11 September 2011

IEPs and 504 Plans- Be Ready

504 Plans and Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) are the source of angst for many parents of school aged children.  I’m here to tell you that these plans work for kids, and they are worth the hard work required by parents and educators to get them right.  

I'm not going to beat around the bush, though, you have to work the system to get them and work even harder to get the plan to work for your child.  I’m definitely not here to bash the system, I want to arm you with the tools to get through the process and come out on top.

One of my sons has Asperger’s Syndrome, dyslexia and dysgraphia, and I suspect that one of my other sons has dyslexia as well. I’ve been attending IEP and 504 Plan meetings for eight years, so in this case, I really am a been there- done that mom. 

The most important thing that I’ve learned, and it’s been a hard lesson to learn, is do not let yourself be intimidated at the meetings.  It is easy to let yourself get overwhelmed by the sheer number of administrators, educators, counselors and specialists sitting at the table.  It has happened to me on more than one occasion and is very frustrating to walk out of the school building and suddenly realize that I did not succeed in getting my child what he needs.  

Here’s how to make sure each meeting is successful:

Know what you want.  Before you go to the meeting, decide what your objective is.  Do you want a 504 Plan for your child or an Individualized Education Plan for him?  504 Plans are simply educational and environmental accommodations for your child.  Teachers and administrators are obligated to follow the plan in every way possible to help your child be as successful in school as his or her peers.  An IEP is a list of goals and a timeline stating how and by when the goals will be reached.  Good information can be found online at sites like this: 504 Plan vs. IEP and this: IEP Goals.    

Lay the Groundwork. Start by contacting the teacher directly.  Sending an email is effective because it gives you a record of all contact.  Once you have made your inquiry, the teacher is obligated to follow up and get you the information you need and set up a meeting, if warranted.  

Be Prepared.  Now that you know what type of plan you want for your child and have a meeting set up, revisit the key websites and write a list of accommodations or goals for your child.  Be specific so that you can make yourself clear in the midst of all the voices at the meeting, which can be an emotional setting.  

Anytime a parent is working hard to help her child, emotions can take over, and levelheadedness is crucial to success at these meetings.  Showing emotion is perfectly fine, of course, but you have a clear mission and need to keep a clear head so that the desired end result is always in sight. 

Stay on Track.  Once you are in the meeting, keep your eye on the prize.  Unfortunately, oftentimes, the teachers, counselors and administrators see your goal of getting an IEP or 504 plan as just one more thing to do in their already busy week.  An IEP or 504 Plan creates more work for many people at the school.  If your child is getting by, they might try to talk you out of your plan.  DO NOT LET THEM DO THIS.  You spent a lot of time and energy getting your plan together.  You know what is best for your child’s education.  Stay the course, but do so nicely.  Keep a smile on your face and kindly refute their efforts to dismiss your concerns.  Getting your child a Franklin Speller is not the answer to helping him learn to deal with his dyslexia. (This was actually suggested to me at a recent meeting!)  If you know that your child needs real help to get an equal education, then be assertive.  Remember, you catch more bees with honey, so smile when you assert yourself, but show them you mean what you say and that you have no intention of backing down from your goal.

If you follow these steps, you will get your child what he or she needs.  It might seem like an insurmountable objective, but the system is set up to work for you, you just have to learn how to work your way through it.  

It is definitely a learning process, but hopefully the course will be easier now that you are ready for action.

Good Luck.

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