Prepare For Your Child’s IEP Review in May, Pt. 2

Note: As in Part 1 of this series, mentions of IEP will also include Sec. 504 and Section 504 plans.

Part 2 of Prepare For Your Child’s IEP Review in May will ask parents and guardians to think of some things that are NOT on the IEP or 504 Plan but which contribute to the quality and confidentiality.  Special education law requires that an IEP be “up to date” so that a student is receiving services and accommodations that will allow equal access to and equal opportunity for a Free, Appropriate Public Education (FAPE).  Many students need few services or accommodations beyond what is in a standard special education program, and when this is the case, reviewing or changing an IEP every year is a matter that schools and even parents may take for granted.  But sometimes school staff are given the task of keeping IEPs updated with a nearly impossible condition–do virtually all IEP reviews in MAY so the education plan is freshly prepared for the Fall semester.  If your school has only 90 students in special education, that can work.  For larger schools and larger districts, it doesn’t.  Here’s why.

1.  IEPs are “living” documents that should change as a child’s growth and maturation occur so that development of new skills and abilities as well as failure to meet developmental milestones is taken into account.  An IEP that stays the same year after year is rarely appropriate if it is rubber-stamped annually by staff who fail to evaluate and convey to parents what changes are occurring and what that means to a child’s education.

Students who grow bored and frustrated with programs that don’t work and keep them from any realistic academic success are potential dropouts.  Schools that write them off know this; to parents it’s a hit in the head when it happens because all they know is that school was always hard for their child.  They don’t know there are programs for dyslexia and central auditory processing disorder the school didn’t use, things that work, like Lindamood-Bell, Fast ForWord, Wilson, and other language therapy-based learning programs that are very costly but which are very effective.  They don’t know that when their child was faced with math, he simply shut down and scribbled on paper whatever came to mind just to be occupied while other students wrote down what they actually had learned.  They couldn’t know that every day their child went to school it was a supreme act of obedience and respect for their wishes because inside there was no reward or benefit other than seeing friends between classes and for a few minutes before and after school.  The rest was one long desert.  When such a student drops out at last, it is an effort to remain whole before a world of people who judge him or her as “deficient,” “dumb” or slow, as second-class and not worth a real effort.  Valueless.  Worthless.  A waste of space and skin.  This happens because a school district determined to “save money” left a child unable to function academically to grow up without efficient learning skills and a future of frequent or chronic unemployment.  Some students are lucky and find success in non-academic areas; there are not promises or guarantees that any student written off in this manner will achieve this.  They are the exception, not the rule.

The Point:  If your child’s IEP meeting is so short and so lacking in information that all you remember is where you were asked to sign the IEP, you need to double-check your child’s progress and achievement to be sure everything is in place that should be.  If it isn’t, find your local education advocate hat and work with him/her to make sure your child’s education is appropriate.  Hint:  15 minutes or less is NOT enough time to discuss a year’s worth of progress or failure or any combination of those or to plan effective remedies and accommodations for any child’s deficits and weaknesses.

2.  When hundreds of IEPs must be done in such a short time, some schools look for ways to speed things up.  My son’s school district chose to notify all parents by mail that their IEP review would be in the school library on X date at Y time.  When we arrived, we discovered hundreds of other families were already there waiting for their 15 minutes.  At every table in the biggest library room was one special education teacher.  The principal and special education assistant principal were “roaming”, going to the various tables as a teacher raised her hand to indicate it was time for one of them to sign that they had “attended” this IEP meeting.

Think about it.  Inadequate time for individualized planning for a child’s entire year of education.  A public setting for a confidential event.  School administrators signing off on documents that indicated they had attended the IEP meeting when in fact they had only been within 100 feet of a hurried, low-pitched request to “sign here.”  Violations?  Yes, indeed.  Violations of IDEA, Section 504, FERPA, and common sense.  Office for Civil Rights did not look kindly upon that behavior and demanded that all the IEPs be done individually and in confidential settings from the date of that correction letter forward.  Don’t let the size of your school district push you to let them railroad your child’s IEP into a circus event or another rubber-stamping of the education plan.

