Friday, June 10, 2011

An open letter to IEP teams everywhere

Dear IEP team members,

I'd like you to have a copy of the e-mail I sent this afternoon to Bud's IEP team - a combination of classroom teachers and special ed staff from the elementary school he is leaving and the middle school he will enter in the fall.  It's the kind of letter that every special needs parent wants to be able to write, but - based on what I've heard from parents whose IEP meetings sound more like armed warfare than like collaborative planning sessions - usually can't.

I'm posting it here for two reasons - first, to publicly thank the team that we are so lucky to have, and second, to issue a challenge to people on IEP teams across the country - classroom teachers, special educators, and administrators.

My challenge is this:  As you begin the IEP cycle each year, use this letter as an end goal.  Start your planning process, structure your meetings, and implement your ideas with the goal that every parent who sits at your table will be able to leave the room and write a letter like this.

I know that it's possible, because I've seen it done, over and over and over again.  Like every district everywhere, my district is under-funded.  The special ed budget has been cut.  The caseload has grown exponentially, but the staffing has not.  And yet, because the members of our team approach their work with care and insight - because they are creative - because they are collaborative - because they listen and learn and seek to understand not just who my child is, but also who he might become - they are able to set a high bar, and then help him soar over it.

You can do it, too.


Hello, all,

I just wanted to write to follow up on our IEP meeting this afternoon to tell you how fortunate I feel to work with such an outstanding team. I have friends raising children with autism all over the country, and in recent weeks I’ve heard story after story about them donning their battle gear as they entered IEP meetings, only to emerge hours later, deflated and defeated. In contrast, I walked into today’s meeting with a list of points I wanted to make sure we covered, and in every instance – without exception – someone else on the team raised the issue before I had a chance. I truly believe that the plan we have in place for Bud – and the plan you’ve been implementing with him all spring - is fantastic and puts him in the best possible position as he prepares to make the transition to middle school.

This could be an overwhelming and frightening time for Bud, and for me. Instead, because we have the good fortune to work with people like you – insightful, collaborative, forward-thinking people who truly know and respect my son – it’s an exciting time full of possibilities. I imagine that IEP season is exhausting for you. Please know that your work really matters, and that I appreciate everything you do.

All the best,



DragonSlayerMama said...


Stimey said...

Yes. Absolutely yes. There HAVE to be ways to work within the system.

Steph said...

Sadly, I think what you experience is rare. But you are so blessed to have such a great team. So many parents' voices aren't heard, but with people like you as inspiration and motivation I think they can be. I know this letter is a personal reminder to me, as a special education professional, of why I do what I do, who I do it for and what my ultimate goals and outcomes should be for each and every one of my children.

So thank you. Very much.

The Slacker Mom said...

We're still in the IFSP phase right now, but so far those have been great. I cringe to think that things will change when they turn 3 but I have heard good things about our district, so I am crossing my fingers and until I have a reason to, I am leaving my battle gear at home so it's available for things like dealing with insurance!

Pia said...

Sooooo jealous! Our experience has been so the opposite that it puts an ugly cold stone in the pit of my stomach at the idea of putting our son in school come kindergarden. And how sad I feel that way when he is 4! I pray that it stays golden for you and net year is wonderful!!

David N. Andrews M. Ed., C. P. S. E. said...

Sadly, that approach would not work in Finland, where I live. This is not a comment on your optimism. On the contrary, it is a comment on the totall inflexibility of the Finnish way of doing special education (essentially, dumping all kids with SENs in one class and ... well, forgetting about them totally).

Go Suomi, eh?


kellyg said...

So far, my expectations and the school's have been the same so I haven't felt like I had to fight for anything.

Because we moved into our current district when K was entering first grade, our IEP meeting is in the fall. I think that helps. K's teachers and specialists can focus on just us. And they don't have 3 other meetings to do that week.

I'm glad we've had 3 years of really good meetings. K's teachers, parapros and specialists are awesome. I really like them. And hopefully that will help if there comes a day when our expectations don't match up.

When I hear the stories of not so good IEP meetings, it makes me appreciate my team that much more.

Cheryl said...

You are one of the lucky ones MOM-NOS. While our meetings have not been outright adversarial, they have been tense at times, especially in the wake of statewide cutbacks and changes in "standards". BUT...I do hope to be able to use your letter to go into the next school year with a positive attitude and tweak it so that I can help my son's new classroom teacher give him what he needs. Thanks for sharing your words.

gina said...

Meetings at home district school are pure torture with the case manager always on the attack. Since he was bumped to an out of district school (since home district doesn't want to "deal" with him) things have improved. Case manager INSISTED he was a behavior deviant (he'd zone out and ignore them, that's his behavior). New school sees my real child and case manager nearly fainted when THREE different licensed professionals said she was wrong & he really belongs in the autistic class.

Much to case mgr delay, majority rules. He starts in the autistic class for ESY in a few weeks.

Much to my & my advocate's delight case mgr's contract was not renewed and we have a new team July 1. It took over 2 years but my observations were correct. It just took another school district to put the consultant case manager in her place. (I still playback the look on her face, though she was previously notified, when the out of district team said on the record that my son is not a "behavior deviant" as she so vehemently insisted.She was able to manipulate the home school but not the outside professionals.

Ok rant over...son is very excited to be going to a class where he belongs. He visited today and was thrilled that they are more like him (and his Lego obsession) than any other child he ever encountered.

Measured Voices said...

I don't know that we were ever really in combat with our IEP team, but I never felt they listened to us. For three years in middle school, I continually asked for the school to find some way to stretch our son, to see what he was truly capable of or might be capable of academically.

I know that social skills and life skills are important for my son, but I always felt that those things came at the expense of anything academic. I came away feeling that the two hours he spent every day in the school's life skills program were almost a total waste, although I do remember they learned one day how to make microwave fudge.

For the record, our son was allowed to take one mainstream academic class in eighth and again in ninth grade, a science class. And he managed a 'B' each time, so there is something upstairs to work with. Oddly enough, he had more trouble with the two remedial courses he took this year, I suspect because they were not able to hold his interest.

shelbug99 said...

As an intervention specialist, I would love to have a parent like you on the team. I can think of only a couple instances this year where I've actually had parents show for an IEP meeting or a parent/teacher conference. It makes me sad. There have been times when my special ed director has showed up uninvited at a parent's house and "We're making major decisions about your child and you need to be involved." I have better luck with the surrogate parents appointed for children in the foster care system, who often have never met the child we're discussing.

So I applaud you Mom-Nos and all the other involved IEP parents out there. Bud's world is better because of you.

Asperger Mom Network said...

Just discovered your blog. How refreshing to hear a positive outlook. I have had an exceptional experience for my son at school (not perfect, of course) and it has come from being able to work as a team.
Well done!