Exceptional Lives Team
July 29, 2021

Kitchen Conversations, Know your rights: navigating your young child’s transition into school

Do you know the laws that protect children with disabilities? Hear from Maria Blanco, AD @ LSU HSC on how to best advocate for your child.


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[Christina Kozik] So without further ado, I’d like to introduce Maria Blanco. Maria is going to be our presenter today. She is currently an Assistant Professor at LSU Health Sciences Center in New Orleans. She has over 20 years of experience providing parent education, early intervention, teacher training and professional development to early childhood providers. Her work focuses on increasing equity and access to high quality services to all children and families. Maria is also the mother of two adult daughters, one of whom has autism. So with that, I’m handing it over to Maria.

[Maria Blanco] Thank you, Christina. Good afternoon, everybody. I am a 50, almost 54 next month, actually next week, I’m a white woman, 4’11” so I’m pretty short and I have short brown hair and I am wearing a black and white striped dress today. I’m very excited to be here. Thank you for inviting me and oops, I think I missed the control, I did.

[Christina] Okay, no problem. Let’s redo that.

[Maria] Thanks.

[Christina] No problem there we go.

[Maria] There we go, all right, so topics for today.

Today, we’re gonna talk about where do you get your rights?

Your child has a lot of rights if they qualify for special ed services. And so we’re gonna talk about where those rights come from, it’s important to know that, what do these rights include, and how do I ensure that my child or family received those services? So, knowledge is power! I’m a firm believer that an educated and knowledgeable parent can do great things for their child to get the support that they need. So, let’s jump right in. For some reason, I am not moving the slide, sorry, thank you.

So, your rights in special ed come from federal law, right? So, there’s the IDEA or the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and that’s one specific law that gives special ed, it’s special ed law, if you will. So Part C of that law, of that Act provides for early intervention for kids who are between the ages of birth and two through two years old. And then they move to Part B, which is in our state it’s the school districts who handle Part B and that’s to provide special education and related services for children from three through 21. So we’re gonna talk a little bit about the differences between Part B and Part C in a second.

There’s another law that gives people with disabilities, students with disabilities rights in schools, and that’s Section 504 of the Rehab Act lovingly referred to as Section 504 and that law really looks at providing modifications and accommodations for access, equal access for students with disabilities. So a lot of times if a child doesn’t qualify for services under IDEA so an IEP, for example, or an IFSP and we’ll talk about that in a second. If they don’t qualify for special ed, they could qualify for Section 504, modifications and accommodations. So that’s typically kids who may have some health issues or physical limitations and need a little extra support to access the building, the facilities, the curriculum, but they’re not gonna necessarily need modifications to the curriculum itself. Those kids typically fall under 504 plans. We’re not gonna talk about 504 so much today. If you have questions about that, you know, certainly throw them in the chat and we can talk about it if that’s something that’s interesting to you. Next, there you go.

So I know you guys had the opportunity to see a webinar on Part C, the previous webinar, if you haven’t, you should go check it out on Exceptional Lives website ’cause it’s pretty good. It talks a lot about Part C and the transition from Part C. So IDEA Part C is really what we call early intervention in our state, Louisiana EarlySteps is our Part C system and that’s for kids from birth until they reached 36 months on their third birthday services stop, doesn’t matter it’s not like school where you get to go to school till the summer, those services stop on your 3rd birthday. So that’s important to know, and of course Part B and it says Part B, it shouldn’t be Part B Section 619, 619 focuses on three to five, part B focuses on three to 21. So we’re gonna talk a lot about 619 today, but all the things that apply to kids who are three to five also would apply to kids who are through 21. There’s obviously other things for older kiddos, considerations in Part B. I think the biggest difference between Part C and Part B, and I am a mom who’s been through both systems, is that the Part C really focuses on the needs of the child and the family to support child development. So, it’s very, very different than Part B, which focuses on the supports the child needs to make progress in the curriculum.

So even if you have concerns about certain things in your child’s life, if they don’t directly impact the way they make progress in the curriculum, that’s not something that they’re going to probably address in through Part B services. So it’s really making progress in the curriculum and participating in appropriate activities, school activities. So, big, big difference that’s a shift for a lot of families when you’re moving from early intervention to school-based services, early intervention really looks at the family as a whole and how do we help that family support that child’s development and Part B is all about the kiddo doing, you know, succeeding in school. So, big change for families, I think, as they move into Part B. Next slide, oh, I’m sorry. I went too many slides ahead, back it up once, thank you.

So the transition to Part B, so Part C or early intervention, again, that’s the system that’s run through the Department of Health in our state, and Part B is run through schools, right? through school districts. So it’s really, really different. If you have a young child, and I don’t know how many parents have little ones we have, but if you know parents that have little ones that are in early intervention or Part C, we really want, if at all possible, we want that IEP, that transition to happen before that third birthday, because services will stop. They cannot by law provide any services to a child in EarlySteps after their third birthday. So that’s a really important timeline and EarlySteps is generally pretty good about supporting families through that transition.

