The first time I heard the acronym IEP was after becoming a kinship foster parent to my grandson.

The term was introduced to me in the middle of a team meeting, but not well-explained. All I understood about it was that it was through the school, required an annual meeting and was supposed to help him academically. Like many other parents or guardians in similar situations, I attended the meetings, trusted the system and agreed to what was discussed.

For anyone that is not aware, an IEP is an Individualized Education Plan (or program) that is a written statement of the educational program for children with special academic needs. Any child who is receiving special education services in any school must have this written plan. An IEP meeting is required within 30 calendar days after it is determined that a child has a disability. For anyone that would like to learn more about IEP’s there is excellent information on the Utah Parent Center website at: https://utahparentcenter.org/iep-101-getting-started.

What I wanted to focus on this week were those parents and caregivers who are already receiving these special education services and have a child who currently has or is in the process of creating an IEP. However, before I begin, I would like to preface this article by saying that I have the utmost respect for professionals and volunteers who work in special education. I have worked side by side with many of them and know that their intent is always to provide quality education to their students.

My intention by writing this is more to remind parents and caregivers of their role in the IEP and educational process and empower them to use their voice whenever they feel things are either stagnant or misdirected. It is important to remember that special education providers support many students so the needs of an individual student should be voiced and advocated by their personal support system.

I came across something on Facebook this week from the “Trauma Informed Parent” page, created by http://specialmomadvocate.com, that caught my eye and I wanted to share. It is called “12 Warning Signs the IEP Team Is Not Doing Their Job.”

Instead of taking this direction however, I would just like to use some of their notes as a reminder to parents that IEPs and their success are not just the job of the educators but of the entire team. I selected a few that resonated with me from my experience in the system.

The first one listed, and probably most important in my opinion, is being told that a child is not eligible for special education because the child is doing fine academically. Any parent who has concerns about the learning abilities of their child should continue to ask for assessments to the district level and beyond if necessary. The IDEA — Individuals with Disabilities Education Act — specifically states that grades and performance are irrelevant to determining if a student needs special education services. To learn more about the educational rights for students under IDEA visit https://sites.ed.gov/idea/statuteregulations.

This is also true when a parent is told that their child no longer requires a certain service. It is important to note that any school receiving government funding must provide support for special education services. So this information also applies to charter schools who receive funding.

Make sure that when attending an annual planning meeting that each goal is reviewed and re-evaluated. Goals should not stay the same out of convenience but should evolve as the child grows and provide a direction for them to follow to succeed.

It is important as parents or caregivers to feel comfortable in speaking up and asking questions at any point and not just wait for the review meeting. Don’t assume that your thoughts don’t matter because you are not an “expert” in the field. You are the “expert” for your child and their best assurance that they will get the most out of their education.

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