One of the things I find most amusing about being both a parent and an attorney for families is the IEP process. This process begins when your child is first evaluated as A CHILD WITH A DISABILITY.
Your school district, in an ongoing effort to remind you of the incredibly small role moms and dads play in this process, will start by sending you an “Invitation” to attend your child’s IEP meeting. Of course, the parents are the only ones on the team who receive such an invitation, as though the district expects that you may politely decline and simply send a gift instead. Some more affluent districts will include a statement on the bottom such as “Sandwiches and tea will be served.”
The IEP Meeting
When you appear for the meeting, you will again be reminded of the peripheral nature of your participation when you discover that the school has rented a small baseball stadium to accommodate all the members of your child’s team. You are the only ones who are not in the employ of the district.
Moreover, all district personnel are seated on full size chairs while you are left to sit on the little plastic children’s chairs made by Fisher Price.
The members of the TEAM will fix their collective glare on you because you had the gall to have this child at all, and look how many people are inconvenienced by this.
The first order of business is to READ THE IEP. This is a necessary feature of every IEP meeting because school districts are of the firm belief that no parent of a disabled child has ever learned how to read.
This activity serves the added purposes of assuring that parents don’t have a chance to speak, and of consuming the full 45 minutes allotted for the meeting. You will then be asked to reschedule at a time that is designed to be as inconvenient for you as possible, such as next year on Christmas.
The Beliefs & Assumptions
I have found that one of the main areas of difference between parents and school personnel involves the level of the child’s programming.
Parents usually believe their children are capable of reaching greater heights than the district has programmed for in the child’s IEP. Whenever this happens, the district will discreetly remind these parents that the CHILD HAS A DISABILITY. These reminders are usually accomplished by having the special education director make this statement at regular 30-second intervals, or by simply using a megaphone.
Districts feel these methods are unfortunate but necessary because if they do not constantly remind parents that the CHILD HAS A DISABILITY, parents will forget.
The school psychologist will tell you that she “knows how painful this is,” at which point you will have no alternative but to smack her. No one will care, however, because it is obvious that she has forgotten to take her meds.
Once parents are successfully assured that they are the intellectual equivalents of plants, the other TEAM members will then happily agree upon all goals, objectives, services, and placement and the meeting will conclude.
The Future Planning Statement
The Department of Education recently designed an especially torturous device for IEPs called the Future Planning Statement. This Statement purports to allow the parents an opportunity to say where they see their child in the future.
The Future Planning Statement is completely nonbinding on the District and serves no purpose other than to create an emotional outburst from parents who have no desire to speculate about their child’s future in front of this unfriendly crowd, or anywhere else for that matter.
I always advise my clients to tell the district they envision their child attending Harvard Medical School-starting tomorrow. This usually sets an appropriate tone for the remainder for the meeting, and may help to avoid some of the pitfalls discussed above.