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Special Needs Parents - Starting the School Year Feeling Strong

IEPs, 504s, ODRs, lunch-box tears, scheduling catastrophes, behavior plans, carpool hell, and it’s only the first month of school! What fresh torment will this new year bring!?

Being a parent of a school aged child can elicit feelings of jubilation when, during your weekly Target run, you see the glossy life-size cutouts heralding the new school year. Being the parent of a child with unique needs can turn that same experience into the beginning of an impending nightmare.

Having been in education for sixteen years, and having two school aged babies of my own, I understand the gut-gripping fears that can come with a new year, new teachers, new classrooms, new peers, new support staff, new schedules, new curriculum, new buildings, new schools, and new, fresh waves of panic! How can we ever prepare?

The way to calm my panic is by remembering that my student has rights! I have rights! Let’s review a few cornerstone rights you have as a parent of a child with special needs.

1. You have the right to request an IEP meeting at any time for any reason.

If you feel nervous that all of the new teachers and staff don’t have a firm grip on the contents of the IEP, aren’t following the IEP as written, or just want to make a few changes, you can request an IEP team meeting! Request the meeting via email (emails are timestamped) to the special education teacher, and, if you’re not feeling confident in the reply, you can also send it to the principal or special education facilitator. The school must grant your request for the IEP meeting, or explain in writing why they cannot.

2. IEPs are legally binding documents, not suggestions!

Nothing can make me feel more frustrated than having my kid report that she isn’t getting her services, accommodations, or modifications. We spent hours agonizing over just the right services and accommodations/modifications to help her access the curriculum and now they aren’t being given!? Talk about feeling explosive. I have to remind myself to calm down, document what my child is saying, and calmly reach out to the school to remind them that I expect the IEP or 504 plan to be delivered with fidelity AND that I expect documentation on the tops of her papers so that I can monitor the effectiveness of the plan.

3. You don’t have to agree!

You do not have to agree with the IEP the school presents! You don’t even have to sign if you are not comfortable. The Louisiana Department of Education has a dispute resolution process for resolving disagreements regarding your child’s disability identification or eligibility, evaluation, the level of services or placement, the provision of FAPE, or payment for services that you have obtained.

4. You are not alone!

As the parent of a student with special needs, you are entitled to bring support people with you to the IEP or IAP meeting! You can bring a spouse, parent/grand-parent, friend, neighbor, or anyone you feel will help support you in advocating for your child. If you feel you need a higher level of support, bring an advocate! Helping parents advocate for their child’s educational rights is a privilege and honor I love! You don’t have to do it alone!!!


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