Not every family goes through the steps. Some families don’t have concerns until later, you know, once a child’s already three years old. So some kids come through different avenues into Part B. I think the important thing to think about when you’re transitioning, especially for a child that’s three to five, especially that three-year-old is the family thing to think about all the options they have in their community for services. So in Louisiana most school(s), well, there is no universal three-year-old preschool, right? So, you can go to a childcare center, you could go to Head Start. Some schools, not many, might have a three-year-old option. It’s very rare to find three-year-old public school in Louisiana. You really need to think about your other options if you’re thinking of, if you have a child in childcare and you’re happy with the early learning center where they are, that’s important to think about it. It doesn’t mean you can’t get Part B services, you still can, you still should get all the things that are entitled, your child is entitled to, if they qualify for Part B, we’ll talk a little bit about that in the next few slides.

Oh, one other thing I wanted to say about Head Start, sorry. So Head Start is required to take 10% of their funded enrollment. So 10% of all their kids have to be kids who need IEP services. So that’s important to know, if you have Head Start in your community, that might be an option especially for a three-year-old, if you don’t have an LA 4 program in Louisiana, or pre-K4 program’s called LA 4, and that entitles all four year olds with or without disabilities, who qualify for a public education. So if you don’t have access to pre-K4 yet, Head Start might be a really good option and they do prioritize kids with disabilities, so that’s something to think about.

Some more about placement. Placement is really, I think as a parent, I know for me, it was always one of the most challenging things to figure out, especially in Louisiana, our schools, you know, a lot of us, we know we see the news, we know that sometimes it’s hard to find a good school and those schools are hard to get into just because of the enrollment system we have in our state. So as you think about placement for your child, if they have a disability or need special education, preschool options can really depend very much on where you live.

The state really has four options for the three to five year olds.

  1. One is dual enrollment, and basically that’s a co-teacher situation where you have a general ed teacher and a special ed teacher in a classroom teaching kids together. Or a special-ed/general-ed combo, where you’re getting part of the day in special ed and part of the day in regular preschool. That’s really the sort of the dual enrollment option. Again, very, very rare for three-year-olds. If you have older kiddos, that shouldn’t be a problem having that option.

  2. Reverse mainstream classrooms is another option where you have at least 50% of the kids in that class are typically developing peers or kids without IEPs, that’s an option available in some places.

  3. Itinerant services, these are used a lot for three-year-olds just because there’s no three-year-old classrooms in most schools, but itinerant services are where a teacher, a special ed teacher or a speech therapist, typically those are the two services that they provide most would go to wherever your child is. If they’re in an early learning center that you absolutely love, and they’ve been there since they were one or six weeks old, and you wanna keep them there, you can get itinerant services from your district, and they can send a general ed, I mean, a special ed teacher or a speech therapist or another related service provider to provide services in another place, which is your child’s least restrictive environment or where they would typically be.

  4. And then the last option: Louisiana is home-based services, and that’s where your child is at home. We see this a lot with our threes because there are no classrooms, but your child is at home and they’re not necessarily in an early learning center yet. And they come to your home and just like EarlySteps would and provide special instruction, you know, special education services, a teacher would come to the house and work with your child or a speech therapist could come to your house. So those are typically the four options we have here in Louisiana for our kiddos who are in that three to five age range. Next, thank you.

So, we talked about rights. You had a lot of rights in Part B. Some of them are very similar to Part C. So if you did the earlier webinar, this might sound familiar, but some of them are very different. So a timely evaluation and eligibility determination, a lot of big words. Timely, it means they have certain timelines so if you refer a child, or if you request an evaluation for your child, from your school systems and you can do that, they have 60 days from the day you request to the day that evaluation is complete. That’s important to know, especially right now in the summer, sometimes school is like, oh, we’re out, we drag our feet. The law says no, you have 60 days from the time of the referral to the time that evaluation needs to be complete. And that’s ’cause we don’t wanna waste time. You know, I asked for this three months ago and still hasn’t happened.

So schools know they have 60 days to get that evaluation done and that’s an evaluation to determine, does your child need Part B services? And they have a team that will do an evaluation and look at all types of different tests that they will do and then they determine is your child eligible. And eligibility means it’s not a diagnosis, this is another really important thing I think parents get hung up on. When you get a classification, if your child is determined eligible for an IEP Part B services, you will likely get a category, a categorical placement. So they’re gonna tell you, oh, your child qualifies under autism. That does not mean you just got an autism evaluation. It’s not a medical evaluation, it’s a school eligibility determination and there are 21 different categories in the law they have to pick one of those, sometimes more than one to determine if your child qualifies for services, what that determination was. But remember, it’s not a medical evaluation and you may need to get a medical evaluation to access other services that aren’t through education. There’s other services through Medicaid and waivers that are available to families that have kids with disabilities that are also important. I’m not gonna sorta talk about those, but they’re important and if you have questions, you can certainly ask.

