Ah, yes, it’s that time again.
The start of the school year, you mean? Well, yes, but it’s also the dreaded season of IEP 1 and 504 2 meetings. Nathan has the first, and Sarah Kate has had both (she has a 504 plan at the moment), so I’ve done both in years past – and will again this year. Although we’ve had pretty good luck over the years, I still dread it like the plague. So how do I make it through these meetings?
I take a deep breath and remind myself of a few things:
1. I’m my child’s primary advocate … for now.
I need to speak up and ask for what the kids need, but the older Sarah Kate gets, the more involved she will be in her own 504 plan (and eventually Nathan should have input into his IEP). In the past, I showed up at the school, met with the guidance counselor, her teacher, and anyone else that needed to be there (it has, at various times, included therapists, resource teachers, school nurses, administrators, and others), signed the paperwork, and went home. The past two years, she was not in the meeting, but was given the plan to review and sign.
This year, she was included in the meeting, made suggestions and requests, and signed the plan. Although she spent most of the meeting sitting back and deferring to “the adults in the room,” her input was important, because she’s the only one who knows what it’s like to be her.
2. Although 504 and IEP meetings can feel adversarial, those folks on the other side of the table aren’t the enemy.
I’ve heard plenty of horror stories, and I’m sure some of you reading have your own battle scars and tales of woe, but in over eight years (including preschool), three different school systems and five different school administrations, we’ve had no major issues. None. In fact, I’d even go a little farther and state that we haven’t had any minor issues, either. We’ve had a misunderstanding here and there, but nothing that wasn’t resolved fairly quickly, and all of the instances I can think of happened at the beginning of the school year before everyone had All The Things figured out.
3. A positive, open attitude goes a long way.
I know some moms who bake cookies to take to their child’s IEP meetings. I think that’s an awesome idea, if you’re the kind of mom who does that kind of thing. I’m not, so I don’t (also, never will you ever see me as room mom and I can count on one hand how many field trips I’ve done in six years). I do, however, make an effort to be friendly with my children’s IEP/504 teams. My mom taught first grade for 28 years and my dad was a high school principal turned assistant superintendent, so I know that teachers (and administrators) are people, too. It’s easy to focus on the things that aren’t going well, but I try to focus on the things that are so that the bumps in the road can be more easily smoothed out when they appear.
4. Everyone has a different perspective – and that’s a good thing.
It’s tempting to think that the school staff is in the wrong or isn’t doing enough because “they don’t understand” what a child’s specific needs are, and in some cases the criticism is deserved. But the school staff have information I’m not privy to as a parent – the flow of the day, the makeup of the class, the quirks of the building, the intricacies of the dismissal procedure, and many other things. Instead of focusing on a specific way I want things to be done, I try to communicate the need.
Now it’s your turn – tell me how you tackle your child’s IEP or 504 meeting!
For information about the similarities and differences between IEP and 504, go here.
1 Individualized Education Program – For more information, go here.
2 Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (the precursor to the Americans with Disabilities Act) – For more information, go here.