Be Prepared: It's IEP and Section 504 Annual Review Time
When your child has either an IEP or Section 504, your school conducts an annual review. Schools often schedule these meetings between January and May so that services are in place at the beginning of the following school year. This is a formal meeting and includes teachers and school personnel. As the parents, you are entitled and encouraged to attend this meeting. Some of the areas discussed are:
Your child's progress
How interventions are working
Goals for the next school year
Revisions to modifications and accommodations
As a parent, you are an integral part of the IEP/Section 504 process. You provide information teachers and schools may not know and, when you understand what services your child receives, can monitor to make sure the plan is implemented.
Information to gather before the meeting:
Your child's medical diagnosis and updated information. If there have been any changes in your child's diagnosis over the past year, bring documentation to share with the school. If your child hasn't had a doctor's appointment in a while, schedule one for several weeks before the meeting. Talk to the doctor about what accommodations or modifications would be helpful for your child. Your doctor, although not an educational professional, may have some suggestions based on your child's symptoms. If necessary, ask him to write a letter to the school you can bring to the meeting.
Previous goals and whether your child has met those goals. Look over the previous IEP/Section 504. For IEPs it is mandatory to list goals. Look over the goals and determine whether your child has made progress. If your child has an IEP, you should have received progress reports throughout the year. Look these over and decide how well the accommodations/modifications are working and helping your child achieve the goals.
What goals you want to see for the coming year. Think about the progress your child has made so far and what accommodations/modifications are working and which ones are not. Make a list of what help and services you believe your child needs. Remember, besides academics, bullying and social interactions can be addressed in an IEP. Check out the Sample IEP form and Suggestions for Accommodations and Modifications for more information on the different types of services.
Understand your rights. Websites such as wrightslaw.com fully explain yours, and your child's rights under both an IEP and Section 504. Understand your rights before attending the meeting.
During the meeting:
Express your thoughts, ideas, goals, concerns and suggestions. IEP/Section 504 meetings can be intimidating. You may feel uncomfortable speaking in a room full of people or you might feel that the teachers and other school personnel are not open to your ideas. Still, it is important for you to participate and share your concerns and ideas. If you are concerned you might not be able to do that, bring along a trusted friend or relative who knows your child. If you know other parents who have gone through this process, you can ask one to attend the meeting. You are allowed to bring someone into the meeting, however, you should tell the school ahead of time who will be attending with you.
Look over all suggested goals. Goals on your childs IEP or Section 504 should be specific and measurable, for example, "reading better" is not a goal. The goal should state the current reading level and where your child should be at the end of the next school year. In other words, there needs to be clear wording so you and the school know if the goal has been reached. If goals are not measurable, ask for them to be reworded before signing the forms.
Listen and be open. You might have different ideas than the school. Even when different, it is the input of everyone and open discussion which will bring about the best measures to help your child. Listen to ideas the school offers and their reasoning behind the suggestions. Some might have merit.
Discuss skills needed in the future. It is never too early to start planning for skills your child will need when high school ends. Life skills and college preparation skills can be included in your child's IEP.
Take notes. Bring paper and pen to take notes during the meeting. Not only does this help you later, when you want to refer to what happened during the meeting, it helps you listen more carefully to what is being said and then refer to it when it is your time to talk.
Ask questions. Never be afraid to ask questions to clarify what someone has said. Sometimes educators seem to be speaking in a whole different language and there might be terms that you don't understand. Ask what the term means or ask for details on anything you don't understand.
Leave your emotions at the door. Parents are never so emotional as when defending or talking about their child. It is easy to become defensive but try your best to keep your emotions out of the meeting. Stay professional and polite. You are all there to find solutions and help your child, even when you don't agree on the best way to do that. Stay away from accusations and attacks.