FAPE, Free and Appropriate Public Education. So if anybody wasn’t EarlySteps, EarlySteps is not free always. They do have a sliding scale for EarlySteps and so it can be, your services can, they can charge you sometimes a little copay, depending on your income. Public school is a free right to every child in our country, right? So every child has access to public school, including kids with disabilities. So free and appropriate and, you know, for a long time when my daughter was little and we were going through elementary school, what I thought was appropriate and what the school thought was appropriate wasn’t always the same thing. One thing you learned about the law is that appropriate doesn’t mean to get the Cadillac, sometimes it means you get the Yugo . I didn’t really like the Yugo but that’s what they offered and it was appropriate and comparable to what all the other kids were getting. So that’s just something to think about too. It doesn’t mean you’re not (to) push for more or better services, it just means we have to think about what are your rights in the law.

An IEP, an Individualized Education Program. So in EarlySteps, in Part C, we call that an IFSP, Individualized Family Service Plan, take out the family and we just make it an education program. We’re gonna talk a lot about that on another slide. And then you have the right to have services provided in the least restrictive environment. This is really hugely important to me personally, and to many families and people with disabilities. And the law really stresses the fact that services should be provided in the least restrictive environment or LRE and your child has a right to that, we’re gonna talk about that a lot more in another slide. An annual IEP review. The IEP just doesn’t get written once and then that’s it the bible till your kid graduates. Every year they have to review that IEP and then talk about what’s in it and that’s why it gets reviewed so frequently. And then a re-evaluation. So they did an evaluation to qualify your child for services. We’re gonna reevaluate at least every three years because kids change. They grow up, their needs change. If you feel like you need an evaluation, because there’s something that’s really changed for your child, whether they have another significant need that’s come up that maybe they didn’t have at the initial evaluation or their last evaluation, you can request an evaluation at any time. And you know, it’s a big process. You wanna do that if you have a new need that your child needs services for that isn’t being addressed in your IEP, and you’re getting pushback from, you can request a new reevaluation. So, but it will happen every three years, at least. Anyway, next slide.

All right, let’s talk about this IEP. And the IEP is a big deal. It is the roadmap for the year, and you’d have a lot of input and say into what goes into the IEP as much as you want, honestly. So, we’re gonna answer some basic questions. So why do we have an IEP? It really is to set those learning goals and remember, we’re looking at educational needs. So set learning goals for your child and describe the services that the school district is gonna provide. That’s why it’s so important because everything that your child is entitled to or needs, will go in that IEP. If they need speech therapy, occupational therapy, adaptations to anything, all of that goes into the IEP. So it’s a really important document.

Who’s part of this IEP team, right? You have an IEP team, you as a parent are part of that IEP team, and then there’s key staff, right? So usually your child’s teacher, maybe a general education teacher, a special education teacher, an administrator from your school, therapists that your child might be working with. Those are the folks that would be on the IEP team. People who can help set those learning goals and understand the services that your child will be getting. You can also, you are free to bring, they’re not necessarily part of your IEP team, but you can always bring someone to an IEP meeting, that is (your) right, we gonna talk about that another slide.

The IEP has to happen 30 days from when your child is determined eligible. So you went through the evaluation and then 30 days and they said, yes, your child is eligible for an IEP or for special ed services. 30 days later, you’ve got to have that IEP written. So, they shouldn’t wait, they should get with you and set the date and they will do that in writing and all that, so we’ll talk about that in a second, but it’s 30 days from when they’re eligible and every year afterwards, they’re gonna let you know your IEP is coming up. They’ll let you know in writing usually 45 or 60 days before, and schedule a meeting date with you. If a meeting date doesn’t work for you, you need to tell them, “Hey, I can’t make it on that day, but we need to change it,” you have that right and you need to be part of that IEP.

And what is on the IEP? Present level of performance. What is your child currently doing? What are the annual goals? What do we want them to be doing by the end of the school year? What services are they gonna need to help them make progress in the curriculum? What is their placement going to be? And do they need any testing accommodations? We don’t necessarily worry about that with itty bitty ones where they’re threes and pre-K, but as soon as kindergarten, you know, we start testing kiddos. So if they need extra time, or if they need to test in a quiet place, away from other people, they need somebody to read questions to them, all those things that kids who are older may need any kind of testing accommodations. Are they going to be tested on the LEAP? Those are things that they’ll talk to you about as your child gets older and becomes eligible for those tests. Some kids, you know, it’s like, they don’t need that extra stress. and they may or may not be on that track, there’s different diploma options, as you get closer to the end of your school career. So those things will all be on the IEP and you as a parent have a right to talk about those things.

