If you are a parent of a special education student or advocating for one, do yourself a favor and . . .
PRINT OUT THIS ARTICLE (or at least the plan below).
Not only will this article save you time and lots of money, it will help you understand how best to help your child with a disability.
When clients contact me, most are armed with a box (or seven) of documents about their child’s special education. It is wonderful that they are documenting their child’s path and what the school district is doing (or not doing) for their child. It should be the mantra of every parent of a child with a disability: DOCUMENT EVERYTHING!
But . . .
Usually, the documents clients provide me are overkill and disorganized. Inside the box(es) is a pile of papers, often not in order. I doubt highly that a client wants me to bill them at $375.00/hour to go through those papers to organize them and figure out what I need. Thus, before you meet with a lawyer or advocate, you should organize your child’s special education documents first. You should do this even if you are advocating for your own child.
Here is a plan to explain which documents you need, which documents you don’t need, and how to organize them.
1. Get a 2″ 3-ring binder with dividers. Label the dividers as follows: MEDICAL, FAMILY BACKGROUND, EVALUATIONS, IEPs / 504 PLANS, and SCHOOL DOCS.
2. Under MEDICAL, include any papers from the original diagnosis of your child. Also include any changes to that diagnosis (e.g. ADHD -> Autism Spectrum Disorder). Also include a list of any major medical events, such as surgeries, hospital in-patient stays, broken bones, major or chronic illnesses, and allergies (don’t forget dental events, such as tonsillectomies, baby teeth extractions, etc.) As best you can, document the dates and locations of these medical events, as well as treatments received. Finally, if there are any related medical or psychological disorders in the immediate family, note those here as well (e.g. grandfather diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, uncle diagnosed with ADHD, etc.) Finally, in the front of this section, place a list of all current physicians and medical providers seen by your child – primary care physician, occupational therapist, physical therapist, psychiatrist, psychologist, speech therapist, etc. Make sure you have their name, the service they provide, and contact information (phone number, email address, website).
3. In the FAMILY BACKGROUND section, include notes of milestones in your child’s development (e.g. date first crawled, date first walked, date first spoke, first spoken words, etc.), especially any noted delays in such development. Also provide a narrative of your family makeup and any major changes, such as number of living grandparents, parents, child’s siblings, aunts, uncles, etc. It is critical to be honest about family events, such as divorces or separations, geographic relocations, domestic violence, financial or other stress, etc. Place in this section other matters of importance in your family culture, such as religious beliefs, school history including any changes in school, ethnic celebrations, etc. If you are in a divorced family, you should include anything that changes the name of the child and also any court order regarding physical custody, visitation, and especially legal custody or who has the right to make educational decisions for the child.
4. Do not include every evaluation of the child ever performed. In EVALUATIONS, place only the most recent evaluations of the child. These evaluations should be no more than 3 years old. If the evaluations occurred more than 3 years ago, do not include them. Thus, if this section is empty, one of the things you will be requesting is a new comprehensive educational evaluation of your child.
5. Like EVALUATIONS, within the IEPs/504 PLANS section do not include every IEP or 504 Plan since your child’s birth. (That’s supposed to be humorous.) My recommendation is to only include the current approved IEP or 504 Plan and all approved ones going back two school years. You should only include a draft IEP or 504 Plan if it is related to the current approved IEP or 504 Plan (to show how the school changed or omitted certain information) or it is a current proposed IEP or 504 Plan with which you disagree. Old drafts should be discarded because approved IEPs and 504 Plans overrule those drafts. Thus, this section should be at a maximum, 3-5 documents, especially since these are typically very long documents (you may consider only including pages from prior plans or drafts that conflict with the one currently at issue.)
6. The SCHOOL DOCS section is the trickiest of all. My rule of thumb is when in doubt, include it. First, if you haven’t done so already, send a FERPA request to the school for your child’s records. (Click on the link to the left to read more about FERPA requests.) At the beginning of this section, provide a list of all contact points at the school with names, phone numbers and email addresses of the superintendent, principal, assistant principal, all teachers that see your child, all service providers that see your child, all persons involved in lunch and/or playground monitoring, and any other person that your child may encounter in school. Also include anyone on the IEP Team (Child Study Team) that is not included in the prior list, such as school psychologist. [Why do this? First, it will assist your attorney or advocate into knowing who the players are. Second, it will show the IEP Team that you are more than prepared when you show up at an IEP Team meeting with the list. Can you imagine the fear on the faces of the IEP Team members when they see their names and contact information on a list in your notebook? Make sure you turn to that page in your binder when you first sit down.] You should include here results from your child’s standardized tests, report cards, any disciplinary reports, absent/tardy reports, progress reports (triggered by the current IEP or otherwise), and any other key documents that discuss your child’s current levels of academic achievement and functioning in the school environment (sometimes emails from teachers or among teachers and administrators provide the true story).
Your binder may be huge, but volume is not the problem. Disorganization is the problem which the binder resolves. You, your attorney, or your advocate will appreciate this effort. And, as stated previously, it will help zero in on the real issues your child with a disability is facing in the school environment.[This article and other helpful tips for your child’s IEP are in our FREE report 5 Easy Steps for a Successful IEP Meeting. Download your copy here.]
For more on this and related topics, consider purchasing the book SchoolKidsLawyer’s Step-By-Step Guide to Special Education Law: Workbook for Parents, Advocates and Lawyers available now from Amazon.com or direct from SchoolKidsLawyer.com.