IEP Discomfort

We had an orientation for our school yesterday. During my part, I explained to potential students and their parents what an average day at the school building would be like from an academic perspective. I also added that if a student has an IEP (Individualized Educational Plan – a Special Education term), has ever had an IEP, or needs some sort of accommodations, the student or parent should disclose that right away so they can hit the ground running with all the supports in place.

I could tell by the reaction of one of the parents that she was not trying to hear it and that IEP was a dirty word to her. This is not the first time I’ve received such a reaction from a parent.

I understand fully that families have been victimized by traditional public school settings. Black boys in particular get singled out for exclusionary services that stigmatize them for years, and black girls’ reactions to trauma also single them out for labeling. However, the legitimate needs of many students with IEPs don’t disappear just because they transfer to a charter school, or to a GED program, or to an adult education program.

In fact (and I believe I said this) your IEP doesn’t disappear just because you age out, either. I’ve had a student for the past two years who only just recently disclosed that he used to have an IEP for reading. And he took it upon himself to ask me to go find it so he could get some of those supports back.

You wouldn’t send your wheelchair-bound child to the foot of a staircase and tell them “See you at the top.” They need a different pathway to reach the same goal.

An IEP is not a label–it’s an instruction manual that helps me personalize your child’s experience. One can’t throw away the manual and then blame the child’s next teachers for the trouble they get in, or their lack of achievement.

Parents should not only trust the IEP process when they find a community of caring and genuine educators, they should become fully engaged in it, with an educational advocate if necessary. These meetings are for the support of the child from a legal perspective, and there are certain rights families have that they should continue to fight for.

And if the proverbial “Little Johnny” experiences gains and growth which suggest that they no longer need an IEP, then yes, students can and do slide out of IEPs all the time.

But I can assure you that in my experience, the IEP has been an excellent guide for caring educators–not weapons used against the families.

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