A Parent's Perspective—Tips for School Meetings
I am the father of two special needs children. My older child has a smorgasbord of attributes that interfere with learning, including emotional, behavioral and specific learning disabilities. I have specially designed armor I wear when attending any school meeting for him. I am also an educational advocate for foster children, attending intervention meetings almost daily.
Over the years, I have learned much about the way schools operate, and how different each school's attitude is regarding educating atypical learners. They all talk a great game (as required by law), but some are better at practicing what they preach.
Schools are under-funded, over-crowded, and over-burdened with changing rules, cryptic regulations and mountains of paperwork. I try to accomplish what I need with honey-coated negotiating skills. However, if I have to turn into PAPA-BEAR to get what my child needs - so be it. I never forget - I am an equal-say partner at any meeting and the only one sitting around the table who tucks my child in at night.
When I first began protesting that one of my son's needs was not being addressed, I was amazed when the educators turned to me and asked, "So, what would you suggest?" I quickly learned to have suggested interventions ready and know what the laws stipulate. I also learned to ask the educators sitting around the table to help think of non-traditional interventions. I respectfully point out that they are the ones with the training, education and years of experience. Conversely, I never blindly accept what is told to me without questioning and understanding the implications and ramifications. If I have to stop a meeting for clarification one or ten times - so be it.
Take notes during the meeting. Often people change, revise or deny what they have said earlier. If you've written it down, you can refer back to what is being said during and after the meeting. Don't count on the official note-taker. If I want to make a point or if I have an un-addressed need, I state that I want this reflected in the notes. Also, have the notes read aloud at the end of the meeting. Make sure you agree with what they state has transpired, and get a copy of everything. Keep it in a file that you bring to any follow-up meetings.
Discover what frustrates your child at school by asking him/her directly, and address these in the school meeting. Ask specific (not general) questions, such as, "Is it hard for you to finish when the teacher asks you to copy information from the board onto your paper?" "How do you feel during a test? Are you able to finish with no problem?" "How noisy is your class?" "What is your favorite subject?" You may be surprised by some of the answers.
Remember, you are a vital part of the decision-making committee. Don't be intimidated by educators who want to "tell" you what will be done or say, "We can always make changes later." It's easier to get it done right the first time. Don't let them rush through an IEP meeting because another one has been scheduled. This is a one-year contract you are signing and it deserves the time and consideration needed for you to understand and agree with what is in writing.