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Digging into your child’s IEP and progress toward it

When you have a child who needs special educational accommodations and approaches, you often trust that the school has the resources in place to create a plan that will accurately evaluate your child and will give him (or her) the tools to develop necessary skills. Though that is likely the intention, the results of their efforts might not always match up.

Investigative journalist watchdog group ProPublica recently published a column that will likely be of interest to readers of this blog: how to best inquire about your child’s IEP, and if the school’s resources are meeting the needs of your special needs child.

We’ve talked a little about this issue in the past, but this post is more about what you need to do to get started having a conversation about your child’s education, as well as what resources you should personally cultivate to make sure you stay in the proverbial loop.

Understanding your rights

Federal law mandates that schools create IEPs for children with qualified special educational needs, and that those plans set forth both the child’s particular requirements and the steps that the school will take to provide for them. What the law doesn’t really do, however, is tell schools precisely how that should be done, and compliance with this regulation varies widely from district to district (or even amongst schools in the same district).

The law – found in the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act – also says that parents have the right to receive information from their child’s educational record. Of course, having the right to get the information you want and actually being able to access that information are two different things.

What you can do

This is why it is important for you to cultivate your own resources and relationships whenever possible. For example, you have the legal right to get information about your child’s IEP. Depending on the school, however, the IEP might be bare-bones, providing little in the way of actual information about your child’s day-to-day educational needs and goals.

Having an open line of communication with your child’s teacher, however, can give you a wealth of information not contained in the IEP. Being able to ask “Has my child made progress on his vocabulary development?” is much more valuable to you than simply reading “by the end of the year, child should be able to recognize 50 sight words and use them properly.”

Also, keeping your questions and comments as specific as possible and tailored to your child’s unique situation could be immensely helpful in shaping the policies, procedures and resources at your child’s disposal. Asking pointed questions about your child’s ability to write coherent sentences is much more valuable to education providers than “how’s he doing?” If you demonstrate concern about particular skills, then the teacher and aides will be able to tailor their instruction to address those. 

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