IEPs can be complex and overwhelming, especially when it is your family’s first time experiencing the process. When your learner is struggling to access the content and curriculum in the classroom, they, too, are feeling the layers of stress and feelings of uncertainty. The IEP was created to support learners achieve academic and social-emotional goals as every learner deserves to realize and reach their full potential. Here, we provide an overview of IEPs while fully acknowledging that additional research might be needed for one to fully understand the procedure, follow through, and develop the mindset needed before, during and after an IEP meeting. 

What is the purpose of an IEP? 

The overall goals of an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) are to set reasonable learning goals for a learner, and to state the services that the school district will provide for the child.

What is in an IEP? 

Each IEP must contain specific information, as listed within IDEA, our nation’s special education law. This includes but is not limited to:

  • the learner’s present levels of academic achievement and functional performance, describing how the learner is currently doing and how the learner’s diagnosed disability affects his or her involvement and progress in the general curriculum
  • annual goals for the learner, meaning what caregivers and the school team think he or she can reasonably accomplish in a year
  • the special education and related services to be provided to the learner by the school district, including supplementary aids and services and changes to the program or supports for school personnel
  • how much of the school day the learner will be educated separately from neurotypical learners or not participate in extracurricular or other nonacademic activities such as lunch or clubs
  • how (and if) the learner is to participate in state and district-wide assessments, including what modifications to tests the learner requires 
  • when services and modifications will begin, how often they will be provided, where they will be provided, and how long they will last
  • how school personnel will measure the learner’s progress toward the annual goals.

Who attends IEPs?

An IEP involves all of the relevant parties in the learner’s educational environment including the caregivers, classroom teacher(s), school psychologist evaluator, relative service providers (speech pathologists, counselor, occupational therapist, learning specialist) and a school administrator as a representative of the school district. 

What is the timing of IEPs? 

Once an educator or a caregiver requests a psycho-educational assessment, the district typically has 90 days to complete said testing. An IEP meeting must be held within 30 calendar days after it is determined, through a full and individual evaluation, that a learner has one of the disabilities listed in IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) and needs special education or related services. A learner’s IEP must also be reviewed at least annually thereafter to determine whether the annual goals are being achieved and must be revised as appropriate and tested triannually if the learner remains in need of an IEP.

How do I follow up? 

Your short and long term follow-up steps can depend on the nature and results of the IEP meeting itself. Although we are not advocates, we have participated in many IEPs when caregivers do not sign the documented goals (based on the above) in order to spend time at home digesting the information line by line to make sure they are in full agreement with the proposed services and corresponding timelines. If, after review, you feel comfortable signing off- great! If not, you can certainly follow up, preferably in written form via email, with a list of outstanding questions. It is important to note, however, that the district is not permitted to initiate services until the IEP document is signed by all parties. Once signed, as a caregiver, it is critical to keep the dates of services and applicable goals in mind and follow up if you do not observe progress firsthand. Occasionally, subsequent meetings are required to discuss progress or the lack thereof. 

Again, we know that IEPs are intricate, so a good place to start digging deeper into the ins and outs of IEPs is through wrightslaw.com. They provide both an index and a roadmap to IEPs- both extremely useful tools to utilize as resources.  As always, if you would like to consult with one of our experienced Educational Specialists, we are more than happy to help however we can. Ultimately, we wish you and your learner success in future IEP meetings and hope that learners are able to achieve their goals in order to build confidence and independence. 

We understand how intimidating and/or stressful any meeting concerning your child can be. Here, we hope to reduce your angst by providing a brief overview of what to expect in a 504 Plan Meeting specifically and welcome any and all questions that you may still have following the reading of this article.

What is a 504 Meeting? 

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (commonly referred to as Section 504) is a federal law designed to protect the rights of individuals with disabilities in programs and activities that receive federal financial assistance. Those programs include public school districts, institutions of higher education, and other state and local education agencies. To qualify under Section 504, a student must have a disability and that disability must limit a major life function. The Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments of 2008 (ADA) broadened the definition of disability in the ADA as well as in Section 504. The 504 Plan is a plan developed to ensure that a child who has a disability identified under the law and is attending an elementary or secondary educational institution receives accommodations that will ensure their academic success and access to the learning environment. 

Each 504 Meeting includes the following participants: 

  • Caregivers
  • Administrator/Principal 
  • Teacher(s) 
  • The learner (dependent on age/maturity)  

Each member of the 504 Meeting Committee typically provides insight into the learner’s strengths, areas of need, and accommodations (present or future) throughout. 

