How Do You Know When It’s Time to Give Up Your Child’s IEP?

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of attending an IEP meeting with a fantastic family that, quite frankly, was thrown for a HUGE loop. That has never happened to any of you, has it? You think you are going in for a “normal” IEP meeting, in this case a 3 year re-evaluation, and then you look at the invitation and it has an extra little check mark next to “Transitions and Exiting the Program.” What??  Before jumping to the conclusion that the EC teachers hate your child and personally want them to fail at their education, you need to review a few things to see what is the right decision for your child.

IEP stands for Individualized Education Plan. That means it is fluid and can change as your child changes. You can hold an IEP meeting at any time, but the teachers must give you ample notice before inviting you to one. Two weeks notice is the best practice for Invitations to Conference (IoC). On the IoC you will see different boxes the teacher can check for things to discuss (Evaluations, Re-Eval, Annual, Exit, etc). Always look to see what is checked if you were invited to conference. Also, note who is invited. If there is a name on the invitation that you do not know,  inquire about him/her! Ask, in writing, who the extra person is and their purpose for being invited. If your child is going to middle school or high school, I strongly suggest you invite the EC lead teacher for the next year to attend. Remember, you may also invite whomever you want. You can invite the guidance counselor for the next year ( I recommend this if your child will be aging up to a new school). You may ask for your spouse to be invited, your child’s favorite teacher (if they have multiple teachers), and anyone that has a hand in your child’s education.

At this meeting I attended, the school system was alerted that there as an advocate attending, so they provided one of their own. I love this! It does help to have more than one person making sure the IEP is being followed, especially when something like a transition or an exit is being discussed. One best practice that was not followed at this meeting, which I strongly advocated for, is a 3 year re-evaluation before the student is to be “released” from the EC program.

The student and family I was advocating for was blindsided by the possibility of their daughter being released from the EC program. “Susan” is going to be attending high school next year and they wanted her to have a 504 Plan, not an IEP. There are many reasons that this is a good idea. If your child is academically successful, has met all of his/her goals and does not get pulled out for EC services, a 504 Plan is a good idea. If you do not need to change curriculum to meet your child’s educational goals, you only need to accommodate a different learning style, then a 504 Plan will help your child achieve academic success.

For example, Susan was achieving very good grades, but was receiving a lot of inclusion time. Many of her classes were co-taught and the ones that were not were in a small group setting. Here is a perfect example of a student reaching her optimal learning BECAUSE  of the IEP.  She was succeeding in school — imagine that! And because of this, what does the educational system assume? That she does not need help anymore. This is wrong. It’s wrong because her learning disability has not changed. She has finally reached a level of learning, with all the appropriate accommodations in place, where she is a success.

To challenge this, I recommend a re-evaluation prior to being released. It was technically time for Susan to have a 3-year re-evaluation, but of course it wasn’t even considered due to her academic achievements. Here’s why it is important — it gives the complete picture of where the student is performing. In Susan’s case, during the file review we noticed that an actual education evaluation (including psychological, educational) was not completed in the first place. This sweet girl has been receiving services based on fairly hypothetical assumptions, a few locally done assessments (EOG- DIEBELS) for 7 years.

Don’t blame the parents. They had a psychological and educational evaluation done for the school system, which the school rejected. Which is illegal, by the way. Of course when this was brought to the attention of the IEP team members there were lots of apologies for the past and a desire to focus on the now. But here’s where it gets tricky- how can we focus on the now when we don’t have a clear picture of how Susan is really functioning? It is not fair, nor best practice to say, “Susan has had a banner year! She has really excelled. Next year is high school. We are sure you will  do fine! Good luck”.  No. If the team is considering an exit, and you are uncomfortable with it, request a full re-evaluation.

BEWARE: You WILL be told that it is not necessary. You WILL be told there isn’t enough time. You WILL be told 10 different things that are not true. You WILL have to advocate for this. It is important to see in a full re-evaluation how your child has made progress. Has she learned to modify her learning style to suit her needs? Has she become stronger in one area of learning, and weaker in another? What does her big picture look like? And if your child is changing schools, and you have invited the EC teacher and Guidance Counselor to attend the IEP meeting, then include them in this conversation.

What does the EC program look like in this new school? What options are there for my child in particular?  In most cases you will need to have another meeting because all of the team is not present to make a fully informed decision whether to release the student or conduct a re-evaluation. This is where time is on your side. While your student is still under the protection of the IEP you still have the right to request the re-evaluation (assuming that you haven’t done this in the past 2 years). Use this right to your advantage. It will take anywhere (depending on where you live) between 60-90 calendar days to complete this step. Plenty of time for your child to still receive services and learn about your options. And once this is completed and it does show that your child has reached their IEP goals with nothing left to achieve, then you have done an incredible job and you should rejoice!

Two final thoughts about being released from an EC program: One, if we do our jobs right, we EC teachers are doing all we can to have our students thrive academically on their own. For the most part, we want to be so successful in having our students achieve their optimal learning and catch up or surpass their peers that we are out of a job. That is the goal — for our students to have no gaps in their learning and to learn along side of their age typical peers. We don’t want you to freak out at the thought of your baby being thrown to the wolves. Ideally your child has been so very well taught that he/she is filled with academic confidence to strut into the classroom and know that they are able to succeed. But, for this to happen the law must be followed.

Two, ask your child if they are ready to be released from their EC classes. You have been fighting his/her fight for as long as they have been in the program. Does he/she feel confident that they will be successful or do they feel that there are other academic goals they need to achieve first? With Susan, she was so eloquent in her desire to remain connected to the EC program with check ups and monitoring. She’s one smart cookie. Susan was well aware that her success was due to the IEP, her small group setting, her co-teachers, and her study time with direct access to the EC teacher that she expressed that she was not ready to be in a class with 36 other neuro-typical kids.

It is so very important to listen to your child. At the IEP meeting, if your child is able, let he/she speak about his/her education. It will be more impactful than you know.