The Myth of the Perfect IEP:
After the Paperwork is Finished...

By Janet DesGeorges, Executive Director of Colorado Families for Hands & Voices and
Karen Putz, President of Illinois Hands & Voices

So... you've gone prepared to your child's IEP meeting and successfully written a plan that creates communication accessibility for your child who is deaf/hh. It's time to bring out the bottle of champagne, right?.Not quite! In effect, your work has just begun.

Developing an effective plan of supports and services for the student who is deaf or hard of hearing can be a challenging experience. But even when an appropriate IEP has been developed, there is often a disconnect between the plan and the actual implementation. Many parents, while investing large amounts of time, advocacy, and energy in the actual meeting, fail to follow up to ensure that the IEP is authentically implemented. Some may question whether that is even the parent's role. Isn't it the legal obligation of the school and its personnel to implement the plan that is in place? The answer is yes, but..

One of the areas of IEP plans that parents often don't think about, or fail to participate in, is the actual implementation of their child's IEP. Below are some strategies that you can employ to ensure that follow-up is happening, to understand who is responsible when a support or service is not implemented, and how to 'manage' the players in order to facilitate cohesion among an IEP team. Even when an IEP team is functioning and collaborating with one another throughout the school day, parents are often not called in until there is a problem. You can help to build a team where you are an equal and effective partner.

Parents As Team Managers: Who's on your team? MVP'S

Think about every member of your child's IEP team. The IDEA requires that the members of the IEP team include: The parents, at least one regular ed. Teacher, at least one special ed. Teacher, a representative of the local educational agency, an individual who can interpret the instructional implications of evaluation results, and at the discretion of the parent or agency, other individuals who have knowledge or special expertise regarding the child, including related services personnel as appropriate; and the child with a disability, whenever appropriate. (20 U.S.C. 1414(d)(B)(i-vii)).

Among the team that is assembled to deliver the services and supports for your child throughout the year, there is often an MVP -that professional who goes the extra mile, who supports you when you are advocating for your child, who you tend to call on when there is a problem. Whether that person is your child's general ed. Teacher, sign language interpreter, Teacher of the deaf/hh or a speech language pathologist, you can create and sustain a positive relationship throughout the year by communicating regularly, contacting them when there are things to be celebrated, and not just complaints to be delivered etc. and to be able to create strategies for effective communication access.

If you can't think of one person on your child's IEP that you would consider an MVP, start thinking about who you could begin a positive relationship with in order to be able to collaborate with throughout the year, and be able to call upon for help when something falls through the cracks.

MVP Case Study: 4th Grade student Emily shows up for PE. The PE teacher refuses to wear the FM system, as she is afraid it will get broken, and anyway, "PE is such a visual thing, Emily will 'catch on' to what's going on" Emily comes home and tells Mom. Mom calls the school and gets the runaround. She then calls the Itinerant teacher of the Deaf, someone Mom can always count on, who shows up at the school the next day, and sets up a meeting with the PE teacher. She provides information so that the PE teacher understands that the lack of communication accessibility without the use of the FM is unacceptable, and in violation of Emily's IEP. The PE teacher wears the FM system later that day, and for the rest of the year..

Working collaboratively

You cannot expect the team to have a two-hour meeting, (the annual IEP review) and be ready to go out and 'play' the whole season without maintaining collaboration. As the team manager, it may be up to you to set up an email list serve, phone tree, face-to-face individual or team meetings throughout the year to maintain collaboration and the big-picture implementation of services. One of the outcomes of the annual meeting should be an understanding of how the team will communicate throughout the year with one another, as well as keeping the parent in the loop. It is often a good idea during the IEP meeting to document how this communication will take place and how often it is expected.

Collaboration Case Study: Mrs. Martin initiates and meets with each member of the IEP team throughout the year at the school or the local coffee shop. They discuss current concerns, celebrations, and, new ideas to assure appropriate education services are being delivered. One of the concerns that Mrs. Martin's 6th grade son has expressed to her is that 'none of my teachers ever remembers to repeat the questions the other student's are asking'. When Mrs. Martin meets with the interpreter, they discuss ways in which the interpreter can continue to monitor and remind the teachers to repeat the questions, and also to be aware to make sure that every question is interpreted fully. Mrs. Martin talks to her son about his right to ask for information to be repeated. Her son is also assigned a deaf/hh role model through the state role model program who helps him to gain confidence in self-advocacy, and to understand his rights to communication access.