So my daughter was in third grade getting ready to go to fourth grade, for fourth grade, there’s a LEAP, right? So fourth grade LEAP and she failed at the first year, okay? And then they were like, well, do you just wanna take her out of that track and put her on a non diploma track where she would not earn a high school diploma, she would get a certificate, she would still get academics and still have a plan for her education, but she wouldn’t be earning Carnegie Units, all that kind of stuff. So that was an IEP decision, right? And as a parent, I was like, no, let’s do this again. And so, yeah, we repeated fourth grade and we had to take the LEAP again and eventually, but those are decisions as a parent that you wanna be involved in and engaged in. So yeah, IEP is hugely important. Next slide.

Okay, about least restrictive environment. This is a really huge deal. This is the law, this is a quote from the law, and I’m not gonna read it to you ’cause I’m assuming folks can either read or maybe I should read it out loud. “To the maximum extent appropriate children with disabilities are educated with children who are not disabled and special classes, separate schooling or other removal of children with disabilities from the regular educational environment occurs only if the nature or severity of the disability is such that education in regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily”.

A lot of words, basically to say, you start in the regular classroom and you figure out, okay, my child is struggling to learn in this setting. What do they need to make them successful? What services do they need? Do they need an assistant, an aid who’s gonna help them sit down, get out, you know, stay organized. Do they need someone? Do they need modifications to the work? Maybe they’re learning the same thing, but in a different way, those are all things that can happen in the regular classroom. It doesn’t mean that, you know, you start in the regular classroom and you make sure that you exhaust all efforts. You know, every supplementary aid and every service that is available before you move that child out of the regular classroom, there is no special ed land when you graduate. Life does not end at graduation, it just starts and so the more our children have an opportunity to be engaged with their community, with their regular peers, the more opportunity they have to be successful in the bigger community. So it’s really important and the law requires that schools look at, what does a child need to be successful in this regular classroom before they start talking about moving them somewhere else important. All right, next.

This is gonna just belabor the point a little bit that more about placement. So think of it and placement doesn’t mean once you’re in a special ed classroom, you stay there forever. That’s another thing that families don’t necessarily understand or explained the fact that special education is a service, it’s not a place, so it’s not the special ed class, I mean, it might be a special ed class, but that is not special education. And so you can’t base placement on, the law says you cannot decide where a child is gonna be based on their condition or exceptionality. That doesn’t determine where they’re gonna get their education.

You can’t base placement on what programs your school has. Well, my school has the LD classroom or my school has the severe profound classroom and that’s where all those kids go. No, that’s not how you determine a placement and you can’t determine placement, or we have autistic classroom and that’s where all those kids go. No, again, that’s not how you determine where a child needs to learn. And it can’t be based on what you’re, the convenience of the school, or, oh, we don’t have enough money for that, or we don’t have any assistance in that school, we only have the middle school, so we have to send your kid all the way to that school. None of those things matter when determining placement, it’s really about what does your child need to be successful in the curriculum? And so if it can happen in the classroom, you wanna start down there at the bottom of the pyramid, that’s where everybody is, right? General education with no services, that’s the regular classroom. And then you move away from that only as far as you have to, right? And then you move back to that as soon as you can.

So there were years where my daughter needed pull-out services or needed a resource class, and I hated it. There was a year she was in a self-contained class and I hated that because I didn’t want her away from her peers and not being able to participate in field trips and all those other things that, lunchtime, regular lunch and all that. So those things were also important part of an educational experience for a child. So again, we move back as fast as we can back into the more normal educational environment. And again, this continuum exists for a reason, some kids need more support and that’s okay. The reality is we need to figure out where’s my child gonna learn and that’s the most important thing, that should drive placement, not any of these other things. Next slide.

So how are your rights protected? So many families don’t know what’s in the law, they’ve never read it and I don’t blame them, it’s pretty boring. So, you know, they go to webinars like this one and you should be explained your rights at some point along the way, but typically they just hand you a little piece of paper and they say, here, sign that you read this, we gave you your rights, not very helpful. So your rights are protected and it’s important to know that, there’s something called procedural safeguards in the law. And it talks about a lot of different rights. I’m gonna talk about these four ’cause they’re the ones that really apply to almost everyone. And there’s some others in there if you have questions about guardianship and that kind of thing, but these are the ones that really, you need to really understand that apply to everyone.