3.  “Sign here.”  One school in our district actually called parents in for an “office visit” at which time a school secretary handed the parent the signature page of an IEP plan and said, “Sign here.”  The parent began to examine the page and the secretary took it back.  “It’s just a school document that needs your signature.”  Again she pointed to the line.  “Sign here, please.”  NO IEP IS VALID IF IT DOESN’T REFLECT A STUDENT’S INDIVIDUAL NEEDS.  NO IEP MEETING IS ADEQUATE IF PARENTS ARE NOT PRESENT AND PARTICIPATING.

In this case, the school held a meeting and decided UNILATERALLY and without parental input or consent what should be on the students’ IEPs.  This is, quite simply, illegal.  Then they used the pages parents were asked to sign in complete ignorance.  So much for INFORMED consent!  Don’t sign anything about an IEP if you are not involved in the planning process.  Make your formal complaint to the superintendent of the district with a copy to the State Department of Education.

4.  It’s been a difficult year and the school staff tell you your child will be going to a different program in a different school next year.  STOP RIGHT THERE.  If you were not informed along the way of the difficulties and why the school staff want to consider a different placement, they are not keeping your informed and you do NOT have to consent to their one-sided decision to move your child away from the school he/she knows.  You should have been informed, given options and alternatives, and you should visit other schools before such a decision is made.  That’s IF you agree a different school is necessary.  If you do NOT agree, the district will have to take the case to Due Process before such a move can be made.  That could take 6 months or so.  Meanwhile, your child stays where he/she is.

5.  Bullying is NOT a natural behavior.  It is a learned behavior that can be unlearned.  If your child is the target of bullying, use the current emphasis on anti-bullying programs to insist the school tackle the problem head-on instead of ignoring it.  No school staff should ever look the other way when bullying is going on, and they should not be participating in it, either.

You can use an IEP to move your child to another school if bullying is a problem.  Or you can use the IEP to force school staff to counsel your child to learn to be strong and defend himself/herself against bullying; and an IEP may contain something like this:  Jimmy’s teachers will be trained in anti-bullying strategies so they can help teach Jimmy and his classmates how to end bullying.”

6.  Is your child finishing 5th grade this year?  Are you aware that 6th grade is the year when pre-college curriculums begin?  Students who are not in college-prep courses now may not be able to catch up later.  If your child has the intellectual potential to attend college but has grades that don’t even come close to showing that, the problems must be addressed with an IEP that gets right up close to everyone’s nose and in effect, says, “THIS CHILD IS COLLEGE BOUND AND NEEDS THE COURSE WORK AND SUPPORT TO GET HIM/HER THERE.”

Don’t let anyone tell you a child whose grades are A’s through F’s aren’t college stuff.  You tell them, “He’s capable of A’s and B’s most of the time if he’s getting what he needs to learn.  That’s your job.”  Of course you have to supervise the homework process and do your part to make sure he learns how to commit himself to the college goal.

There is a difference of a minimum of $800,000 in earning power between a high school diploma and a college degree.  Many post-secondary certification programs are for careers with similar wages/salaries.  Just tell yourself, “NOBODY WRITES OFF MY CHILD!”  Then work in a non-adversarial way as much as possible to push for the services and accommodations that will make college possibility a reality.

So what if he can’t read now.  He should have been reading long ago and would be if the district were doing its job properly.  This is the year you will fight to get that expensive reading therapy with a speech pathologist or a skilled specialist.  This is the year you’ll tell the school that your child can’t learn math if there are more than 4 (or whatever that number is) students in the room or in his group.  This is the year you’ll be telling them about social skills that sabotage his learning options and the need for social skills training is not to be ignored.  (By the way, your child isn’t the only one who needs this and they all know that.)  If you think your child’s IEP isn’t strong enough to get started on college prep and you KNOW your child is capable, here’s what to do.

