Eight Tips (and a Bonus) for a New School Year

The beginning of the school year is a busy time for any parent or guardian, but if you have a student receiving special education services, there are even more things you have to do to get ready.  Here are some tips:

  1. Get Organized: Purchase a new loose-leaf binder to contain all of the IEPs, notices, communications, evaluations, and reports you’ll receive during this year.  Purchase a separate large folder to hold all of the school work your student brings home so you can easily monitor and document his or her progress.  Keep a smaller notebook available to document incidents or notes you have with your student.  Start by reviewing how the summer was – this can be important if you plan to ask for Extended School Year services next summer.
  2. Review the IEP: Go over the objectives and benchmarks your student should be achieving in both the short-term and long-term.  Make sure you understand what services the school has agreed to provide, and contact the school if you have any questions about how those services will be provided.
  3. Meet the Teacher: Introduce yourself to your student’s teacher.  Bring extra copies of your student’s IEP so you and the teacher can review and discuss it, and so you can answer any questions the teacher may have about your student.
  4. Don’t Forget the School Nurse and Aides: Stop by the nurse’s office to talk about your student, and to discuss the current medication status and any changes that have been made since the previous year.  If you can, introduce yourself to the aides and therapists that your student will be meeting and working with.
  5. Check-ups and Evaluations: Consider having your student evaluated again by a private specialist.  This will help you get a “baseline” picture of your student at the start of the year that will make it easier to follow your student’s progress.  If possible, try to have evaluations done by the same specialists who have always seen your student, as their impression will carry more weight if there is a dispute.
  6. Contact the Local Parent Advisory Council:  The local Parent Advisory Council (PAC) is a valuable source of support and information.  If you haven’t been involved with them before, attend a few meetings, get to know the coordinators, and meet other parents of students in the special education programs.  If you can, offer to help organize a meeting, bring in a guest speaker, or volunteer to be the coordinator.
  7. Catch-up on Developments: There are many places you can get updates on changes in special education laws, regulations, or practices.  You can stay in contact with the local PAC, research issues online, attend a talk by a special education specialist, subscribe to special education blogs by special education attorneys (like this one), or meet with a special education advocate or attorney.
  8. Monitor Progress: Throughout the school year, make sure your student’s teachers and aides are sending you regular progress reports and updates.  Compare these over time, and compare them with the objectives and benchmarks outlined in the IEP.  If you think your student is not progressing appropriately, don’t hesitate to meet with the teacher or school representatives to ask what can be done.

Bonus Tip:  As busy as you might be, don’t forget to make sure your student knows you love them and you’re there to support them.  After all, in the end, that’s the most important thing you can do.