  1. Prior written notice. So anytime they’re gonna do anything, make any kind of decision, do any kind of tests on your child or anything like that, you have to get notice in writing from the school or the district. They can’t just do something and then tell you about it afterwards. That is different in 504, by the way, 504 does not have written plans and it can happen without the family, it can happen just with school personnel. So they have to notify you after, but that is a little bit different, that’s a different law. So, but for IDEA, you’d have to get prior written notice, it has to be in a language that you understand. That means I don’t want a legal document with words that I don’t even know what they mean and I have to go on a website and try to figure out what you’re saying. It needs to be in plain English and it doesn’t have to be in English. If my preferred language or my primary language is Spanish or Tagalog or whatever it is, they need to provide that written notice in a way that you can understand it, so in your preferred language, so that’s a right you have.

  2. The right to consent and that’s written consent. They cannot do anything, make any decisions, move your child, change services without your written consent. That IEP is not considered completed until you sign it. So you have a lot of power and understand, and you have a lot of responsibility to understand what you’re reading. So it’s important that you say, “hey, I don’t know what this means, tell me in English” or “tell me in Spanish” ’cause you’re giving consent for those things to happen and you have to provide written consent.

  3. Confidentiality, not only do they have to protect your child’s confidentiality and records, you also have the right to review and see anything in your child’s educational record. So if you wanna see notes from a therapist, you have the right to do that. If you wanna see the test results from tests A, B, or C, you have the right to do that. Anything in the educational record, you have the right to see. And they also have the obligation to not share that with anyone else, anyone who doesn’t need to know like a teacher, for example, or a therapist, but another teacher or another school or whatever, they have no right to share that information without your written consent, so another safeguard.

  4. And then dispute resolution. You have right to that. If they make a decision or determination, say you go for an evaluation and you really feel like your child needs Part B services, they need special ed services and they say, no, you know, your child doesn’t really qualify, you have a right to dispute that decision. It doesn’t mean you’re gonna win, but you have a right to say, you know what? I disagree with that, let’s get a second opinion and they have to pay for that second opinion. Usually they’ll try to work it out with you and maybe retest or do something or maybe you haven’t considered 504 accommodations, maybe that’s an option that you can go down, so the point is you have a right if you disagree with a decision to dispute that, and there’s levels of dispute, of mediation, and there’s all the way to the actual, you know, going to court, there’s different ways to handle that, but just know that you don’t have to just take what they say as the end of the discussion. You can obviously disagree and if you can’t come to some agreement, you can bring in other folks, you know, the state, the district, or bring in other third parties who are neutral to help figure it out. So you have that right, so that’s important to know as well. Next slide.

Okay, let’s talk a little bit about the impacts of race and ethnicity

It would be crazy in this day and age for us to think that race or ethnicity doesn’t impact pretty much everything and every service and every system that we’re engaged in and with. So, we know that there are a lot of impacts for children with disabilities, specifically around race and ethnicity. So I wanted to just bring out a couple of them, just so that you’ll be aware that these are things that are real and that you can recognize them and then you can do something about them. If you feel like you’re being discriminated against, or your child is being discriminated against.

The first one is language. You know, if English is not your primary language, again, as I mentioned, they have the obligation, the law says that they have to communicate with you in a way that is clear and that you understand. So that’s really, really important. And it’s not enough to say, oh, well, you can bring somebody to interpret for you, that’s not a true interpreter. I have a Latin background, my family’s Cuban and I can tell you, I am not the best, I speak fluent Spanish, I learned Spanish before I learned English, but I am not a good interpreter when it comes to specific fields, like I can never be a medical interpreter, I don’t know half the words this doctors are saying in Spanish, I know I’m in English, ’cause they’re saying them to me, but I would never try to interpret that for someone and think that I was doing a good job. Same thing with education. Not everyone can translate the meaning behind some of what a school personnel are telling you, if they don’t understand, they’re not trained as an interpreter. So you have the right to have an interpreter and that’s really important to know because that can really impact your ability to consent and your child’s rights and services that they get if it’s not clear to you.

Identification is another area that we see quite a bit of disparity. And there’s a lot of different research, some of it says that, “oh, there’s a lot more Black kids that need to be identified for special ed” and “there’s a lot of Black kids identified in special ed”. And so there’s two different camps. The bottom line is, what we know is that race can impact the timely identification. Remember talked about how important it is to get that timely identification so your child can start getting the services they need. We know that children, non-white kids, it’s not just Black kids, but non-white kids get identified generally much later than white children for the same conditions. There’s a lot of research that says that, certainly a lot of autism research.

And so we know that for example, most or many Black kids, you know, we see under-representation so not enough kiddos in early intervention, sometimes nationally of course I’m speaking that are Black because a lot of them don’t get identified with a need until they’re four or five years old. And that’s not because it didn’t happen until they were four or five we’re not very good at always catching it or being proactive about screening and evaluating kids who aren’t white. That’s a problem nationally.

