What I Wish I Had Known About IEPs

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by Katie Moran

I wish I knew then what I know now.  My daughter’s superpower is dyslexia, or a specific learning disability in reading.  We’ve been working so hard to bring awareness this month in honor of #DyslexiaAwarenessMonth! She also has a diagnosis of dysgraphia, ADHD, and executive functioning disorder. 

I’m writing this for those parents at the beginning, the middle, and the end of the fight. If you’ve never been a parent in this fight, know that it’s intimidating and heartbreaking.  We need support and empathy. And I’m writing this to thank all the teachers that try to speak up but don’t have the resources to help in all the ways they want to; I know you are doing the best you can.  I’m writing this for the special education aides who listen and remind our kids that even though they are different, they are just as good as every other neurotypical kid.

Here are some tips I’ve found useful for a successful and productive Individualized Education Program (IEP) meeting:  

  • Prepare: Request all test scores prior to the meeting.  This includes any standardized tests such as Student Learning Objectives (SLOs), Measures of Academic Progress for Reading (MAP-R), or Developmental Reading Assessment (DRA).  It could also be helpful to loop in the testing coordinator at your school when doing this. I find myself being caught off guard when this information is presented in the meeting (whether it be a shockingly low or high score) when school staff has had time to prepare. It’s also good to have all your child’s grades printed from the Schoolmax Family Portal the day you request the IEP meeting. I like to print them the week before the IEP meeting. That will allow you to identify inconsistencies if grades were input right before an IEP meeting, although you hope that would never be the case.  Ask who will be in attendance at the meeting. I always find this to be very important in my mental preparation. 
  • Listen:  This was a hard one for me to learn.  We all feel so passionate about our children and usually by the time we’ve requested our IEP/504 meeting, our kid has already been struggling in school for some time.  As parents, we have our own preconceived notions about our children, sometimes contrary to the information being presented in the meeting. However, it’s really important to take notes, fully listen, and ask follow up questions during the teacher’s presentation.  Working as a team is in the best interest of your child. You each have a unique perspective that together, has a lot to offer.
  • Evidence:  Keep your child’s school papers, and not just the bad ones.  I used to go to IEP meetings and it felt like teachers brought all of my child’s very best work and I brought all of my child’s worst work.  We were both proving a point. I have learned to bring work that I’m proud of and I bring a few pieces that highlight what I’d like to discuss about the IEP.
  • When you get overwhelmed: Ask for a minute.  It is okay to step out of that meeting and take a breath. Go outside. Call a friend and ask for advice if something doesn’t sound right.  Google it. Know your rights. It is okay to reschedule meeting if you have lost control. It is okay to cry.
  • Never sign your 504 or IEP at the meeting.  Take it with you and read it over, read it over many times.  Make sure you put everything in writing. What I mean when I say that is to send an email summary of the meeting within 24 hours of when the meeting took place.  If it’s not documented in that time frame in writing (and email counts), it never happened. 

I would be remiss if I didn’t recommend hiring an advocate if you can afford it. The conversation is so much different when you have an advocate present. I understand that is a luxury not everyone can afford so here are some additional websites that can help you know your rights as you prepare for your meetings. An alternative is to bring a friend who can take detailed notes during the meeting.  Get a binder and track everything!  

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The Impact of Disproportionate Suspension of Students with Disabilities

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by Pamela Talley, Sarah Wayland, and Troy Sampson

For the last nine years, Prince George’s County has been suspending students with disabilities at twice the rate they suspend students without disabilities. Because of a punitive regulation in Federal Law (IDEA), this means that 15% of the Special Education budget (roughly $3.8 million each year) cannot be used to fund special education in our county.

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from Maryland Public School Suspensions by School and Major Offense Category, 2017-208, Maryland State Department of Education

To help you interpret the table above, in 2017 the total number of students enrolled in Prince George’s County Public Schools was 130,814, the number of Black or African American students was 75,818, and the number of students with disabilities was 14,999. That means that the suspension rate for All Students was 1.25%, for Black and African American Students it was 1.56%, and for disabled students the rate was 2.49%.

This may not sound surprising, but it’s important for parents, especially those who have children with disabilities, to understand the real implications. For the last nine years, as a penalty for suspending children with disabilities at a higher rate than their non-disabled peers, PGCPS has been forced to spend 15% of its Special Education budget on supports for students in general education. The Federal Government forbids the spending of this money on special education services. For a school system the size of PGCPS, the amount of money being withheld from our students who need the most support is approximately $3.8 million dollars per year.

Instead, the money must be spent on Coordinated Early Intervening Services (CEIS), which are :

” . . . services provided to students in kindergarten through grade 12 (with a particular emphasis on students in kindergarten through grade three) who are not currently identified as needing special education or related services, but who need additional academic and behavioral supports to succeed in a general education environment.

“The [Individuals with Disabilities Education Act] IDEA (20 U.S.C. §1413(f)(2)) and its regulations (34 CFR §300.226(b)) identify the activities that may be included as CEIS:

(1) professional development for teachers and other school staff to enable such personnel to deliver scientifically based academic and behavioral interventions, including scientifically based literacy instruction, and, where appropriate, instruction on the use of adaptive and instructional software; and

(2) providing educational and behavioral evaluations, services, and supports, including scientifically based literacy instruction.”

(From: https://www2.ed.gov/policy/speced/guid/idea/ceis-guidance.doc)

In a presentation to the PGCPS School Board on October 11th, 2018, Dr. Gwendolyn Mason reported the following:

Issue #3: Disproportionality

  • In summer 2016, a meeting was held with MSDE [Maryland State Department of Education] to discuss the overhaul of the CEIS program in PGCPS since the previous plan from 2009-2016 was misaligned to PGCPS areas of need.
  • Based on analysis of suspension and expulsion data, MSDE determined that PGCPS was significantly disproportionate in the disciplinary removal of students with disabilities compared to nondisabled students.
  • PGCPS must use 15% of IDEA Part B funds to develop and provide Coordinated Early Intervention Services (CEIS); over $26 million has been restricted to support the CEIS program.

(You can find a link to the Board of Education meeting on video, as well as supporting documents on the SECAC website here: http://secacpg.org/document-center/selected-presentation-handouts/)

This means that over the last nine years, $26+ million of IDEA funds were shifted from the PGCPS Department of Special Education Budget to the General Education Budget to support CEIS programming. This is because any program funded from this 15% penalty under CEIS (Coordinated Early Intervening Services) CANNOT be used to service a student with an Individualized Education Plan (or IEP – the legal document created for some students with disabilities that spells out the supports, accommodations, and services necessary for that student to be educated.)

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