A Brief Overview
- By getting organized, you can plan ahead for fall and beyond. This article includes tips, resources, and information to help you get ready for a new school year.
- Keep in mind that schools are required to engage with families. PAVE provides an article about parent participation in special education process.
- If you are tight on time and new to special education, here’s a place to do some basic training, with three short videos: Student Rights, IEP, Section 504 and More.
- If you feel lost in the dark about how any of this works, here’s an article designed for military transplants and helpful to anyone who needs an overview of disability service systems: Help for Military Families: Tips to Navigate Special Education Process in Washington State.
Summer provides an opportunity to reset for the school year ahead. If your child has a disability, you may want to think about what went well or what could have gone better last year. By getting organized, you can plan ahead for fall and beyond. This article includes resources and information to help you get ready for a new school year.
Locate and organize documents
Now is a good time to re-read important documents, such as your student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP), Section 504 Plan, or Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP). Organize a place to store the most current copies. Whether you choose an electronic file or a physical folder, label everything with the school year and renewal dates so you can easily notice when something is due for an update.
Use a highlighter or choose another way to make notes as you read through these documents. PAVE provides an article to help: Steps to Read, Understand, and Develop an Initial IEP.
Do you have concerns about anything that’s included or missing from your student’s program or plan? Write down your concerns and plan to use these notes to organize your top priorities. When you have an organized list of your top concerns, save this list to share with the school so these points will be included in your next meeting’s agenda.
Keep in mind that you can request a meeting anytime you have concerns. During summer you may be able to meet with district staff even if school staff are unavailable. The state’s Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) provides a resource directory with special educational staff at the state, regional, and district levels.
Many parents want to meet with teachers and other school staff a few weeks into a new school year to see how things are going and make sure services are on track to support good outcomes. Plan to schedule your meeting as soon as school staff are back in the building for the best chance to get a day/time that works well for you and the rest of the team.
Keep in mind that the school is required to support your participation in your student’s special education services program development and implementation. PAVE provides an article about the parent participation requirements of special education process.
Here are questions to consider as you review your child’s IEP, 504 Plan, or BIP
- Do the Present Levels of Performance describe your child in ways that are current and accurate? If no, you may want to request a new evaluation. PAVE provides a Sample Letter and information to help families seeking an evaluation.
- If your child has a 504 Plan but has never been formally evaluated, consider requesting a formal special education evaluation to make well-informed decisions about service needs. OSPI provides family-friendly guidance, downloadable in multiple languages, about Section 504 protections, plan development, and civil rights complaint options.
- Do IEP goals sound SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time appropriate), given the annual renewal date listed on the IEP’s cover page? PAVE provides an article to help families participate in goal-setting and progress monitoring.
- Does the Adverse Impact Statement list all the major ways that the student’s disability affects how they do in school? If not, does that important statement need to be rewritten? Is there enough evaluation data to write an accurate statement? If not, additional evaluations may be needed.
- Make sure the highlighted needs and the services match! Each area of need highlighted in the Adverse Impact Statement must be addressed through the services and accommodations being provided by the school.
- Is the program clearly written to show what skills the student is working on to support progress? For example, if a reading disability makes it hard for the student to keep up with their grade-level reading, does the program clearly describe the services and goal-setting/progress monitoring to make sure the student is getting better at reading?
- Will each accommodation or modification work in real time to make sure the student has the support they need to access the classroom and curriculum? Keep in mind that accommodations and modifications are intended to meet the needs of each specific student in an individualized way. Cut-and-paste, generic accommodations are not best practice. See OSPI’s Model Forms for Section 504 Plan or for IEP. If the accommodations need work, make notes and plan to request a meeting.
- If there is a Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP), take a careful look at the target behaviors and replacement behaviors to decide whether you agree that the plan is built to support the student’s learning and skill-building. PAVE provides a video to help: Behavior and School: How to Participate in the FBA/BIP Process.
- Consider how behavior is going this summer and any insights you may wish to share. PAVE provides an article with Tips to Help Parents Reinforce Positive Behaviors at Home.
Mark your calendar with important dates
While you are checking deadlines, get out your calendar to mark any important dates. For example, the cover page of an IEP includes an annual renewal date. The IEP team, including you, needs to meet before that date to review the IEP and make any necessary changes. Make a note on the date and also about a month before that date to make sure you and the team plan your meeting with plenty of advance notice to meet everyone’s scheduling needs.
If something happens and you cannot attend before the deadline, keep in mind that your participation is a higher priority than the deadline. Your student’s IEP will not “lapse” or “expire” because of a meeting delay. That deadline is there to hold the school accountable, not to punish families if they need to delay a meeting.
If you want to request an additional meeting, mark your calendar to reach out to the district and school as soon as teachers are back at work to get your meeting on everyone’s calendar.
The cover page of an IEP lists the date of the most recent evaluation. A new evaluation is required every three years to guarantee ongoing eligibility and to ensure that services meet current needs. Note those dates on your calendar.
You can request a new evaluation anytime you have concerns about an unmet need that isn’t fully documented or understood. You also have the right to request an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE) from a provider outside the school district if you don’t agree with the school’s evaluation.
PAVE provides more information and a sample letter for requesting an IEE. As you review your student’s documents, consider whether requesting an evaluation is part of what you want to do. Evaluation requests must always be in writing, and schools are responsible to provide forms to support written requests.