A.  This year you’ll find an education advocate online or locally through your parent training organization (PTI, go to http://nichcy.org/families-community/help/parentgroups  or go to Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates COPAA at www.copaa.net).

B.  You’ll ask for training in advocacy skills through the PTI and you’ll find a new confidence that touches many areas of your life.  You’ll read IDEA Part B and you’ll read Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and know your child’s rights and yours.

C.  You’ll find friends who don’t judge your lack of knowledge and who applaud your commitment to your child and your determination to get the education he should have.  You’ll find your nearest Parent to Parent group (go to http://www.p2pusa.org).  You’ll gather people from these groups and who know your child and you’ll never go to another IEP meeting alone.

D.  You’ll watch your child’s skills and abilities grow and increase as the IEP guides everything toward college readiness.  If you’ve never been to college, don’t worry about it.  Lots of people have never been to Kansas City or Albuquerque or Manhattan, but there are maps.  We can get there.  The IEP is the map for your child’s college readiness.

E.  You’ll realize this isn’t a job any family does alone–indeed it truly takes a village.  So you’ll do what your child must do.  You’ll ask for help when you need it and you’ll share when others need what you know or can do.

We didn’t ask for a child with disabilities, but now that we have one, we find the challenge isn’t just to our child.  The challenge is for the entire family, for the people who work with your child.  You are your child’s cheerleader, parent, case manager.

And who is cheering for YOU?  I AM!  YOU CAN DO THIS.  WE CAN DO THIS.  ONE STEP AT A TIME.

It’s April, and May is coming.  Figure out what your child needs for the next academic year; find your helpers.  Post your success here in comments.  We’re looking for them!

 

 

 

Prepare For Your Child’s IEP Review in May, Pt. 1

Hello, Parents, Grandparents, Guardians,

It’s April 22, which means it’s almost May.  May means IEP reviews and 504 Plan reviews.  (For this series, IEP will also mean 504 Plan since 504 plans meet the same academic needs as IEP Plans.)  Whether you think your child’s IEP is fine as it is and can just take a rubber-stamp to keep things going well or you think your child’s current IEP stinks like yesterday’s fish wrappers, there are a few things to consider.

A.  Some students will be changing to bigger, more challenging schools – middle school, high school and may need help with the transition.  We will address this issue today.

B.  The sheer number of special education students in some districts can make it nearly impossible to review all IEPs in May.  However, many school districts will do it anyway and may use methods that violate your child’s and your family’s right to privacy under Family Education and Right to Privacy Act (FERPA).  That’s for tomorrow.

C.  What should be done to address academic failure?  Social promotion is NOT acceptable, and neither is retention.  So….what to do?

D.  Is your child one who needs success is something at school to prevent him or her from giving up altogether?  Is that something a non-academic activity such as sports or drama/theater which require grades better than your child can get with an inappropriate IEP?  Or just better grades?  There IS a way to use IEPs and 504 plans to make these activities available to special education students despite lower grades than required by The Almighty Rules.

The topic for today is that bumpy ride between two levels of academics–elementary school to middle school, middle school to high school.  At this point in life, the majority of students are making huge strides in personal development and learning school that make such large changes reasonable and necessary.  Is your child ready for such momentous changes?

