OCLB Special Education Primer - IEPs (Part 3)
- OUR CHILDREN LEFT BEHIND
** WHAT YOU CAN DO RIGHT NOW **
SEPTEMBER 8, 2004OCLB SPECIAL EDUCATION PRIMER
INDIVIDUALIZED EDUCATION PROGRAMS – WHAT NEXT?
Our most recent section of the OCLB Special Education Primer discussed Congress’ reauthorization amendments proposing elimination of short-term objectives and benchmarks from the Individualized Education Program [IEP]. We also briefly discussed two Senate provisions on positive behavior support and assistive technology.
This Primer chapter summarizes our concerns about the IEP process and proposes amendments that we think will improve the IEP development process and the effectiveness of the IEP for individual students. We offer our proposed changes with the caveat that we have not “vetted” them in advance with any friends or parent organizations. We offer them only as food for thought, realizing that conceptualization almost always is dramatically different from implementation. We also note that our objections to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act [IDEA] amendments contained in H.R.1350 and S.1248 reflect our belief that they weaken IDEA, rather than any belief that IDEA is perfect and should never be changed.
Summary of Concerns – IEP Development and Content
There is a natural tension in the parent/teacher relationship across grades, across states and across socioeconomic lines. The tension exists whether or not the student in the equation has a disability. But the existence of a disability can compound the natural tension, especially when the subject of discussion is the child’s IEP.
The IEP is the contract that parents use to define and enforce their children’s rights to receive a free and appropriate public education [FAPE]. It is not surprising that most parents are apprehensive about the IEP process. The schools control the IEP development process. IEP meetings are adjourned if key school personnel cannot attend. If parents cannot attend, the meetings often go on as planned. If disputes arise during the meeting that cannot be resolved immediately, the school personnel can leave the table and the meeting is over. If parents leave the meeting, it goes on without them.
School personnel possess the academic and administrative expertise to manage and sometimes even manipulate the conduct of IEP Team meetings. They have open access to seasoned special education legal counsel both before and during meetings to be sure the school position is protected throughout the process. Parents often have no academic or administrative savvy, let alone any access to competent counsel. They feel they have no choice but to listen to the school and hope that the programs recommended by the schools meet their children’s needs.
Schools get the IEP programs, services and placements they want on the IEP. When is the last time a school went to due process because the parents changed program items or placement on an IEP over the school’s objection? It almost never happens because the balance of power in IEP development favors schools rather than parents.
We parents do ourselves and school personnel no favors if we deny the natural existence of this tension in the parent/school relationship or remain silent when proposed IDEA changes further threaten our children’s rights. We have fought against H.R.1350 and S.1248 because we believe the proposed changes will hurt our children.
But we do not oppose constructive, positive changes to IDEA that will improve educational opportunities for and services to our children. We want our children and the educators who teach them to achieve great success. We would strongly support any IDEA amendments that would make that success more likely and more readily achievable.
Guiding Principles on Amending The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act
OCLB has developed a list of guiding principles to help us to evaluate the policy issues naturally present in proposed IDEA amendments. We want to be sure that we uphold our core beliefs about what special education law should mean for and provide to our children when we support or oppose IDEA amendments.
Since May, 2003 Our Children Left Behind has stated its objections to proposed House and Senate amendments in direct terms. For example, we have opposed eliminating short-term objectives [STOs]. We believe that STOs are vital to IEPs because they best define the focus of immediate educational activities and provide the strongest and most reliable form of accountability.
But our objections to proposed IDEA amendments also stem from policy concerns. For example, we cannot support amendments that further tip the balance of power toward school districts and away from parents. Eliminating STOs eliminates a measure of accountability [a functional issue for us], which thereby tips the balance of power more toward schools and away from parents and students [a policy issue for us].
When we evaluate proposed amendments we do so with two test questions. The first question is whether the amendment achieves a positive outcome for children who have disabilities. In the case of STOs, does eliminating STOs help children? The second question is whether the amendment maintains or strengthens the current IDEA ’97 rights of the child and parent as measured by the following guiding principles. Does the proposed amendment:
These guiding principles apply to all IDEA amendments and not just those which amend the IEP development, content or implementation process. All IDEA amendments must remain faithful to the values and concepts that drove the initial development and passage of special education law over 30 years ago.
