Back to School 2021
A new school year brings anticipation and excitement for many students—and sometimes a little relief for parents and caregivers! But in addition to book bags and new lesson plans returning to school this year also includes concerns about shifting back to in person learning. Input from parents and youth remains an essential part of the IEP process. Especially this year, because most parents have gained valuable firsthand insights after supervising, if not teaching, your children at home.
To get off to a strong start, consider these tips:
Contact your child's case manager or 504 site coordinator in writing
Find out who your child's case manager will be this year, along with the names of any new specialists or service providers. Confirm that the special education department has contacted all your child's teachers about the services, supports and accommodations in your child's plan so any needed training or information is in place beforehand. Often, teachers only receive an "IEP at a Glance" or 504 summary when the school year begins. Write now to make sure this critical information has been provided in advance, so the teacher has time to ask questions and adequately prepare.
Set clear expectations for when, where and how needed evaluations, services and supports will be provided
Support specified in an IEP or 504 plans should begin immediately unless the signed IEP or 504 plan says differently. When plans are not implemented from day one, things can go wrong quickly. Because of the pandemic, many schools did not meet necessary legal timelines for evaluation or IEP reviews last year. If this is true for your student, request an update on the status of any incomplete evaluation, and make sure everyone agrees on an expected date of completion.
Provide teaching staff with information about your child
No one knows your child better than you do. Prepare a brief summary or "Parent Report" listing your child's strengths and areas that need more attention. Make sure to highlight anything you've observed which might make the process easier including strategies that work for your child and what their hopes and worries are for this school year. Your insights about what worked and what needs improvement might be especially valuable this year since you saw it firsthand--one of the few upsides of distance learning!
Communicate and gather data
Ask how your child's teachers want to communicate, and honor their preferences. Check in as needed, and ask for specific information including work samples, behavior logs, tests, or assessment results to help you monitor your child's progress. If you use email, print out email messages, and keep hard copies for your records. For the most important information, ask the school for confirmation that correspondence was received.
Be a positive presence and request positive feedback
Develop a positive relationship with your child's teachers, specialists and school administrators. Celebrate successes. Don't call or visit school only when there is a problem. Let administrators and teachers know when your child is doing well in addition to when issues arise. The better your relationship with the school is, the more your child will benefit. Ask that student successes be acknowledged and shared so communication isn't limited to problems.
Bring the team together early
Remember, you can request an IEP or 504 meeting at any time if you have concerns about your child's program or progress! It is best to do this in writing so that legal timelines are recorded and put in place. If your child has a 504 plan, you can request a meeting about it too. Sample letters to request these meetings are located here: DREDF Special Education Sample Letters and Forms
Make sure additional supports are identified and included
If you have concerns about your child falling behind or not keeping up due to the pandemic they may be eligible for compensatory education (extra support to help get them back where they would have been if services had been provided as required in the IEP or if the state and federal timelines and requirements had been followed to identify their needs or meet legal timelines). Put these concerns in writing and request a meeting. NOTE: This individual determination may or may not be agreed to because of a variety of factors. See this FAQ on Compensatory Education in the time of COVID-19 for a more detailed explanation.
Additional funding was provided to help meet the needs of students struggling due toschool closures and learning loss because of COVID-19. Students with disabilities should be considered for these programs too. DREDF's May 2021 newsletter provides more information on this topic.
Finally, remember your advocacy basics:
- Collaborate and problem solve at the local level wherever possible
- Use evidence and specific examples to back up your requests and concerns
- Request an IEP meeting to bring the team together to discuss learning loss, regression, student needs and limited progress toward goals to individualize support moving forward.
- Put concerns in writing and deliver in ways that provide proof that the school received them.
- Contact your parent training information center if you need more help to understand the Special Education process and your rights and options