The other thing it can impact is disability identification. So if, you know, we know that for example, kids who aren’t white, kids who are Black, for example, are more often identified with an emotional disturbance or intellectual disability, as opposed to autism, for example. So maybe some misidentification is very common for kids who aren’t white, maybe not very common as an overstatement, but it does happen and it happens a lot enough to be part of the literature and for people to say, this is a problem. So, it’s important to know that sometimes the label, the category that gets put on your child could be impacted by their race or ethnicity and it’s something to think about.

Placement, this is a huge one. So we know that non-white kids with disabilities are placed in general ed classes, less than white kids with disabilities. So remember we talked about placement and how we wanna try to stay in the general ed environment as much as possible. So that happens more for white kids with disabilities than non-white kids. So we know that 17% of Black kids and 21% of Asian kids spend less than 40% of their day in general ed and there’s a reason for that. I mean, other than, you know, unfortunately it’s that racial disparity that we see. So it’s really, really important again, that should not drive placement, right? It should be where can my child learn that looks most like, or is closest to the general ed classroom. So, again, we as a nation and as a system, our education system tends to pull out kids who are different and even for kids, based on their race or ethnicity, and even for kids with disabilities, we see that it’s a disabilities who are not white face even more disparity. So it’s important to think about that as well.

Punishment, suspension, and expulsion. This is a huge thing, there’s been a big push nationally to change this. We know that overall just general population with and without disabilities, Black boys are expelled or suspended much more frequently than every other category. One in five Black, Asian, American Indian, or multi-racial boys were suspended in school in a recent study, I think it was 2014, ’15 Office of Civil Rights published that. That’s a lot of kids that are being suspended and expelled. Students with disabilities are twice as likely as students without disabilities to get suspended, which makes absolutely no sense ’cause you really need to be in school. And this is another right that your child has.

You know, sometimes as a parent, it can feel like they just don’t wanna deal with it. They don’t wanna deal with my kid. They’re too hard to handle, the teacher doesn’t know what she’s doing, she doesn’t have enough support. You know, whatever the reason is, it can feel sometimes like it’s just easier for the school to suspend a child instead of fixing, you know, figuring out why a behavior is happening and how to fix it. The reality is that you have a right, your child has a right, especially a child with a disability.

There’s something, it’s called different things in different districts, but behavior support plan or behavior intervention plan, a BIP, it’s often referred to, that’s something, it’s in the law, it’s something that the district is required to do, the school is required to do. If your child has a disability and they become a behavior problem, they can’t just suspend them. You have the right to say, my child has a disability, their disability is impacting their behavior. I want a behavior support plan for my child, or I want a behavior intervention plan for my child. And that’s huge, if you think about it, school is where we learned, right? We’re educators, we’re teachers, we’re supposed to be teaching. So here’s a child who’s having difficulty dealing with a situation and handling it the wrong way and we’re just gonna send them home. Well, when he comes back, he’s gonna do the same exact thing, especially if he doesn’t particularly wanna be in school, guess what? He’s gonna do it more because he gets to go home when he does it.

So the reality is, it’s on us as parents to say, no, I want a behavior support plan for my child. And that’s the behavior support plan to get a team together it’s like a mini IEP if you will, they get a team together, it’s usually a school counselor or school psychologist, the teacher, the parent, whoever’s involved and they get the team together to say, what is the behavior that’s a problem? Why do we think it’s happening? Let’s get some data. Well, it only happens on Tuesdays with this person, well, we have a problem on Tuesdays with this person, let’s figure that out. It makes them look at the problem and find a solution and something they can teach the child instead of just punishing them or kicking them out for a week or whatever, three days.

So it’s really, really important to know that they can’t just suspend your child and just send home a suspension notice. You can say, look, I need a behavior support plan for my kiddo and then they can revisit it. They have to teach a skill and then they see did that work and you’re part of that, you’re part of that process and part of that team. So that’s a really important thing to know. And again, kids with disabilities are twice as likely as kids without disabilities to get suspended. And so that’s an important thing to be aware of as you go through your journey, your school journey. So, okay next.

How to get the best for your child. So I think the most important thing is to know your rights, which either you knew a lot already and hopefully I’ve shed some light on some other things for you to think about and look into, but it’s important you know, knowledge is power and a parent who has information about the law and who knows their rights is a powerful person and an engaged person and you wanna be an engaged part of that team.