- Preserve or enhance fundamental due process rights for students and parents as they exist in IDEA '97;
- Preserve or enhance data collection and other accountability measures that provide meaningful indicators of how particular programs and strategies are working for individual students;
- Preserve or enhance for students and parents the participatory and procedural rights in the IEP development process that exist in IDEA '97;
- Promote IDEA educational opportunities for parents as part of the amendment implementation process;
- Increase opportunities for students with disabilities to receive educational services in fully inclusive settings;
- Promote school-wide and community-wide recognition and awareness of disability issues;
- Strengthen the principle that needs-based services required by IDEA are provided to equalize educational opportunity for students with disabilities; and
- Foster the development and strengthening of the parent-professional partnership.
Take the proposed elimination of STOs as an example. We cannot support eliminating STOs because this amendment would violate our guiding principle that all amendments should “preserve or enhance … accountability measures ….” In fact, we believe that eliminating STOs would reduce accountability rather than preserving it, thereby tipping the power balance away from parents and toward schools.
Improving IEP Development, Content and Implementation
We OCLB members have brainstormed over the past week. Here are some of the ideas we came up with that we believe would strengthen the IEP development and implementation process. We are stating the proposals in their rawest form, with the intent that they provoke discussion of positive IDEA amendments to come.
IEP Development Process – How and By Whom IEPs are Created
IEP Program Components – Required IEP Content and Considerations
- Include siblings and classmates as IEP Team members.
- Standardize definitions and forms across service areas so that community mental health, medical and social service forms can be used in IEP development.
- Ask parents for available IEP meeting dates/times first, and then fit educators into the stated time slots.
- Add the building administrator to IEP Team.
- Require a person with the authority to commit district resources to attend IEP Team meetings.
- Create and Use IEP forms that track IEP development process in sequence and assure that placement and Least Restrictive Environment considerations occur only after all other needs, goals and objectives, services, supports and program activities have been determined.
- Permit parents to prepare and attach parent reports or addendums to the IEP, to be given the same weight as reports prepared and included in the IEP by educators and service providers.
- Require that outside reports, opinions and diagnoses be given equal weight to school-prepared reports and opinions.
IEP Implementation and Support
- Require IEP to state teaching methodology.
- Require IEP to state financial responsibility of non-school payers [community mental health; insurance; Medicaid; etc.].
- Prepare behavior programs with primary objective being to keep the child in school.
- Expand access to and availability of extra-curricular activities.
- Start transition planning earlier than age 14.
- Mandate self-determination as primary transition objective.
- Require and teach self advocacy skills and self-determination as part of transition plan.
- Require or promote more community involvement and mentoring as part of transition plan.
- Strengthen governmental and community involvement components including voting rights, economic support to community sponsors and mentors, etc.
- Mandate that IEP program requirements trump or preempt district employment or service contracts or agreements existing outside the IEP process.
- Permit parent-initiated amendment of IEPs by written agreement without need to reconvene IEP Team meeting.
- Add results-oriented checkpoints/quality assurance measurements to evaluation process, including the name or job position of the district employee accountable for meeting the IEP requirement.
- Provide that parents are informed of and permitted to attend all district trainings and workshops provided to educators and other school staff on IDEA related subjects and activities.
We parents are not averse to IDEA amendments. Parents and educators must work together to produce changes in the development and content of IEPs. Indeed, we must do so if we are to improve educational opportunities for 6.5 million children who have disabilities. These changes must be reasoned and consistent with the concepts and principles that led to the initial development and implementation of special education law. We do not want any children left behind. We stand ready to work in good faith with educators and Congress to improve our children’s education. We also welcome your comments.
Tricia & Calvin Luker, today's parentvolunteer@...
©2004 Our Children Left Behind.
Our Children Left Behind [OCLB] was created and is owned/operated by parent volunteers (Shari Krishnan, Tricia & Calvin Luker, Sandy Strassman Alperstein, and Debi Lewis). Permission to forward, copy, and/or post this article is granted provided that it is unedited and attributed to the author(s) and http://www.ourchildrenleftbehind.com/. For more about OCLB or to share information, please contact parentvolunteer@....
- Preserve or enhance fundamental due process rights for students and parents as they exist in IDEA '97;