1.  Is your child at the transition point between academic levels–moving from elementary to middle school, middle school to high school?  If so, arrange a conference with your child’s teachers before scheduling the IEP/504 Plan meeting.  Ask if teachers and/or staff see anything about your child, the effect your child’s disability has on his/her education, and your child’s maturity that should be taken into account on the IEP for the next academic level.  What should you be considering?

a.  Many children with disabilities lag behind their peers in social or personal development. Middle school students are beginning to socialize more away from home and the pressure to fit in somewhere becomes intense.  Students who can’t succeed socially are at risk for depression and ostracism – two main ingredients of Columbine and similar events.  Students who are not ready for the leap in greater academic demands are at risk for failure without prevention of failure or immediate remediation.

b.  Middle school brings a change of classroom along with change of subjects AND a change of teacher.  Some children may not really be quite ready for that many changes all at once in September.

c.  In high school, those changes are in place, but the academic intensity increases.  Homework demands soar.  The building is larger, and there will be lost children at first.

d.  Sports and clubs loom large in the social atmosphere and a teenager’s life can become a constant popularity contest if a teen doesn’t perceive his individual value outside that context.

There is an answer when we ask how we can help with this transition.  Summer school.  (Eyes rolling, sighs, OMG, someone says.)  Summer school is held with far fewer students, so hallways are not jammed, classes are small, almost intimate, and students have a chance to start school with new friends already in place.  They already know their way around the building, so they don’t get lost and panicked in crowds.  They already know some of the teachers.  They already know the cafeteria, its rules, its perks.  This is an item for the child’s IEP that will give a jumpstart to what could have been a rocky transition full of potential failure.

If your child does not handle change well,

If your child is somewhat or very socially immature,

If your child is directionally challenged even in a space the size of a lunch bag,

If your child has fears of the bigger, new environment that is coming,

If you think these aspects of your child may interfere with his or her ability to succeed academically during the Fall semester or the entire first year, then summer school is a very reasonable and needed accommodation to request for your child’s IEP or 504 Plan.

If your school denies summer school for reasons that have nothing to do with your child, such as

–we reserve it only for children who failed the academics this year;

–we aren’t babysitters for immature children, find a club for him/her;

–we don’t have the funding for it; or

–there’s a waiting list. . .

grab your local education advocates and make some school administrators realize your child truly NEEDS summer school as a foundation for academic success in the Fall.  You can find advocates at your state’s Parent Training and Information Center (PTI) http://www.parentcenterhub.org/find-your-center/  and at Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA) http://www.copaa.net.

There are no excuses for denial of FAPE for a child with disabilities.  Legislators with pet projects in mind for campaign money donors have cut our education budgets to unreasonably low levels, but there is money to meet special education needs when the alternative is to fill out about a thousand pages of paperwork to respond to a legitimate formal complaint to OCR or to lose all special education funding in the district for refusal to serve.  Sometimes services are not provided just because parents don’t know how to insist or because administrators can deny them.  Summer school does cost money–plenty of it.  It’s a convenient item to cut from the budget if no one complains loud enough. None of these reasons to deny summer school is permissible.

Don’t feel guilty because your child’s education costs more and don’t let anyone make you or your child feel “inferior.”  Don’t let anyone dismiss your child’s needs by saying his/her costs take money away from others.  (Our legislators do that just fine, thank you.)  We don’t flip out OCR complaints every 90 days, only that one time that something absolutely critical was denied and there was no other path to peace.

Because we only get to live each day once and learning is the most important work anyone does for the first 18 years of life, it’s important to give each child appropriate support to achieve success.

 

 

New School Year and Still No Reading Success?

Many school districts open for classes in August, and by mid-September, many teachers have started the new year’s instruction. For students with good memory, times have been good because much of the day was spent in review with only a little new material added. By the end of September, all the material will be new. Is your child’s IEP ready? Today’s example deals with reading and phonological awareness.

If your child is not reading properly but is not reversing letters or words in a dyslexic way, you might have heard the phrase “phonological deficits” during an IEP meeting or evaluation discussion. This phrase means a child is struggling to understand the meanings and patterns of spoken words and may find it too difficult to link poorly- understood sound to written symbols.

Trying harder is 100% an ineffective disaster strategy for these children. They are trying their best every time they look at print. If trying were the key, they’d be reading encyclopedias. These children need a kind of language therapy that has been incorporated into the Lindamood-Bell program and Fast ForWord program. These programs present sound information in ways that allow these students to develop the neurological pathways for interpreting sounds and learning to read. Children can sometimes gain years’ worth of skills in a matter of months. Some are able to exit special education when finished if reading was their only learning disability.

