If you are the parent of a student with special needs you know that that everything about the IEP process is stressful and intimidating. So listen up, because the IEP (as the Individualized Education Program is known) is going through a big 21st century transformation. More than ever, we parents need to be on our game.
Make it your business to go to one of the forums this month, or next fall, on Understanding the New IEP Form: Information for Families. As you know, the IEP is the all-important document that specifies what services and supports your child needs to succeed in school.
Prompted by the recent launching of the NEW New York State Individualized Education Program (IEP), the NYC Department of Education is offering a series of two-hour forums. The first was held June 13 at the headquarters of District 75 in Manhattan to a full house of parents (and some school professionals).
That the DOE is hosting public comprehensive discussions of this crucial document is great news for parents who have children receiving services. Beginning in the 2011-12 school year and annually thereafter, IEPs developed for NYS students must be on the state-developed IEP form.
Yellow school buses will roll on September 8, the first day of school this year. If your children are among the 150,000 who ride the bus, or if you have a special needs child who is transported in a “mini-wagon,” you can expect a letter confirming the bus route and pick-up time by August 29th. That’s according to an official from the Office of Pupil Transportation (OPT) who spoke at a workshop in Brooklyn last week amid promises that the Department of Education will do a better job communicating with families this year
OPT has come under fire in recent years because of budget-cutting measures that affected many of the city’s children. Students from multiple schools now share the same bus, bus routes were consolidated and lengthened, students with special needs were required to provide medical documentation to qualify for a seat in a "mini-wagon" and bus service was stopped altogether for 7th and 8th-graders who previously got it in the outer reaches of Staten Island and the Rockaways.
The school system’s special needs children – 60,000 of whom ride smaller mini-wagons -- have often gotten subpar service, according to Maggie Moroff, special education policy coordinator at Advocates for Children.
“In past years we have heard from too many families about children not picked up at all and missing hours, sometimes days, and sometimes more, of critical school time,” she said. “We heard from parents about students with limited travel time requirements on the bus for way too long. And we heard plenty of other horror stories about conditions on the buses and support services not provided.”
This year OPT vows to do better.
“We are making a big effort to communicate with parents about how the OPT system works, what they should do when there’s a problem and what documentation, including medical documentation, is needed to match the right bus service to each child,” said Ed Jacobsen who led the Aug. 2 workshop along with Ruth DiRoma of the Brooklyn Parent Center.
Parents – and advocates – had lots of questions and concerns.
“We were pleased to see the DOE making efforts to inform parents of their rights and giving them information about how and who to call and what to specify when things don’t go as planned,” Moroff said. “It was disheartening, however, to hear it acknowledged that the more noise a parent makes, the more seamlessly things will go.”
You can see a list of questions and answers, as well as helpful resources for parents, after the jump.