Review the school’s calendar and make a note of parent conferences and other important dates. If your student will be a graduating senior, plan ahead for senior year activities and make sure to allow plenty of time to request any accommodations. You might mark your calendar in early January, for example, to call the school and ask about Commencement, the Senior Party, etc., and talk through what will need to happen for those events to be accessible to your student. More information to support families of transition-age youth is available from PAVE: School to Adulthood: Transition Planning Toolkit for High School, Life, and Work.
Be sure to use a calendar that you check regularly to keep track of this important information!
Consider whether behaviors need to be addressed
A Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP) often needs to be rewritten in a new school year because of changes in staffing and environment. Consider whether you want to request a fresh Functional Behavioral Assessment (FBA) early in the new school year to ensure your child gets a fresh start on the year with supports designed to match current needs.
See PAVE’s training video: Behavior and School: How to Participate in the FBA/BIP Process. Mark your calendar to send an FBA request letter right away if that is something you want to happen when schools reopen in the fall.
If your child has experienced discipline and/or isolation and restraint in previous school years, summer is a good time to review state and district policies related to discipline. PAVE provides an article: What Parents Need to Know when Disability Impacts Behavior and Discipline at School.
Ask for a copy of the district’s student handbook so you clearly understand what the codes of conduct are for expected student behavior and what might be grounds for a suspension or expulsion. Plan to review the rules with your child in a developmentally appropriate way, and do your best to check for understanding. If there are rules you don’t think your child will be able to understand or follow, plan to discuss those challenges with school staff.
Keep in mind that if your student is sent home from school because of behavior, they are being suspended. The school is required to file paperwork with the state and share that paperwork with you. PAVE provides an on demand training: Behavior and Discipline in Special Education: What to do if the School Calls Because of a Behavior Incident.
Make notes about summer regression to talk about ESY for next year
If you notice that your child’s emerging skills are lagging during the break from school, write down details about what you observe. When school resumes, pay attention to how quickly or if those skills return. This data is important as part of a discussion with the school about Extended School Year (ESY), which is a special education service provided outside of regular school hours for eligible students. See PAVE’s article for more information: ESY Helps Students Who Struggle to Maintain Skills and Access FAPE.
Consider how your child with disabilities is included with non-disabled peers
Special education laws require education in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) to the maximum extent appropriate to meet the needs of each student. LRE requires that students with disabilities get the supplementary aids and supports they need so their inclusion is equitable. Keep in mind that equity doesn’t mean equal: It means people get the support they need to have the same opportunities.
Washington State leaders are well aware that our state is underperforming in its ability to include students with disabilities in general education. To support more inclusive schools in Washington, the State Legislature provided OSPI with $25 million for the 2019-21 biennium and $12 million for the 2021-23 biennium to provide educators with professional development opportunities in support of inclusionary practices across the state. Families can learn more about the Inclusionary Practices Professional Development Project on OSPI’s website.
Parents can support their child’s inclusion by considering how services might be delivered in the general education setting. Bringing specific ideas into an IEP meeting might generate discussion for significant shifts toward more meaningful and consistent inclusion. Here are some resources you can review to prepare for those discussions with the school:
- The TIES Center at the University of Minnesota partnered with the Haring Center for Inclusive Education at the University of Washington to build a resource to support families and schools in writing IEPs that support students within general education classrooms: Comprehensive Inclusive Education: General Education and the Inclusive IEP.
- A 15-minute user-friendly video available on YouTube from the TIES Center includes practical examples: Standards-Based Instruction for Students with Significant Cognitive Disabilities.
- Learn more about inclusive education by watching the Disability Teaches Us webinar series, available through the Family Engagement Collaborative website, fecinclusion.org.
- PAVE’s article, Special Education is a Service, Not a Place, has more information on these topics.
Write an informal letter to your student’s teachers
Before the new school year gets going, consider what you most want your child’s teachers to understand or remember.
- Is there something you say at home to help your child stay calm or refocus?
- Is there a behavioral intervention that’s working well this summer?
- Is there something unique about your child that isn’t obvious until you get to know them better?
- What do you most want to share to help teachers understand and support your child?
- Are there really important points in the IEP, 504 Plan, or Behavior Intervention Plan that you want to call out?
All of these points can be included in a short letter or email you share with teachers at the start of the school year. If you’re not comfortable writing, consider making a short video to share.
Enjoy time with your children
Summer can fly by, especially in the Northwest. Getting ready for fall is important, but so is enjoying the sunshine, swimming pools, hiking trails, camping, games, or whatever makes summer special for your family. Relish time to do something that everyone enjoys and notice how you feel. If something feels challenging next year, you can tap back into the feelings you found during a special summer moment to remember what can go well. Teachers want to know those highlights too!
PAVE provides an article, with links to self-care videos: Self-Care is Critical for Caregivers with Unique Challenges.
PAVE works all year and is happy to help. If you click Get Help and fill out a request for individualized assistance, we will contact you by phone and/or email and schedule time to discuss your specific questions.
More homework for extra credit!
PAVE provides a variety of on demand training videos and articles to support parents in better understanding special education rights, process, and family involvement. Here is some additional summer homework to support your learning:
- Toolkit Basics: Where to Begin When a Student Needs More Help
- Behavioral Health Toolkit for Navigating Crisis, School-Based Services, Medical Services, Family Support Networks, and More
- School to Adulthood: Transition Planning Toolkit for High School, Life, and Work
- Early Learning Toolkit: Overview of Services for Families of Young Children