If you have been following my blogs lately, I recently got into a debate in the comment section of the Top Ten Negotiating Skills to Learn for an IEP. I’m going to focus this blog on one comment that was made:
“The (IEP) “team” concept does not in any way suggest a process of negotiation, rather it suggests collaboration. There is a significant difference with the former implying a relationship of possibly opposing views, while the latter implies a co-operative relationship.”
That was beautifully stated, but here’s the rub, IEP team collaboration is a myth. Here’s where I add my disclaimer, I am first and foremost a parent of a child with special needs and I am secondly a Special Education Advocate. This means I have been in a lot of IEP’s, and many of them have been collaborative, but that collaboration did not happen on its own. Assuming IEP Team collaboration happens organically is what keeps Special Education Advocates and Attorneys in business. There, I just gave away the secret. If school districts want to get rid of the Special Education Advocacy business, start working with parents to repair the trust that has been lost. Don’t get me wrong, parents, including myself, can sometimes hamper the IEP Team Collaboration as well. So how do we get from the myth of IEP Team collaboration to actual collaboration?
Eliminating or inviting outside sources that are manipulating the IEP Team. Your school district is legally required to have a representative at the IEP meeting who has the ability to commit the resources of the district. Yet, you would be surprised at how often I hear the school district’s representative say, “I don’t have the authority to approve this” or worse yet, “I have been authorized by my supervisor to make the following offer.” Parents have the right to invite members to join the IEP team. The parents should try to determine whether the administrative representative from the school district has authority, if they can’t do this on their own, then talk with a special education advocate to help you in this process.
The Parents need to educate themselves on the Law, Assessments, State Academic Standards and their child’s disability. There are actually two reasons for this:
- By preparing for the IEP meeting the parents can participate in a productive manner. When the IEP Team members see that you have a firm grasp on the issues, they are more likely to listen to your comments and concerns causing better collaboration; and
- It teaches the parents what the law actually provides for children with a disability. It does not provide the best education, only an appropriate education. Once a parent understands this difference they are less likely to make extreme demands. Yes, sometimes the parents ask for too much just as School Districts sometimes offer to little.
Get along with the team and eliminate hostile environments as much as possible. There is a big difference between assertive and being aggressive. This goes for all members of the IEP team. The IEP Team members from the School are usually nice, caring teachers and therapists that went into special education to help children but their employers don’t always allow them to do this. If you don’t think that’s true, read yesterday’s blog Beginning a new School and Knowing When to Say Goodbye.
Don’t discount each other’s opinions. School District employees should never assume they know what will work for the child just because they spent a few hours administering a standardized test or spent a few days doing informal observations. The parents have raised this child since birth and have valuable insight. Parents, the school district professionals are trained and knowledgeable and most likely understand many different learning strategies and methodologies. If, after listening to each other a consensus can’t be reached that is when you would ask for an Independent Educational Evaluations.
Parents should invite other people with specialized information about their child to attend the meeting especially other therapists, doctors or teachers. They can help guide the parents on whether they agree with the School Districts results or whether they have a different opinion.
As you can see there can be many roadblocks on the way to IEP Team collaboration. Both internal and external factors are at work. Even if the external factors are dealt with and a valid IEP Team is put together, we are all human beings that are sometimes wrong, sometimes irrational and sometimes emotional. This is why true collaboration only happens when we not only listen to each other but actually hear what others are saying.