In the late winter, many schools begin to schedule meetings with parents to review Individualized Educational Plans (IEP) and** Section 504** plans for the next school year. If your child has a Section 504, schools are not required to hold an annual review meeting, but many choose to do so anyway; if not, you can request one. Because your child’s needs can change from year to year, it is a good idea to review the plan and request changes that could benefit your child. Before you head off to the school, however, it is best to prepare.
Read your child’s current IEP/504
Decide whether you believe it is still meeting your child’s needs. How has your child’s performance been in school this year? Are there areas of weakness that you don’t believe are being addressed? Are there areas where your child is falling behind? Are there areas in which your child is excelling? What accommodations contributed to those successes?
Go through the plan line by line. Use a highlighter and pen to notate what you think is working and what you think could be modified. There might be accommodations listed that your child no longer needs; for example, maybe your child was receiving extra assistance in reading, but has now reached grade level and no longer requires it. Or, there might be accommodations that you believe are essential to your child’s school success, such as continued weekly communication with the teacher. Make notations directly on your copy of the plan; this helps during the meeting to make sure you don’t forget important points. If you don’t want to write directly on the IEP/504, make a copy and use that one for notes.
Look over schoolwork, tests, and homework assignments
If you have saved your child’s schoolwork, look through it to see where your child has improved. Do you see a significant difference between the schoolwork at the beginning of the year and now? Are there areas your child is struggling? Put a few of the assignments that back up your assessment aside for you to bring to the meeting.
Review past communication with the teacher
If the teacher has sent home notes throughout the year, take the time to reread them. Do you see the same problem occurring week after week? Do you see patterns in your child’s behavior that need to be addressed? Or do the notes indicate that your child is improving in different areas?
Request current information from the teacher
Send a note to your child’s teacher asking for information on how your child is doing academically and socially. Ask if the teacher has adopted any new strategies in the classroom that have seemed particularly helpful. Your child’s teacher might be at the meeting; however, it is helpful to have this information in advance. If there are problems, you can go to the meeting with ideas that work. If you don’t have the information ahead of time, you might be caught off guard and won’t have time to think about what you would like to see happen or research accommodations that could be helpful. As you read the report, write down any questions you might have.
Make a list of strategies that you use at home
Think about what strategies you are using at home to improve academic or social weaknesses, such as what you have found that works to keep your child focused on homework. Many of the strategies you use at home can be modified to be used at school as well. Take the time to write down what you have found helpful at home. You will also want to note which strategies you have found to be least helpful so these can be avoided. If they didn’t work at home, chances are they won’t work at school.
Gather any new evaluations, assessments, and testing results
If your child has seen a psychiatrist, had educational assessments, or sees a doctor on a regular basis, ask for to write a short summary of each assessment as well as any recommendations for accommodations in school. Plan to bring copies of this documentation with you to the meeting.
Talk to your child
Sometimes our children can be the best source of information. Children want to do well in school; they want you to be proud of them. Ask your child to explain what parts of school he or she finds most frustrating and which parts make him or her feel proud. Discuss specific accommodations, such as “Do you find it helpful when your teacher …” or “What do you think your teacher could do to help you …” Many children are quite insightful and can provide practical ideas that you might not have thought about. Finally, ask your child if he or she would like to attend the meeting with you. Teens over the age of 18 must attend the meeting; however, younger children can also benefit from listening. It can be the start of learning self-advocacy.
Create goals for the upcoming school year
During the meeting, you, the teachers, and other school personnel should work together to set goals for the next school year. However, it is often helpful if you have some idea of what you would like to concentrate on; for example, you might like to work on having your child better deal with transitions, take more responsibility for homework assignments, or be more organized.
Plan for someone to attend with you
Many people find their stress levels decrease when they bring someone to the meeting. This can be a friend or relative whom you want along to listen, take notes, ask questions, or simply offer you support. Before the meeting, discuss exactly what role you would like them to take so there aren’t conflicts during the meeting. You can also bring an educational advocate to the meeting.
Write a list of reminders
School meetings can be intimidating. You might be thoroughly prepared and yet once you are there, you forget what you want to ask. If you have questions, write down what you want to ask. You might also want to write down:
- Ask for specifics
- What accommodations will be put into place?
- Who will implement each accommodation?
- Who will monitor each accommodation?
At the end of the meeting, you can use this reminder to make sure you have all the pertinent information about what accommodations the school is going to put into place.
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Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of Idiot's Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot's Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love and Essential Guide to Asperger's Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.