Lindamood-Bell and Fast ForWord are both expensive and school districts don’t provide them easily or upon request. When my child needed such therapy, it took an entire semester of meetings, letters, and finally an offer to write to Office for Civil Rights to get their opinion on the matter before our school district consented to try just 12 weeks. In that time, he gained 2 years of skills; today my son’s favorite activity is reading law and case histories–for fun.

Today, 10 years later, I attended an IEP as advocate for a child whose psychological evaluation report contained recommendations for Lindamood-Bell or Fast ForWord. Neither is in the IEP. Why? The school offers neither, and while there are discussions and/or negotiations underway to buy/use a similar program, the issue is not settled yet. Instead of a fully appropriate IEP, there is a request for the parent to allow the school time to see if the student can make progress with only being identified and placed as an SLD student. Staff asked the parent to wait until January “to see if”. That is half the school year! Is this adequate? It is not FAPE, surely.

It is “enough” because the parent is willing to wait and see. But not half the year. One month. That is time enough to see if behaviors are beginning to improve, if academics are starting to advance. If not, what is the remedy?

In cases like this, the school district has no choice. Its own evaluation report recommends one of these two programs or one like them. All are costly. A school district will only buy one of these if it is determined that there are enough students to benefit from it AND justify the expense. If there are no parents insisting that their child’s education requires this, a district can put off buying a program every year for years. Here is another fact: If a student must have one of these programs in order to learn, one of them must be provided. If FAPE cannot be provided without using some program to develop phonological awareness and skills, then such a program must be provided. Period.  The expense is justified by the child’s need.

There are at least 4 ways to provide for this need:

1. School district must buy a an appropriate program that remedies phonological deficits and provide it to students who need it. This takes time, especially if school speech pathologists and/or other staff must then be trained to teach the program.**

2. Transfer the student to a public school that has the program.

3. Transfer the student to a private school that has the program (and at district expense).

4. District arranges and pays for after-school services. (And pays for or provides transportation to and from if parents can’t.)

There will be a trial period before seeking to enforce this for today’s case because we truly don’t know if the change to special education will be enough to provide sufficient advancement and progress. We don’t really think it will take half a school year to know if progress is being made, but close monitoring will tell us what we need to know.

Parents, if a school evaluation makes a recommendation and then the district does nothing to address it, you should insist the appropriate service be provided by whatever means the school district can arrange. Your child’s access to an appropriate education is at stake. Go for it!

** If a decision has NOT been made to purchase and the district is just “shopping”, do not accept a recommendation to wait until there is a purchase because it may never happen. Also, if you are told it will be a semester or more before your child’s services could begin, don’t agree to wait that long, especially if your child is in a year of school in which a standardized test will mandate retention if your child’s scores are too low. A lifetime of being behind is too high a price for your child to pay just because the district doesn’t want to pay for individual services.

Evidence In Cum Files

Hello, Parents and Advocates, Teachers, and Kid-Helpers everywhere,

Today is in that odd block of days when some school districts have not yet begun school and others are in full swing.  It is the busy time of the year for teachers who suddenly have a new crop of students they don’t know and about whom they know nothing.  It’s all learning all the time for all the people in a classroom these days!

Teachers, you are busy, but you really, really, REALLY need to take a few moments to listen to parents of your special education students, especially if you are a non-SpEd teacher.  What parents can tell you can relieve headaches, speed your paperwork, and improve your classroom management.  Not kidding, here.  Parents know things your peer from last year knew, used, and appreciated.  To ease their child’s way, they want to pass that information on to you and they should not be asked to wait until you’re dying of exhaustion 6 weeks later at Open House.

