Navigate Life Texas: Resources for kids with disabilities and special needs

Navigate Life Texas: Resources for kids with disabilities and special needs

Developing an ARD/IEP Plan: How to Get the Most Out of the Meetings

When families become involved in the special education process and attend meetings to develop an Individualized Education Program (IEP) plan, it can feel like visiting a foreign country – there is a new language, new customs, and protocol that can be unfamiliar and, sometimes, a little frightening. To ease parent fears, here are some quick tips from a parent of two young adults with disabilities on how parents can be better prepared and contribute more in meetings. When parents are involved, the benefits for their children are significant.

  1. Evaluation. Know that all services that a child “needs” are based on the initial evaluation and then subsequently on data collection/further assessments. The timeline for the INITIAL evaluation begins when you provide written request for evaluation (within 15 school days – school must get your consent; then 45 school days from consent, complete evaluation…with some exceptions). There are NO required deadlines for any other requests for evaluations or re-evaluations – so if you feel your child needs a further evaluation, find out when the evaluation will be completed and get it documented in the IEP.
  2. BEFORE the meeting, gather information.Get draft copies of evaluations, present levels of academic achievement or functional performance, proposed IEP goals/objectives, or supplemental materials (e.g. behavior plan, autism, vision, or hearing supplements) so that you can read through things ahead of time and know what people are going to talk about.
  3. Ask questions. Remember you are an important part of the ARD/IEP team and you need to know what people are talking about. It is okay to ask questions. Ask for clarification. Ask for data to support decision-making or how data will be collected. Ask for support if you need it. Ask if others need support. Remember asking a yes/no question gets a yes/no answer. Learn to ask open-ended questions or better yet, you may want to ask, “What will it take?” What will it take to ensure my child is included in regular ed class? What will it take for my child to receive XYZ service? This type of question allows all members of the Admission, Review, and Dismissal (ARD) committee to brainstorm solutions.
  4. Meet and communicate all year with staff and the professionals who work with your children. Do not make the ARD meeting the only time you meet or talk to one another. Work together with your school before the ARD/IEP meeting to discuss concerns and develop goals for your child. Set up a communication system that works for you and your teacher. Remember that she/he has other students beside yours, so she/he may not be able to reply immediately. Instruction cannot take place if the teacher is on the phone or computer replying to email.
  5. Document, document, document. Put requests in writing and get responses in writing. If it is not written down, it may not happen. Read and highlight your Procedural Safeguards regarding Prior Written Notice. Know your rights and what is required when the school proposes or refuses to provide a service.
  6. Learn about your child’s disability and the special education process. Attend trainings (by parent organizations, school district, or education service center). Use an ARD agenda to keep organized during the meeting. Obtain and use the tools that are provided to help you understand special education – the Guide to the ARD Process, Procedural Safeguards, Dispute Resolution Handbook, the Parent Companion and Texas Project First websites, as well as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) Manual.
  7. Never go alone to a meeting. You do not need to bring an advocate, but do bring a friend or relative with you. They can be a second set of ears/eyes. Meet with them ahead of time so they know your concerns and can ensure that your questions are addressed. They can be in charge of taking notes, the ARD agenda, and supporting you during the meeting. Also, take your child to the meeting. He or she doesn’t have to stay for the whole meeting but can introduce people around the table, tell what they like/don’t like about school, and then return to class. This can help prepare your child for the day when your child is required to attend their meetings at age 15.
  8. Organize your materials (e.g. evaluations, IEPs, report cards, progress reports, notes/emails, phone call log, etc.) so that you can find things.
  9. Know that you can disagree. It is OK to disagree, but you must take the next step.
    1. If you don’t agree with evaluation, you can request an independent evaluation.
    2. If you don’t agree with the program or services, you will be given an opportunity to write down what you do not agree to.
    3. If you didn’t understand what happened at the ARD meeting, it might be good to disagree.
    4. A reconvene meeting will be scheduled within 10 days of your IEP meeting. During that up-to-10-day recess timeframe, you and the school should be working together to gather more information (especially if you didn’t understand the ARD process), so that when you come back to the reconvene meeting you can reach consensus or agreement.
    5. If you still disagree at the 10-day meeting: The school can implement the IEP it feels is best. You must take the next step to resolve the disagreement. Request Facilitated IEP or mediation; file a complaint; or file for due process hearing.
  10. Create a vision for your child. The whole purpose of IDEA is to prepare your child for further education/training, employment, or independent living as needed. The IEP is sort of like a map to get you to your destination. If your children didn’t have a disability, your expectation, or end destination, would be for them to grow up, get an education, graduate, and go on to college or employment. Going to an ARD/IEP meeting without a clear vision of what your child will do after the bus stops coming is sort of like getting into a car on vacation and not knowing where you are going. You need to have a destination in mind to plan for the future. What are your hopes and dreams for your child? More importantly, what are your child’s hopes and dreams? Where are they going after school is over? What steps will it take to get there? Every year, as you make decisions at the ARD meeting, you are mapping out the plan. With your child’s assistance, take time and write down the vision. Have your child share it at the ARD/IEP meeting – it should guide the whole IEP process. Let the vision direct you and be at the forefront of all decisions the ARD committee makes. 
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