How is it different from a SST? IEP? 

We realize how confusing all of the acronyms can be, so fear not – we are here to help!  

The SST, Student Study Team, is usually less formal than a 504 or IEP meeting and does involve documentation, but the information discussed is not upheld by the law. So, teachers will delineate recommendations and an action plan within this meeting and will follow through as best they can without repercussions if they are unable to reach a level of compliance. A 504, on the other hand, is a legal document that delineates accommodations and modifications upheld by the law. 

The IEP, Individualized Education Program, involves the IDEA (The Individuals With Disabilities Education Act).  We will dive deeper into IEP’s next week but generally speaking, the IDEA is less involved in 504s than they are in IEPs.  Because of this–and the overarching purpose of 504 meetings–the school does not require measurable growth or specific goals with 504s like it does with IEPs.

How do I best prepare for a 504 as a caregiver? 

Prior to the meeting, it is important to do your homework! Prepare a list for the following aspects of your learner’s profile: relevant background information, strengths/interests, areas of challenge, potential solutions for said challenges. If your learner is old enough and/or self-aware, it’s always a good idea to ask them the same questions that you will need to report to during the 504 Meeting.  You know how to speak with your child best, of course, just be sure to stress that the purpose of the meeting is to best support their learning needs by providing strategies to help them access their full potential. Your learner should be part of the process one way or another. Sometimes, learners are asked to join the meeting and, therefore, would need to have a discussion with you prior to the meeting anyways. Feel free to review understood.org’s tips about 504s Meetings or having a productive meeting as well!

What happens during and after the 504 Meeting? 

During the meeting, bring your notes, work samples, and writing utensils or your device to add to your previously delineated thoughts. Try to maintain a positive outlook before, throughout and after the meeting. Educators typically have your learner’s best interest at heart and want to see he/she/they succeed. Sometimes that means your child needs a little support to realize and reach their goals which is why we adults need to come together to make it happen! 

At the conclusion of the team meeting, the facilitator will ask you to sign the notes that they took during the meeting (in person or electronically if you met virtually) and provide you with a copy. Within the notes, they will list the areas that you prepared, relevant accommodations/modifications that they will have tried or will put into place and the next steps which could include a follow-up meeting after a specific number of weeks. Please be sure to read over the team’s takeaways prior to signing the form itself since it is a legal document. Ultimately, all the present parties will also sign the document to substantiate agreement and accountability. 

We wish you all of the best in your learner’s 504 Plan Meeting and know that, with the right understanding, preparation, mindset and follow through, your learner will see and feel more successful in their personal learning trajectory and within their school environment!

Welcome to our first of three blogs in our School Meeting Series! Here we will dig into the in’s and out’s of SST meetings so that you, as caregivers or as teachers, are able to maximize your time together throughout. 

What is a SST meeting anyway? 

​​SST is an acronym for Student Study Team.  The initial SST meeting is typically the first time you have met to discuss a particular concern outside of a parent-teacher conference. Sometimes SST meetings are held in place of a conference because the teacher would like to involve the whole team in the discussion which could run longer than the average time allotted for a caregiver teacher conference.  Someone takes notes throughout the meeting so that everyone has endless access to the discussion points. 

What is the format of SST meetings? 

SST meetings usually last 30-45 minutes (sometimes longer) and include a learner’s caregivers, teachers, and at least one school representative such as the Counselor, Learning Specialist, Program Director, and/or administrator. If your child has received any specialized services in or out of the school environment, other providers are welcomed to attend as well. The SST facilitator starts by collecting or recapping any relevant background information, then moves into strengths and areas that are going well this school year. After each team member has the chance to share, then the facilitator will move into opportunities for growth or challenges the learner is presently facing. After the discussion, the team will provide an overview as to the action plan which includes potential accommodations, modifications, layers of support, and the like. At the conclusion of the meeting, the facilitator will determine the next point of communication whether it be a follow-up SST meeting, the upcoming caregiver-teacher conference, or something of the sort. If a follow-up SST meeting is needed, they are generally held six to eight weeks after the first meeting to allow enough time for the team to gauge how the learner is responding to the documented plan of action.

Is an SST meeting cause for concern? 

An SST meeting is usually not a reason to feel anxious or worried, but we are all human! This is especially true for the first meeting, although I realize it is hard to avoid feelings of angst when entering a team meeting about an area in which your learner is struggling. SST meetings are intended to remain positive and dynamic. Envision them like Think Tanks for your learner to access their full potential with the assistance of their support village!