As a teacher, you don’t want to pick up on someone else’s biases about a child, but you need to proceed knowledgeably–and without information from the cum, the IEP or 504 plan and the parents, you are not exactly educated in what you need to know to be an effective teacher for these children.  The IEPs and 504 plans are available only on a need-to-know basis, and as a special education child’s teacher, you are THE ONE who needs to know what is on that IEP or 504 plan.  You do NOT need anyone’s permission to see it.

Parents, I know we all want to talk endlessly about last year and this new year and our children and their accomplishments, but busy teachers need the Condensed Book–the Comic Book–well, really at first maybe the Comic Strip is enough for starters.

For behavioral issues, concentrate on the most important issues and let little things wait for a couple of weeks. “Johnny has this, it makes him do that, and the best way to handle it at school has been….” “Annie is obsessive, and if you don’t give her time to…. she simply shuts down.  Then she agitates until you can’t do anything with anyone else until she gets settled again.”  “Oli doesn’t always pick up on general instructions to the class.  He needs you to speak directly to him if you see that he’s not on track.  It’s not that he’s unwilling–it’s that he doesn’t always focus enough to know general instructions are for him, too.”  No further discussion is necessary unless the teacher invites it.

If dealing with chronic illness and medication needs, bring a current doctor’s note about how medication and symptoms should be managed during school hours and give copies to each teacher, the principal, the school nurse, and give one specifically for inclusion in the cum.   Tell the principal that you’ll be following your child’s progress closely– both medically and academically.  Make sure everyone who needs it has information about how to contact you in an emergency.

Advocates, we’ll soon be getting complaints about how last year’s IEP doesn’t work anymore or inappropriate placements, so be ready.  Do you have your school directory handouts about school hierarchy and staff updated and ready to copy or e-mail or have you updated your general parents’ e-mail about this? Have you met the new administrators you’re most likely to deal with in the upcoming year?  Are you up-to-date with how the school administration plans to deal with bullying, drugs or guns on campus, teacher abuse of students, students’ physical contact with teachers, etc. and where are the policy and procedures for these located so you can refer parents to them?  What about staff cuts due to budget cuts–duties and responsibilities move all over the place.  Do you know who is handling what in SpEd these days?  Here’s where buddying with someone in administration is helpful.  If you don’t have such a “buddy”, find one.  Even if the general administration tone toward advocates and parents is unfriendly, individuals in the system can be very helpful and glad to be of service. (Parents, you can do this, too.)

Everyone–whoever has access to the cums–have you checked it for progress, obstacles to progress, triggers to trouble, avoidance strategies, patterns that cause concern, etc?  There is a wealth of information in cums beyond just the forms.

Forms will tell you:

if there is a pattern of student behavior that indicates the time of medication administration isn’t right

if a certain person is always involved in conflicts, and sometimes how that happens

if a child’s behaviors function to promote learning or don’t

if a child is avoiding something critical

if a teacher is trying to move mountains to find your child’s key to learning

if an administrator is diligent or lax about keeping documentation in order

if certain staff members appear to “have it in” for a student

if a student seems to be “going after” a staff member

if a student is or is not successful in presentations done in certain learning styles

if a student is being treated unfairly

if staff members need training

if administration members need training

If school staff review cums at the beginning of every school year to pick up on what worked at the end of the previous year and listen even briefly to parents of SpED students, opening days and weeks will go more smoothly. (Yes, I know, it’s about accommodations and FAPE, too, but we tend to overlook what works when it gets frantic–and it trips us up and makes things worse!)

If parents review cums at the beginning of every school year to assure that all the information that should be there IS there, the school will have the resources it needs.

If advocates have “oiled” their relationships with school staff and administration so the “gears” will be ready to move when needed, then we are good to go.

