld it is breaking the law. The IEP is under the heading of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1975. Section 504 falls under a different category-- the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) -- and focuses on accommodations to make the educational field equal to those with disabilities. Either way, a tape recorder sitting in the middle of the table can do wonders for other members who perhaps aren't providing you with respect, attention, and cooperation in which you are due.

Secondly, when presenting the tape recorder I would state my name, date, my child's name, the school and have each attending member stat their name and their role. Then, and this is important, I would state "PL (public law) 94-142," which states that your child has the right to a "free and appropriate education," which the IEP team and especially the school system are legally obligated to uphold the document in which you are filling out today. You, as the parent, vow to do your part to uphold this document and support the teachers. It is up to the teachers to do the same. If they are not, you have it in your right to request the most dreaded two words all EC teachers hate to hear: "DUE PROCESS." Two little words carry a lot of power. Outside mediation, to review all proceedings costs time and money, which most school systems do not have. Due Process is exactly (speaking to Cathy) what you have the right to do when the IEP is not being followed. But, before you reach this point, I encourage you to read below and try the following strategies of empowerment first.

Minutes are not to be overlooked in an IEP. Occasionally you will have a member of the team take minutes which consist of those in attendance and that's about it. I have written minutes up to 20 pages long. This page is also part of your IEP, and therefore the information in it has to be adhered to and attended to during the course of the school day. You may request a "Minutes Taker"-- an impartial member of the IEP team that is there simply to document the proceedings of the meeting. Have it noted in the minutes that you requested this person and are satisfied with the addition. If you disagree with something, note it in the minutes. I  you want something to be duly noted or highlighted, include it in the minutes. If an outsider were to read the minutes of an IEP they would know, without a doubt, exactly what occurred during the meeting. I have had amazing parents that wanted everything noted in the minutes, and guided parents to say "you want to include that in the minute,s" so their wishes were covered. If you disagree about something, say "I want it noted in the minutes that I am in disagreement with the result of-----". It should end up reading like a non-fiction piece instead of a list.

Accommodations are a wonderful tool for your child in order for her/him to receive the most of their education. But only if they are case specific. One member of the blog wrote in the comment section that the IEP is failing because her son is not receiving Organizational Skills instruction. I would request an addendum to the IEP to be more specific on what exactly is going to be taught during this instruction time. Will color coding of classes be taught? Is the student to turn all work into the mailboxes of the teacher in the front office during homeroom time? If this is the main kill set that the student is lacking, as a 12th grader, is this the true focus of his education or should it be the acquisition and retention of information? Can he turn all his work into the EC teacher, in a mailbox on his/her door? Classroom assignments can be modified or limited. Is it possible that the majority of assignments be turned in on Thursday only? The purposes of assignments are so that the student can learn the information, process it and express that it has been learned in a meaningful way. If a student's intellect is above average then rote work is pointless and understimates the student's learning potential. What other way-- portfolio, videos, journaling, essays-- can the student express that he has learned the material? Accommodations that aren't specific, such a "preferential seating," aren't helping the student. Where, specifically, should the student sit, in the front and cetner? Or is the student hard of hearing in her left ear and should be facing the teacher with her left ear toward the wall and right ear closer to the source of the information? Is the student ADD-- the preferential seating may be away from the window which may cause distraction. Be specific at all times so there is no room for ambiguity. While you can check the boxes for accommodations in the middle of the IEP, on the stated page, it is in the Minutes that you can be specific!

Another question was posted regarding attending meetings: if you request a meeting agenda, which you may do whether it is an IEP or just a meeting to discuss progress, and do not receive it, you may postpone the meeting. All members of the IEP team are just that, a TEAM. It isn't proper for a parent to attend any meeting without knowing what is going to be discussed. Typically, in an IEP invitation, you reveive a notice that states the date, who will be invited and what will be discuessed. You may add members to the invitation, and I encourage you to do so! Invite the EC Lead Instructor of the school, the principal, or even the EC Director of the school system. If you are meeting with the Principal one on one, bring an impartial party to observe or even your trusty tape recorder. This way there is always clarity an no need for he said, she said. Regarding the meetings they should take as long as necessary. 30 minutes, 1 hour, 2 hours, 2 days... as long as it takes to make sure that your child is being heard, through you, the advocate. If the meeting has to end due to someone leaving, table the meeting for another day and do not sign it. Just smile and say, "when shall we meet again?" To Allison: your son should be attending his IEP meetings and having input on his education. He is of age to attend and his opinion matters!

Lastly, and this may not be a popular comment but that's okay, I'm here to help. Show your teachers that you are a part of their team and on their side. There may be some of you out there that struggle with trusting your child's EC teacher, and guess what, they may struggle with trusting you too! It never hurts to be the parent that shows up, typcially at the end of the day, prepared for the meeting with bottles of water for all the attendees and perhaps a snack or two. I remember, specifically, how respected I felt when a parent would do this for me and the other teachers present. It does set the tone for the meeting if there is just a little something to nibble and feel refreshed. This also helps if a meeting is going to run long. It doesn't have to be a big thing-- a bag of Chex Mix is an amazing mood lifter! As an EC teacher I rarely was afforded the opportunity to have lunch, and never a planning period. Even if a mother and I disagreed about the way a child's education should go, when "breaking bread" we were always able to be honoring of each other.

Next post I hope to discuss Interim Reports-- P=Progress and NP= No progress...where's the proof??? Is this opinion or fact? I am always happy to answer questions, provide encouragement and truly enjoy reading your posted comments. Remember, I am on your side. While I can't sit at the table with you, I hope to arm you with the appropriate terminology and semantics to be heard. Give these suggestions a try and let me know how it works! Until we meet again......
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