One of the most important parts of the special education process is writing the plan for your child’s education. This is her Individualized Education Program (IEP). The IEP is the foundation for your child’s education, and you are a very important member of the committee that develops it. In Texas, this is called the Admission, Review and Dismissal (ARD) committee. Other parts of the country may refer to both the document and the committee as IEP, but in Texas “ARD” is used to refer to the committee and its meetings.
If you’ve never helped develop an IEP before, the process can seem overwhelming. Becoming familiar with all the steps will help you feel more comfortable. If your child continues to receive special education each year, you will soon become an IEP expert yourself!
You and the school agree on where and when to have the ARD/IEP meeting. Usually, meetings are held at school during regular staff time. This means the meeting can happen before, during, or after the regular school day. By law, the school must tell you in writing:
- The meeting’s purpose
- The time and place
- Who will be there, and
- That you may invite other people who have knowledge or special expertise about your child
The ARD meeting is somewhat formal, and your first one may seem a little scary. Again, if you feel this way you are not alone. Most educators want what is best for every child. Stay focused on your child—her access to education is the purpose of the meaning.
Before the meeting, school staff usually write down their ideas of what needs to be in your child’s IEP. It’s a good idea for you to jot down what is most important to you, too. If you want, you can share these ideas with other members of the team before the meeting. You can also ask the staff to send you their ideas, so you can look them over before the meeting.
By law, certain people must attend the meeting. During the meeting, expect lots of papers to be looked at and passed around. The team will talk about your child, her needs and strengths, and what type of educational program is right for her. Don’t hesitate to ask questions and offer suggestions. That’s why you’re there.
It helps to bring a picture of your child to put in the center of the meeting table. This helps you and the other members of your child’s ARD committee focus on what is most important—your child.
Again, the purpose of the meeting is for you and the other team members to create an IEP that is educationally appropriate for your child. Your ARD team should have a written agenda to follow. If not, ask for someone to explain how the meeting will proceed.
Basically, you and the other committee members will discuss and review:
- Your child’s strengths
- Your concerns for your child’s education
- The results of your child’s most recent evaluation
- Your child’s academic, developmental, and functional needs
You will also discuss “special factors” or “special considerations,” asking and answering the following questions:
- Does your child have communication needs?
- Does your child need assistive technology services and devices?
- Does your child’s behavior interfere with her learning or the learning of others?
- Does your child have a visual impairment and need instruction in or the use of Braille?
- Is your child deaf or hard of hearing and have language and other communication needs?
- Does your child have language needs related to her IEP as an emergent bilingual student?
For any question where the answer is “yes,” the team will talk about what your child needs and include this information in the IEP.
The ARD meeting is a conversation. Definitely share your ideas as the meeting goes along. As a parent, you are an equal member of the ARD committee and an expert on your child. If you have questions or concerns, speak up. Ask for more information or explanations if you need them. If you disagree with something you hear, respectfully say so and explain why.
Sometimes it may take more than one meeting to write the IEP. If you feel that more time is needed, ask for another meeting. Attending meetings during the school day may be difficult. If so, you and the school may agree to use other means of participation. For example, you and other members may participate by video conference or conference call.
You may ask for an ARD meeting any time you feel your child’s educational program needs to be changed or adjusted.
- The school must hold the meeting to develop your child’s IEP within 30 calendar days of when your child is found eligible for special education services
- When you sign the IEP, it simply means that you participated, not that you agree with what the IEP says. You must indicate that you agree—usually by marking a checkbox—before your child can receive special education services
- The IEP must be reviewed at least once every 12 months and revised as necessary
Your “Consent for Services” is required for your child to be enrolled in special education services. You will be asked to sign the document. Your signature only indicates your attendance at the meeting. You will also have the opportunity to indicate if you agree with the IEP. You have the right to sign but NOT agree with your child’s IEP, which means you do not give consent for your child to be enrolled in special education services.
Parts of this article were adapted from the National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities (NICHCY), Parent Guide 12 by Theresa Rebhorn.