Parents, not all of us are wealthy, but when we need to get a teacher’s attention at this time of year, if you get it, use a little money to show your appreciation for the effort that requires.  If you can only spare a dollar, buy a few stickers the teacher can use for the students, a few pencils or pens, or anything usable in class.  Teachers spend a lot of their own money on our students’ needs and if you can give the smallest thing, your teacher will notice and remember that you might be an ally and therefore merit her attention. Then do nothing to spoil that impression!  And don’t forget to use your magic Thank You words–teachers need to hear them.  You could also write thank you notes to those who help you–to be included in the cum.  Can you imagine the different it makes when someone who is grumpy and upset about a lousy day is going through yet another set of troubles and finds a thank you?  Evidence of appreciation should be liberally spread around, even as a note in cum files.

Teachers, too few parents become involved with their children’s education, their teachers, the school.  No day is ever too busy to say “Thank you for thinking of me (the class, the school, etc.)” Our children are the tough ones, and too many of us don’t get many rewards from non-family members for being their parents, trust me!

Advocates, we owe as much thanks as anyone else, and because it isn’t our child, we might forget to say the words out loud.  Here’s my shortest story.  Once I almost walked out of a tough IEP meeting without actually saying thanks.  I stopped by the door and turned around.  “OUT LOUD,” I said rather loudly.  People stopped talking and looked at me like I was a bit crazy (they’re probably right).  “Out loud.  I was walking out of here thinking how thankful I am to all of you for caring about these children, your work, what we do, but I didn’t say it.  So now I’m saying it.  OUT LOUD.  Thank you.  Thank you for caring.”

You will never know how bright the rainbow of smiles was that went around that room.  It was the best-received thank you ever.  And I could joyously be seeking another like it for the rest of my life.  You look for it too.  I hope you find it soon!

 

 

How To Request the Cumulative File

Parents need to know what is in their child’s cumulative file.  It doesn’t matter how often you talk to school staff about your child–you NEED to know what is in the cumulative file.  Information there will help you understand why the school does what it does with/for/to your child, may contain information about future plans for your child, and will have information about and copies of evaluations and evaluatio reports.  You truly NEED this information.

If you’re thinking you can just make a request for a copy of your child’s cumulative file by phone, stop. That’s fantasy. You can request that way, but if the district you’re in is the least bit lax about listening to parents, if it is a tad unwilling to share its records, if it is the honkin’ biggest discriminator around, you could be waiting a very, very long time for absolutely nothing to happen. Verbal requests are worth what they’re written on–air. School staff are busy, and verbal requests frequently are overlooked, sometimes unintentionally, sometimes gleefully intentionally. The rule is this: if you want your school district to do something for your child or your child’s case, make your request in writing and keep a copy in your home file.

When you write a request for a cumulative file, you need to identify your child seven ways from Sunday:
name, age, birth date, address, school district, school, grade, teacher’s name (for elementary students), student ID number. To make it easy on school staff, make a standardized letterhead for your school correspondence that includes your child’s data. Like this:

date

your return address

re: Child’s Name, Age
Date of Birth
Residing at: (address)
School District, School
Grade, Teacher’s Name

Next, put another Re: line, this time stating in 10 words or so what is the topic of the letter–Parent Request for Copy of Cumulative File.

In the first paragraph, identify your child. “My child is (name, age, birth date) who resides with me at (address) and attends (teacher’s name)’s class in (grade) at (school name) in (school district), (county name), (state).”

Then make your request. No extra words needed.

“This letter is to request a parent copy of (child’s name)’s cumulative file. I will stop by to pick it up on (give a date about 3-5 business days in the future to give time for copying). Thank you.”

If you can afford to pay for copies, you can stop writing and sign off here. If you can’t afford to pay for copies, here’s what you need to know.
1. Schools must make the cumulative file available for parents.

