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by Charles E. Pugh, Esquire

Parents often ask us about steps they can take to help ensure that their special needs child gets the services they need at school. Here are five quick steps you can take right now as the school year begins that will help you all year long:

1. Fifteen minutes of planning for a better future for your child.

Here’s a step that we think is essential. Get ready to relax and be alone. Turn off your radio, TV and cell phone off. Make sure you won’t be interrupted. Now, ask yourself: How is my child doing at school? Is he struggling? How is he struggling? What are my goals for her this year at school? What will he be doing in five years? What do I envision for her when she leaves high school or completes special education? College? Technical training? Employment? What kind? Will he live on his own or will he need assistance? What help does she need at school that she’s not getting? How can I help her at school now in a way that will help move her towards the future I envision for her? Jot down a few notes. Include a few goals in your notes. Put those notes where you can find them and add to them from time to time. Clarity is power! Get clear on what you want for your child – and go for it! No-one knows your child better than you do. Well in advance of every IEP (or “504 Plan”) meeting, pull out your notes and do this exercise again. We think most parents would benefit from doing it at regular intervals, like every three months. Today is a great time to start!

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2. Get organized! 

Collect your child’s key school documents and put them in a three-ring notebook. Then you will have all of the information you need when you need it. You will not only be organized; you will look organized, too. That’s a good message to send to the IEP team and others at school – and a good example to set for your children. Organize the notebook into section with a tab for each section. It should include the following:

• A “notes” section up front, including a calendar to mark important events, such as the “back to school night,” your child’s class roster, and the name and email address of each teacher.
• The school’s evaluation, any school reevaluations of your child, and evaluations performed by outside evaluators or agencies.
• The last two IEPs.
• Important results of class-wide tests over the past two years, such as the “PSSA’s” the “Terra Nova” tests, or other test results showing how your child is achieving in key areas like reading and math in relation to other students.
• Report cards and progress reports over the past two years.
• Important correspondence between you and the school.
• Any other information you think may be important. Some parents may keep a diary of important contacts with school personnel, especially if they feel a need to “create a record” of inaction or inappropriate conduct by the school. Or, for example, if your child is complaining of bullying or other such problems at school, write it down in your notebook so you will have an accurate record of it!

If you don’t have all your child’s records, that’s okay. Start the notebook with what you have. You can always request the school to provide your child’s education records, if needed. (Here’s a form letter for that purpose). But start your notebook now so you will have it when you need it.

3. Review your child’s current IEP.

You can quickly get to what’s important in your child’s IEP in order to be prepared for the new school year.

4. Review your child’s evaluation report or most recent reevaluation. Yes, the school’s evaluation of your child can be confusing and yes, you may need to schedule a time with the school psychologist or other individual to make sure you understand what it means for your child. But you need to know what it says so you can better help your child both at school and at home! Our article below on “Pulling Useful Information from the School Evaluation” will help you get started.

5. Take action!

People say, “knowledge is power,” and that’s true. The more you know, the better you will be able to get the instruction and services your child needs at school. But not if you don’t use that power! “Knowing” without “doing” means nothing. So get started today. Do one thing discussed here and then follow-up. Do you need to call an IEP meeting? Then do it. Do you need to see your child’s reading instructor? Do you need to make a call to get more information? Do it. Don’t wait. Take action now and you will be on your way to making this a better school year for your child.

Have questions? Contact us anytime. But get started!