Be a team player. I’m guilty, I’ve been pegged as that parent, you know, and you walk in the building and they’re like, “oh God, here she comes.” And that’s a horrible feeling. And it’s a very fine line between being an advocate and really knowing your rights and making sure that your child is getting everything that they’re entitled to and fighting with the school. And sometimes it gets to that, unfortunately, but as a parent, you know, it’s important to remember that you’re part of a team and they have your child all day, every day, it’s much better for them to see you as an advocate than as an adversary or an enemy. So, that’s just an important thing to remember, even when you’re really frustrated, you’re really angry about something they did or didn’t do, try to come at it as, how can we fix this? And it’s a we, right?

Bring a supportive person to meetings. I am a professional educator, I do this for a living and I always had somebody else with me at an IEP, always. I’m also a very emotional person and I think many parents get, feel that way in those meetings, they can be stressful, they don’t have to be, but you know, it’s a big deal and it’s once a year and they’re gonna talk about what my kid can do and can’t do and is doing and isn’t doing and that’s a lot to process as a parent. So having somebody with you who’s got your back is important even if they don’t necessarily know the law is better if they do, but even if they don’t, even if they’re just there as moral support and emotional support, that’s really important, they might hear things that you didn’t, and it’s always nice to have another opinion or perspective, even if they don’t say a thing at that meeting, it’s still sometimes really nice just to have that person there ’cause you walk into a room and it might be you and five other people from the school and that’s a little intimidating too. So, bring somebody with you to those meetings, just to make sure you let the, you know, when they invite you to your IEP meeting, let them know that you’ll and they usually have a form that says, yes, I’ll be there and if you’re bringing anybody and you just put that person’s name in.

Document everything. If they didn’t document it you need to document. Every conversation you have, every interaction you have that has to do with your child services or how they’re doing in school, you wanna put it down in writing. And that’s important because at the end of the day, it’s good to have a track record for those, I mean, that yearly meeting or more frequently if you need it, but it’s also good if you ever do get to a place where you need mediation or some other third party to come in, you have your ducks in a row as well. And when you document, you need to make sure you write down who said it? When they said it? Where you were? We were in the hallway on Tuesday at 10 in the morning, “I was bringing Johnny from a doctor’s visit and his teacher said this”, you wanna document everything. And I usually for some things and obviously not everything, but for some things that I felt were important and that I disagreed with, I would send a copy of that to the principal or whoever, the appropriate administrator, just so that they know, hey, I just, you know, this is what happened, I’m concerned about this. Or, you know, just let them know that I didn’t just blow it off, I’m keeping track of what’s going on. Again, that’s very empowering when they know that they have an engaged parent who’s really keeping track of what’s happening with their child.

Ask for help when you need it. As parents especially parents of kids with disabilities, but any parent, you know, we are nurtures, we do a lot for our kiddos, we are sometimes stressed to the limit or beyond, and it’s important for us to ask for help, if we don’t, if we’re not okay, then our kid is not gonna be okay and they’re not gonna get what they need. It takes a lot to be involved and engaged at this level and really fight for your child’s rights and services and so you need to be able to ask for help. And that might just be literally just to tap out and say, “I need a break”, or it might be, “I need to call an attorney ’cause I have no idea what to do”, or “I need to call Exceptional Lives or need to call certain families, or I need to call the Advocacy Center”. There’s people out there who know a lot more than we do about the law, that’s what they do every day. So don’t be afraid to ask for help, you may not need to recruit those people on your behalf, but it’s important to know that they’re out there and they’re a resource.

And practice self care, kind of goes with asking for help. You’re not okay, your kid will not be okay if you’re not okay. So it’s super important to take care of yourself and oftentimes we put ourselves last and I understand that, but it’s like, when you’re on the airplane and they tell you, “if we lose cabin pressure, you put your mask on first before you put somebody else’s because if you don’t, you might not be able to put somebody else’s mask on!” So, practicing self care is really, really important, it doesn’t have to be big, but it does have to be regular. And so those are really the things I wanted you guys to think about as far as how do you get the best thing for your child? I think so, yeah, questions.

[Christina] Well, Maria, first, I wanna say, thank you, thank you, thank you. Oh my goodness, you gave us so much great information and as a mama who’s walked this, I’m always still learning. I’ve not walked it, I’m walking it. I’m always learning new information. So thank you for that. We do have quite a few questions and we have a few minutes left of our time. So I wanna kind of get through those and see what we have. I do wanna take this, take a quick moment here to let you guys know we will be replaying this next Tuesday for those of you that maybe joined a little bit later, maybe did not hear that, we will be replaying this next Tuesday evening at 7:00 PM. So, we’ll put a link to our webinars page, right in our description, this website (webinar) will also be put up on our website, on our webinars page with the transcript as well as the slides, everything will kind of be up there for you guys to take a peek at. So with that being said, I’m definitely gonna go straight into our questions and see what we got.

So, first here, it looks like, I hope I’m not mispronouncing this, Shon asked, “Is it hard to have a child placed back in a regular ed classroom? My son was placed in a self-contained class the first week of pre-K.”