2. They may offer you access on school property, where you may decide to copy only certain pages if you wish and the school might or might not make those copies for you free of charge. They may not stand over you while you look it over. They may not withhold parts of it from you. (If they say there are other children’s names in the file, you will say, “We need to see all the cum, so please redact those pages for us.” That means black out the names to maintain other students’ confidentiality. They should not blacken out anything else–not teachers’ names, not events, not titles, etc.)  Cum files should contain medical information/records that schools must keep for children who take meds, vaccination record, etc., attendance records, teacher’s notes, samples of work, copies of IEPs/504 Plans, correspondence (all that is about your child),

3. The school may make a copy for you for free. YAY!

4. The school may exercise its right to charge a REASONABLE fee for copies. “Reasonable” has been interpreted by Supreme Court to mean no more than teachers are being charged to make their copies.

5. Schools may not charge “research fee,” staff time, filing fee, replacement fee or any other fee.

6. You may request the school to waive the fees for copies by writing, “We can’t afford to pay for copies, so we are asking that (school, district) waive the copying fee for us.” Most will do it. If not, go to the superintendent of the district (in a letter) stating that you have requested a copy of the cum so you can give informed consent at the next IEP meeting and your request to waive copying fees was denied. Then if it is true, you can say, “It imposes unreasonable hardship for either of us to take time from work to come to school to view the cum on site. For us to have equal knowledge of (child’s name)’s educational needs and to act as equal partners in the IEP/504 process, we need to have a copy of the cum. Please assist (school name) in waiving the cost of copies so we can perform our duties at the IEP/504 meeting as equal partners and give informed consent as (child’s name)’s parents.”

In your last paragraph, give your phone number for contact in case there are questions, state the date you will be there to pick up the file, and say thank you.

If you can’t pick up the file and don’t trust another adult to pick it up for you, DO NOT LET THE SCHOOL GIVE IT TO YOUR CHILD TO BRING HOME. Children are curious, and some things that are in cums can be devastating to children if they read them. If the school mails it, request it be mailed in a way that it can be traced and requires a signature for receipt. This guards against loss and offers proof as to whether or not you actually got your copy. DO NOT ASK FOR CUM FILES TO BE SENT TO A P.O. BOX. These files are often too large for these boxes, and some delivery companies will leave it on a doorstep where anyone, including other people’s children, can take it. Figure out where this mail can be delivered safely so YOU are the one who ultimately receives it. Then close with a thank you.

Come back soon and we’ll talk about what you do when you get that cum. You won’t believe how much information you can get from those papers that isn’t even on those papers! And you can do so much to support your child with what is in the cum that you won’t want to miss what’s coming up.

Till then, laughter and smiles, enjoy what’s left of summer!

Protect Those Cums!

Hurricane season is in full force, and in Miami, where Hurricane Andrew blew thousands of buildings to bits and trashed one of the region offices where special education offices kept thousands of students’ IEPs and 504 plans, we learned a very important lesson.

PARENTS MUST ASK FOR AND KEEP UPDATED CUMULATIVE FILES AND IEPS/504 PLANS FOR THEMSELVES.

We learned here that so many parents had no copies of anything that when a storm destroyed a major storage area, it took over a year to re-evaluate, re-IEP and get those students back on track. Those of us who had our copies at home and protected got back on track immediately (or as soon as a school was available for our children).

Here’s how:

1. Request a complete copy of the cumulative file. I’ll post some sample requests in a couple of days.
2. Make a copy of your copy. Put it in a safety deposit box, send it out of town to a friend or family member to keep for you.
3. Keep your copy easily accessible during storm seasons so you can quickly double-wrap it in plastic and keep it the way you keep property deeds, bank records, etc. (Don’t tell me you don’t do this!!!)
4. Keep this file updated every 6 months.

This year we’ve had floods, tornadoes, earthquakes, and no hurricanes, but the year isn’t over. My clients, if they’ve done what I suggest, have all their important records in one place in a water-proof, fireproof storage container. When you evacuate, that container goes with you, wherever you go. It is your lifeline to starting over, and for your children, if you have to move, it is instant FAPE in any other location without having to start over in the IEP process.

I wish you calm weather, solid earth beneath your feet, and much happy laughter in your homes.