Some would say it’s the most wonderful time of the year—back to school! For parents of children with special needs, back to school means the start of a new year of IEP advocacy, as well as beginning communication with new teachers and other school professionals. Here are a few suggestions to keep in mind:
Parents Need Back to School Supplies, Too!
Spiral Notebook. Purchase a new spiral notebook to document incidents concerning your child both at home and at school, as well as conversations with the school and other professionals. Plan to keep track of assignments that cause anxiety or stress and both academic and social issues that come up throughout the school year. This notebook will become very important when preparing for your annual PPT. You will have a record of everything that has happened and you can easily access areas of weakness and/or recurring behaviors.
A New Folder. Each new year should begin with a new folder where you can place the school work and notes your child brings home for that year. Keeping classroom assignments is a great way to monitor progress throughout the year, as well as from year to year.
A New Loose-Leaf Binder. If you haven’t been keeping one of these all along, now is the time to start! Buy a new loose-leaf binder to file IEPs, status reports, report cards, the latest Parental Rights book from your state Department of Education, and official reports and evaluations to and from school, doctors and/or therapists. Having all of this information in one place makes life a lot easier when preparing for a PPT or meeting with specialists.
The Parents’ To-Do List
Create an Email Correspondence Folder. For those of us who have no desire to print correspondence from the school, it’s a great idea to create a new folder in your inbox for the current school year. Save everything! You never know when you may need to go back to a note from a teacher or a special education chair regarding an accommodation or placement. It’s very important to keep a paper trail of all conversations. If you speak in person, it’s also a good idea to follow-up with an email confirming in writing what was discussed. For example:
Dear Mrs. Jones,
Thank you for taking the time to speak to me today regarding the situation in Daniel’s classroom. I’m just confirming that you will be moving Daniel’s seat closer to your desk to minimize distractions for him. I appreciate your help.
It doesn’t have to be long. Just state the purpose of the conversation and the outcome.
Introduce Both You and Your Child to the New Staff. It’s important to establish open lines of communication early in the school year. Get off to the right start by introducing yourself and giving the new staff some background on your child. By providing a quick snapshot of your child to a new teacher, aide or therapist, you can help the people working closely with your child have a better understanding of him or her right from the start.
Monitor Progress. Any parent of a child with special needs can tell you monitoring progress could be a full-time job. Try setting aside a specific time each week to look through your child’s work. Report your concerns early to the teacher and/or your child’s case manager. One big mistake many parents make is to assume a child is making progress simply because they are on an IEP.
When the progress reports come home, review them and if something is unclear, ask questions. You don’t want to find out an your annual PPT that your child did not make progress in a certain area. If your child isn’t making steady progress, you can call a PPT at anytime throughout the school year to discuss your concerns. You do not need to wait for an annual review to discuss adding or changing services, etc.
Update the School Nurse. The beginning of the school year is the time to discuss any medication changes, new allergies, or medical plans with the school nurse. If your child is in need of medication or an Epi-Pen at school, those must be brought to the school at the beginning of each school year.
Parents can also check out the following resources for help and guidance with special education issues:
Section 504 and Civil Rights of Students with ADHD – The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) issued guidance on the Civil Rights of Students with ADHD and a manual
By Marni McNiff