Frustrating IEP Advice Catching Fire on Facebook

When you've been in the Special Education community for over 20 years, you know when something big is brewing. You can feel it in your bones. You can see the lawyers starting to try and get ahead of what's coming and then comes the parent advocacy groups marching right behind.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm a special needs sibling and I'm truly grateful for the lawyers and the parent advocates that paved the way for my brother, who is 42 with Down syndrome, to get an education in the public school system.

But, the negativity and the tension between school and special needs families is why I became a Special Education Teacher... I knew in my gut at 10 years old that there had to be a better way.

I only lasted a few years in the system as a teacher, not because I didn't like the classroom and not because I got burnt out. I left, by choice, because I LOVED finding creative solutions between schools and parents, even in the toughest situations.

And here we are, right now, in probably one of the toughest situations we've experienced in Special Education since getting that first law passed in 1975 requiring all children to be education equally.

In this time of crisis, schools have shut down or are providing distance learning. Children who have IEPs are definitely not receiving their Special Education services according to their paperwork. Paperwork that was written under the assumption that a child would be in school full time.

It would be foolish to assume that services written for a school setting could be done at home with the same intensity, but that IEP paperwork we worked so hard to create doesn't have a clause to adapt for what is happening right now... which is where the bad advice floating around Facebook is starting to focus.

So here's what's happening... the government is looking to protect itself by documenting that they won't be fully responsible for IEP services during this time. The school districts are trying to stay ahead of lawsuits and state complaints by creating addendums and the parent advocacy groups are creating form letters (exact examples) of what you should write to your school district to deny any addendum to current services. 

This isn't going to work and it's not in the best interest of the child, parents or teachers. 

The example letter has a few key points that you need to know about and then I'll tell you why I don't believe this is a smart letter to send.

The letter states -

1. You will not sign any addendum without an IEP meeting.

2. You are not a teacher and your child requires a teacher to make progress. Therefore, you are requesting evaluations for ESY and/or compensatory services immediately when school resumes.

3. You want an IEP meeting at school within 30 days of school resuming.

So here's why this form letter response from parents to schools is not, in my opinion, savvy advice for parents to follow...

1. The letter is written without knowing your child, your family, your priorities.

2. Signing or not signing an addendum only has impact in certain states. The letter assumes that if you don't sign, the addendum won't be put into effect. That's simply not true in many states.

3. Stating "I'm not a teacher and can't do the teacher's job, so you need to fix this" sets the wrong tone for this situation in moment and for when we get back into school. The knows you're not the teacher. No sarcasm necessary.

4. If everyone demands an IEP meeting within 30 days then our teachers, therapists and paraprofessionals will still NOT be able to do their job when we return to school. They'll be stuck in meetings all day. 

Here's what you can do instead:

1. Document what your child's current baseline skills are in each IEP goal that you feel is super important to track. You may be realizing during this crisis that not all IEP goals hold the same importance. That's ok. Let's focus on the ones have the most meaning.

2. Prioritize stabilizing and possibly make progress in the areas that are most important. This could be in one or two areas, such as managing emotions and communicating wants and needs or you could focus on everything from academics to cooking. It's up to you!

3. Ask for help from your IEP now. You've always wanted them to understand your home life. Now is the time. Teachers & teams are not mind readers. Do you need a social story for bedtime or visuals for taking turns with a sibling. Let's make it happen!

4. If your team offers, say YES to the Virtual IEP Meeting! I have a free webinar you can watch right now so you can have an awesome virtual IEP meeting. WATCH HERE

5. Get ready to be stronger than ever when it comes to making your own decisions and choices about ESY, compensatory education, when to have an IEP meeting, etc... Our special needs community is revving up to "make people pay" for leaving kids behind. I highly suggest you do NOT jump on that train, but you decide to focus on how to prioritize your child's education when we do return. 

I'm going to be totally honest right now... anyone who sends that letter telling the team that they won't sign and the school owes them is going to be put into a waiting list to have to deal with the Admin when they get back to school. 

If you truly want your child to jump back into an education that makes sense, do whatever you need to do to keep working through this crisis with your team. I'll help you find the solutions, get the documentation in a collaborative way and even pursue those options of ESY or compensatory services WITHOUT burning bridges or creating more stress. 

To get a jumpstart, join me in the Special Education Inner Circle. Your IEP Masterclass + LIVE Coaching inside of the Special Education Inner Circle is ready for you at