More grandparents than ever are stepping up to raise their grandchildren. More than 2.5 million grandparents across the United States are accepting full-time responsibility for children as sole caregivers. As the grandparent moves closer to retirement, parenting children (again) is an unexpected detour in any plan for the second half of life.
Whether you are a Granny, G-ma, Pops, or Chief, unexpected realities can hit hard. Being two generations removed from the school system is just one of life’s newer obstacles for a grandparent who suddenly has PTA duties. And if the grandchild has special needs, Grandmom and Gramps need a crash course on special education laws and rights for children with disabilities.
What is an Individualized Education Plan?
There are laws in place to ensure a child with disabilities receives Exceptional Student Education (ESE) services. An evaluation can be requested from the school if you suspect your grandchild has a disability. In public schools, there is no cost for ESE services. Parental (or grandparental) participation is required and an important part of the process.
The service plan, or Individualized Education Plan (IEP), is the roadmap for the disabled child’s school year. It describes the services and accommodations needed to support the child’s progress. The IEP is designed to change as the child’s needs grow, and continually assess if the plan is effective. It is important that you take necessary steps to prepare for an IEP meeting.
What to Expect at an IEP Meeting
As a grandparent, the thought of attending a meeting regarding a grandchild’s disabilities may feel uncomfortable. Today’s grandparents didn’t have the benefit of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act in effect during their school years. Knowing what to expect and how to prepare can help make the most of the time spent in the IEP meeting.
The focus of the annual IEP meeting should be all about the student’s overall progress. Once the child has been evaluated, each meeting will continue to assess the child’s present level of performance. The child’s strengths and need will be continually monitored and assessed to determine that services are provided supporting areas of their current learning needs.
4 Tips to Prepare for an IEP Meeting
- Records and documents
- Prepare your talking points
- Notify the school if you plan to bring guests
- Trust your Knowledge
1. Gather all related paperwork.
Pull out all of your notes and observations, report cards, progress reports, and notes from your child’s current teachers. Familiarize yourself with the current IEP and look for areas that may need more attention. Are the services being received helpful? Are there changes you would like to consider?
2. Prepare any IEP questions or concerns for discussion.
Reviewing the paperwork and talking to the student will no doubt inspire many thoughts and questions. Take the time to write down any points or questions that you want to be sure to address. Take your time and review your list during the meeting to be sure you have covered all your points of concern.
As you organize your thoughts and make a list of questions, remind yourself that no question or concern is too insignificant. The focus of the meeting is the students. As the caregiver for your grandchild, it is important that you understand the services and accommodations that are in place and if they are effective.
3. Let the school know you are bringing an attorney.
In preparation for the IEP meeting, the school will need to make arrangements for any additional guests that will be attending, including an attorney. Explain who the person is that will be joining you, including their name, their relationship to the student, and if any special arrangements will be needed (videoconferencing or a translator, for example).
Attending Without an Advocate
It can be helpful to bring a friend or family member you trust. They can help you communicate the student’s needs or simply take notes, allowing you to fully focus on the conversation at hand. Always remember – you don’t have to do this alone!
4. Trust in your knowledge.
The IEP process may be new to you, but parenting is not. Remain confident in your relationship and focus on the strengths, interests, and challenges of your grandchild. Listen to their daily account of happenings at school and remember that no one knows your grandchild and their needs more than you.
Approach the IEP meeting with confidence, preparation, and a strong mindset.
What If I Don’t Agree with an IEP?
3 Options for Resolution
- Filing a complaint
- Due process
The purpose of the IEP meeting is to ensure the success of the student with disabilities. As the primary caregiver, you can invite guests who will assist in advocating for the most effective plan. However, if you experience a contentious or confrontational reception to your concerns, you may want to consider bringing a Special Education Lawyer to ensure everything is being handled properly.
A Special Education Attorney is there to obtain a positive result for the student. They have a unique understanding of the rights and services in place for children assessed to have special needs. Therefore, even if you feel the presence of an attorney may give an adversarial impression, there is nothing more important than the success of the child in the classroom.
Determining that your grandchild needs special accommodations in school can be an overwhelming experience. If you’d rather have help discreetly in the background, a consultation with a Special Education Attorney can be a valuable alternative without having them at the IEP meeting itself. Empower yourself with knowledge and preparation, receiving support without creating a distraction to the process.
How Do I Find a Special Education Attorney Near Me?
Chances are, if you are a grandparent taking care of a grandchild, Special Education Law is a new concept for you. Great strides have been taken in the last few decades to support children who need services and accommodations. These specialized attorneys are available to help you understand your rights and advocate for your child.