What if the SST goals are not met? 

If the suggestions/ideas do not work well for your learner, then I strongly suggest welcoming a follow-up meeting to further explore reasons as to why your learner might not feel successful or confident within particular areas. Some schools are limited by what they can offer internally, so your learner might require external support to meet the aforementioned goals, which is ok. We all have skills that are in need of development, so why not seek outside support somehow, someway? It is better that you model a growth mindset and positive outlook when your learner starts the path towards independence.

In Conclusion…If you have been asked to attend an SST meeting it simply means the teacher has noticed your learner struggling in a specific area.  The educator and their team want to see your child succeed. An SST meeting is an excellent opportunity to create a positive communication link between caregivers and the school, so try to attend the meeting with a good outlook. The school wants to help.  Be willing to listen to their ideas and be honest with your own concerns.  When working together, clear answers, help for your learner, and a more joyful learning experience will surely follow. For more information on SST meetings, check out one of our favorite resources – understood.org.

Here we are, the school year is underway for most of us and we are approaching the months ahead with as much positivity and hopefulness that we can conjure. As caregivers, we had the opportunity to establish a relationship with our children’s teachers and school teams online last year but at the same time, we had to navigate the layers of pandemic protocols, distance learning, and so much more. Now that we can confidently say that pandemic learning is not going anywhere and we will, most likely, have most of our teacher meetings online this year as a result, we need to further explore ways in which we can connect with our learners’ teams virtually. That way, we are able to maximize opportunities for building rapport and strengthening connectivity in this new normal. Let’s dig into four simple ways that you can nurture a relationship virtually with your child’s team this school year and beyond. 

Do Your Homework 

Follow these steps to preparing for virtual teacher meetings and interactions this school year: 

  • Review assignments, grades and any progress reports ahead of time.
  • Before the conference takes place, find an opportunity to sit with your child as he/she does homework in each subject. 
  • Understand their strengths and thought process first-hand.
  • Delineate questions that come to mind throughout each of the above. 
  • List a few talking points so that you feel more comfortable initiating or maintaining the conversation. 

Show Up

Half of the battle when it comes to almost anything in our life that we perceive as an obstacle is to show up! We spend a good deal of time online and, thus, should try to find ways to engage with our learners’ teams in the same way. One of the first ways to do this is to introduce yourself to your child’s teacher or specialist via email to let them know how excited you are to collaborate with them this year. They can reply when it is convenient to do so and will appreciate the notion. Next, look out for sign-up invites to teacher meetings such as Back to School/Curriculum Nights, Progress Checks, Parent-Teacher Conferences, and the like. Once you officially sign up for a time that works well, show up! I know, I know, it is much easier to NOT go because it is not as noticeable in larger group settings or your life is a juggling act like mine. But showing up sends a strong message to the teacher that being present and involved is important to you and your family as a whole.

Follow Through

Following up shows your learners’ team that you are committed to supporting them and your child as best you can. During the introductory point of contact, ask your child’s teacher how he/she prefers to communicate (email, note, phone calls, etc.). At the conclusion of any discussion, meeting, or Parent-Teacher Conference, remember to ask what the next formal point of contact will be so that you can ensure there will be one. And, of course, gestures of gratitude go a long way as well – thank you emails, handwritten notes, homemade teacher gifts – small tokens of your appreciation can make a huge difference throughout the school year.

Connect Outside of Meetings

This step is not as easy as it once was, let’s be honest. Most schools are not allowing parents onsite, let alone taking field trips. That said, you can still practice finding chances to connect with your children’s teaching team outside of parent meetings. If you happen to be one of the lucky ones who can step foot on campus, maintain consistent, open communication by chatting briefly at drop off and/or pick up. Hey, if your child’s teacher works the car line- perfect! Essentially, it is key to find/think of ways to remain involved like volunteering as a parent helper outside of the classroom doing things such as preparing materials (online or to drop off) for class or scheduling future virtual field trips. Every step you take in an effort to volunteer makes life easier for your child’s teacher so that he/she can spend more time with the learners they love!

In close, try to keep the following principles from the Harvard Family Research Project in mind for productive and effective communication in every virtual teacher collaborative effort:

  1. Best intentions assumed
  2. Emphasis on learning
  3. Home/school collaboration
  4. Examples and evidence
  5. Active listening
  6. Respect for all
  7. Dedication to follow-up