Individualized Education Plans.
One of the most common complaints I have fielded from parents is the adversarial experience of the IEP process*. Thirty years ago, when I began my career in this field, an IEP meeting was a fairly congenial gathering. Educators, parents and classroom aides would participate in a collaborative process that identified the student's needs and how they would be met. I would attend as a support for the parent and would be welcomed to share my experience with the student as a skills coach. These meetings averaged 40-50 minutes and were successful in coming up with a plan that satisfied the parent and teacher and benefited the student.
Over the next three decades, as school district administrations began to balloon, all of a sudden there were these attendees with titles like "Special Education Director," "Student Services Director," and additional assistants varying from resource teachers to classroom aides to in home tutors. Pretty soon these meetings became a much less friendly experience. As the meeting's equilibrium dramatically shifted from the student and family being on equal footing as the school district, it became lopsided with one side of the table consisting of a huddle of folks from the education system and the lone parent or parents sitting across from them. Parents have spoken about this process as intimidating. With this unequal scenario, one can see why they feel this way.
Now, some people might state that the outpouring of "supportive people" from the school district are a shining example of how many services are available to the student. However, the reality is there is a top-heavy administration trying to justify itself by showing how many different ways they can tell parents "No." Thus the abundance of non-service providing agents at current IEP meetings.
IEP meetings have also become litigious and paper-heavy experiences. Whereas an IEP-even a long one-might encompass 10 or so pages some years ago, it has currently become unwieldy, with objectives, outcomes and timelines taking up much of the space. Nowhere in these documents does the education team list the many strengths the student has, from which they will be able to draw upon to make the goals achievable and get the student to buy into the whole process.
I have seen parents with the stamina necessary to negotiate the many barriers the school district erects to block needed services. A few years ago stamina would have been enough for parents to procure the services needed for their child's education. However, as I experienced with the parents I recently supported in an IEP meeting, the process frequently comes to lawsuits filed to obtain the necessary services. And stamina or not, the eventual end of the process lays veiled in the threats of lawsuits, endless negotiating denials from the school district and sadly, overlooking the whole reason for this process in the first place-the student.
Behind it all the largest cause of the adversarial conflict inherent in an IEP meeting or process: MONEY. There is simply not enough money to go around and budgets are cut every year. The school districts are held accountable by laws (many of which are results of lawsuits from parents) to ensure services are provided in a timely and effective manner. Like an IEP meeting must be held within 30 days of the parent's request for one (but only in writing-which they forget to mention at the school district). And services for linguistically different cultures? You're lucky if you get a translator. Some of the stories I have heard from Latino parents are rife with misunderstandings and slight of hand on behalf of the school administration.
But if there's no money, there's no money. The school district can't afford to pay for the necessary services these students require. They do, however, seem to be able to fund heavy administration staffing, which of course, is an entirely different rant.
*For anyone reading this who does not know what an IEP is: I have no idea how you got to my blog if you don't know what an IEP is. If you don't know, drop me a line and tell me how you came to this site.