IEP Beginnings, A Personal Primer
At a very young age, I faced significant challenges with school. I suffered trauma to my head at an early age that everyone knew would prevent me from flourishing in school. Many times I would sit listening to teachers, educational psychologists, and principals telling my parents that I would not ride a bicycle, play a musical instrument or graduate from high school.
As my parents and I listened to these experts, we were obviously hoping for help. However, assistance was not offered. Therefore, my mother and father created an after-school, self-funded program with all of the services and therapies they were advised that I needed to help me to live a meaningful and independent life.
Indeed, their dedication and tenacity lit a pilot light within me, and when I grew older, it helped me tremendously. Even today it burns strong within me. In fact, I surpassed all reasonable expectations. While I am tremendously grateful for everything that my parents did for me, I found myself asking the question: why did my parents have to do the school's job of educating and preparing me? My family paid taxes and lived in lived in the community like everyone else. Did they really need to spend exorbitant sums of money (in the 1970s, insurance did not cover learning disabilities) and spend at least 12 hours per week driving me to tutors, specialists, and therapists for the better part of my early life.
The resounding answer is NO. However, they did not know better, and no one working at the school told them that I was entitled to these services by the school. It has also occurred to me that perhaps my parents were afraid of not having a healthy relationship with staff at the school. I did have other family members in the school district, and perhaps they were afraid of becoming the parents that everyone talks about. Whatever the reason, my parents sacrificed and suffered because of it. They spent money that they did not have, took endless hours off from work at the expense of their career and would stay up late at nights talking in a muffled voice about what would become of me and how could they afford this. It was not fair to them nor to my three siblings and I felt like a burden.
Under the law, education is a fundamental right. Children with disabilities are entitled to the same privileges and protections as children without. Further, schools must provide an educational program reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress appropriate considering the child’s circumstances. This educational program must provide an ambitious curriculum with services and professional assistance to achieve the child’s potential. Our Supreme Court made these rights the law of the land in 2017. This means that schools must help every child with a disability reach their potential. Such conditions include but are not limited to ADHD, Cystic Fibrosis, MS, Anxiety, Dyslexia, vision impairment, hearing impairment, speech, learning differences, emotional challenges, etc. Under Child Find Federal Law, the school is obligated to find/notice children that need help. It is not the parent's responsibility to do the school’s job.
Here are the steps to getting help for your child.
Request an SST meeting (student study team)
The SST will include the principal, teacher(s), special education teacher(s), counselor.
Parents can simply send an email to the principal to request. Some have a form for you to fill out.
The meeting goes over the child's strength & weaknesses / areas of concerns.
If your concerns are not fully addressed, ask for an evaluation under IDEA
The school has 60 days to conduct a meeting/education evaluation to comprehensively evaluate and give meaningful solutions if eligibility is determined.