[Maria] I’m not gonna lie, yes, it’s hard. So everything I told you today, particularly about placement, in least restrictive environment is the law. As a parent and most of you, if you’ve been in the system for any amount of time, you know that school districts, they have a way of doing things, right? They do this all day long every day for, you know, hundreds and thousands, thousands of kids in their system and so this is just what they do, they kind of fall into a routine. And so even though the law says that placement is ongoing decision that the IEP team makes and every year you revisit that or more frequently, if you wanna call for a new IEP, you have the right to do that, but it is hard. And I think, so as a parent I think the important thing, because what the school district is gonna do is they’re gonna come at you with data as to why they think, “oh, no, this is where your child should be.” And it breaks my heart honestly, to see any young child, a pre-K age child in a self-contained classroom, because my thing, and I’m an early childhood teacher, that’s what I do. If I can’t make it work for a three-year-old or a four year old, who will ever be in general ed? I mean, come on, it’s kinda silly to think that my three-year-old can’t play with the other three-year-old . I mean, I’ve taught in a three-year-old classroom, I know what happens, we can make this work. And my child had pretty significant behaviors, I’m not sugarcoating this. I know that it can be hard, I know that some kids need a lot of support, but it can happen in a regular classroom, in a general ed setting. And it may, so I think, trying to get placement moved back towards general ed is really, I think an ongoing conversation with your child’s teacher, with the personnel at the school, with your child’s related service providers and their speech therapists, PT, whatever. I really want my child to have more opportunity to be with his peers, that’s really, really important, especially at this young age, what can we do to make that happen? And I think if you give them the opportunity to be creative and to think about that, it kind of puts the onus back on them, instead of you saying, “I want my kid in regular class.” And then they’re just like, “oh, she’s so delusional or she’s in denial” and I hate that, but so, yeah, so it’s important to help them be part of the solution, I guess, is what I’m saying, that’s how I come at it. And I think letting them know, you know, I want my kid in an LRE and I don’t think that this is it. What can we do to move them into more of a general ed setting? And it might be, you know, I mean, there were years where I got my daughter, you know, it was like, well, we’ll give her an extra 20 minutes in this class or 10 minutes in that class and I kind of dealt with that for a little while and at the end of the day, you know there were times where push came to shove and I was just like, it’s not enough. If she can be in there for 20 minutes why can’t she be in there for 50 minutes? I mean, come on, let’s make it work. Maybe she needs a break in between, that’s fine, we’ll put that in her IEP. After 25 minutes, she gets a break and then she comes back. There’s ways to be creative and if you ask them to come up with a plan to give your child more access to the general ed curriculum and access to opportunities with peers and I think that’s a good way to address it.

[Christina] Okay one of the other questions we wanted to answer live and any questions that we have here that I just wanna throw this out there, that we may not be able to answer live. We will get with Maria and get those answered and get a response to you guys. But one of the questions I wanted to ask you here is “you’ve mentioned a 60 day window earlier from when they received that referral. Is that 60 calendar days? Is it school days? Is it business days? I know, kind of, what is that time calendar?”

[Maria] That’s 60 calendar days. So they can’t drag this out forever.

[Christina] Okay, let’s see. “And then you talked about least restricted environment, what if the school and I don’t agree on what that means?”

[Maria] And that happens all the time. I think, you know, the best case scenario, what I would do is say, okay, well, how do we get to a place that is less restrictive than where they currently are? So if they’re in a fully self-contained classroom and you want them 100% of the time in gen ed classroom, that’s a big gap. That’s like saying my kid’s not walking and I want them running a 5k next month. It’s probably not gonna happen. So how can we get there? Tell me your plan. How do we move them? And you ask that question, tell me how we move them. Okay, let’s figure out what’s the first steps we can take today. What could we put on their IEP today to move to that least restrictive environment? And it might not be that you wait a year for an IEP. It might be like you say, okay, well, let’s see how it goes this quarter and then we can increase it. And you can put that in the IEP. We’ll evaluate this every quarter and if the child’s doing well or making progress and we’re able to support them, then we’ll revisit their minutes. They’ll talk about minutes in gen ed, but that’s an important thing and again, I think bringing it back to them and have them give you their plan to move to what the law says.

[Christina] Sounds good. At this time, you will see our follow up poll is up, we asked that you guys fill that out for us real quick before you leave. And again, we will be replaying this next Tuesday. And we invite you guys to come back during that time and join us for live discussion, in that way we can talk with you guys and kind of see how we, what other maybe questions or things that you wanna bring up and mention. But at this time we are going to go ahead and close out. We wanna thank Maria again. I wanna thank all of you for attending and fill out that poll before you leave and we will see you guys on Tuesday. Thank you so much.


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