The pencils are sharpened and the backpacks packed. Parents of children who have a disability know there’s another item on the back to school check list—an updated Individualized Education Program (IEP).

The IEP is developed for each public school child who is eligible for special education and is meant to ensure students are supported and given a chance to participate in school culture and academics.

Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare has many resources to help families with the IEP process. Erin Tentis-Berglund, a psychologist at Gillette assists families to get the psychological or cognitive testing children might need to quality for an IEP. “Our psychological and cognitive test results are part of the evaluation process,” Tentis-Berglund says. 

Gillette provides a variety of testing options to help gather data to determine your child’s needs. For example, Gillette professionals can conduct neuropsychological evaluations, psychological testing, speech language pathology evaluations, occupational and physical therapy evaluations and audiology testing.

Once your child has been evaluated and found to be eligible for special education, the IEP outlines the services your school district will provide to your child at no cost to you.  It’s important to note that school districts are required to consider the evaluations from independent evaluators like Gillette. 

“All families are different, “Tentis-Bergland adds, “but often it’s a good idea to make your child aware of the IEP from the ‘get go.’ This can take away any shame, embarrassment or negative feelings a child might have about his or her IEP. Parents and education professionals can help reassure a child that everyone has different strengths and areas to improve.”

During the IEP process you, as a parent or guardian, work with a team that includes; a school district representative who is qualified and knows about the resources for the school district, at least one of your child’s special education teachers, at least one of your child’s regular teachers, and a person who is qualified to interpret evaluations results. 

Help is Available

The IEP process can feel a bit overwhelming, but there are online resources and places for support such as the PACER Center.  Minneapolis-based PACER is an information, training, and advocacy center for families throughout Minnesota who have children and young adults who have disabilities. 

Jody Manning is PACER’s Parent Training and Information Center director and says, “Parents are equal members of the IEP team.  Given that, parents should prepare for the meeting.” Manning suggests the following tips:

  • Learn your rights and responsibilities.
  • Talk with your child and get his or her input about what is and isn’t working.
  • Review your child’s academic records for progress measurements. (For example, recent report cards and district and statewide testing.)
  • Review the goals and objectives in your child’s current IEP.

In addition, PACER has a parent homework sheet available on its website that can you determine if the IEP will meet your child’s needs.

“The parent homework sheet exercise gives parents the tools to decide and the data to show where there are gaps,” Manning says. “Once parents have completed the exercise, they’ll have specific information that will help them make the best decisions for their child’s education. “

She cautions the exercise is not easy or quick but PACER has regularly scheduled sessions throughout Minnesota to support parents with the homework sheet. Parents and guardians living anywhere in the state of Minnesota can contact PACER directly for assistance.

Manning and Tentis-Bergland both agree a successful IEP meeting stays focused on the child’s needs. As a parent you know your child the best. You can be his or her strongest advocate.

www.pacer.org

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