Ensuring quality control

One of the most effective ways to feel assured as a parent of 'quality control' of the implementation of the IEP is to volunteer at school. Parents have often stated that what looked really good on paper in the IEP meeting didn't seem to be playing out in 'day to day operations' when they were actually in the classroom. Most of the time it is not intentional, but with another pair of eyes occasionally in the classroom, a parent is able to ensure that what the teacher of the deaf knows is what the general ed. teacher knows is what the speech therapist knows is what the interpreter knows etc. Another result of volunteering at the school is that relationships in your school community can grow as a product of your direct involvement. For instance, the principal of a school is more likely to respond to a parent's concern who has 'shown her face' in the school and has contributed to its well-being through volunteering.

While volunteering in the classroom is a good thing to do, a parent can't be in the classroom all the time, and as the child grows older, it becomes less feasible to be in the classroom. We must teach our children self - advocacy skills so that they are comfortable with ensuring appropriate access. The IEP team should not expect the student to have to constantly be monitoring IEP compliance, but the student should feel comfortable raising their hand to remind the teacher to turn on the FM, or to make sure they've delivered a hard copy of the notes, or to remind the interpreter they can't see them in front of a window, etc. The development of self-advocacy skills is a critical component of growth for deaf and hard of hearing children. Your child is an important link in discovering if changes need to be made. Connect with your child on a regular basis. Through conversations with your child, you may discover that the school allowed an intern to replace the regular interpreter for a week. You may discover social situations happening on the playground that need to be addressed. That being said, there shouldn't be an undue burden on the child to ensure compliance - that's what the team is there for.

Case Study: A school ordered a new, wireless FM system for a young student at the start of the school year. Midway through the school year, the itinerant teacher discovered that the student's FM system was not working. The parents consulted an educational audiologist who noticed that the student's hearing aid did not have an internal wiring component that was compatible with the FM system. As a result, the student had gone without a working FM system since the beginning of the school year.

Parents need to ensure that the actual implementation of services is written on the IEP. Services should be written in a way that shows who will be responsible for checking equipment (educational audiologist, itinerant teacher?) and how frequently it will be checked.

Even when you are assured that the team has done their job, you may find situations that are overlooked. For example, the use of captioned videos and films may be indicated on the IEP. Itinerant teachers may give in-services in the beginning of the year, familiarizing teachers with closed captioning and the resources for captioned films. Later in the year, you may discover that the music teacher was showing a series of films on famous musicians, without the benefit of captioning, unaware of access to captioned resources that could be substituted. In some instances, you may have new teachers coming in during the middle of the school year or long-term substitute teachers. Parents can collaborate with the team when new situations arise and request in-services for the change of staff.

Your Rights under the Law

Sometimes, even when you've done all the right things, compliance is still a problem. What are your rights under the law? While the law does not require that any agency, teacher, or other person be held accountable if a child does not achieve the growth projected in the annual goals and benchmarks, they must still make a good faith effort to assist the child to achieve the goals and objectives or benchmarks listed in the IEP. (sec. 300.350(a)(b)). Sometimes though, there are blatant omissions (i.e. an interpreter is listed as a service provider, and no interpreter is hired). A parent can file a signed written complaint under the procedures outlined in the IDEA. You can request these procedures from your school district, and find out more information about your rights under the law at www.wrightslaw.org

When It's Working Right

A thirteen year old hard of hearing student comes home every day with all the homework assignments for the day clearly understood.Her general ed. Teacher announces to the class the homework assignment facing the student, with the FM system turned on (the teacher went through two in-service meetings with the itinerant teacher of the deaf, and also watched a video on communication access). She then turns around and writes the assignment on the board, giving the student visual access. If the student missed anything, she can turn to the interpreter for clarification. Later in the day, the special ed. Resource teacher in the building sends an email to the parent (this happens every day) to let her know what homework assignments are due the next day. The parent plays his part by asking the student what needs to be done, checking the email from the resource teacher, and helping the student with homework when necessary.(this is a true story)

When everyone on the IEP team does their part, it's like watching a team make the perfect play. To get it right often takes a lot of time and practice, but the outcome is worth it. Our kids deserve an appropriate education help when they need it, and everyone doing their best.

Over the years, the members of the IEP team change, but parents remain the steady, constant factor in their child's lifelong case management. When it comes to your child, no one else can keep his eye on the big picture quite like you, the parent. It is your ability to see the high school graduate in the bassinette that will ultimately ensure that the journey is a successful one.

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