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Navigating an IEP is a team effort

Navigating the world of special education services can be overwhelming for families, but there is help.

“The biggest thing for parents to remember is to keep an open line of communication with the school,” Janet Holmes, Director of Special Services for Spartanburg School District Six, said. 

Ultimately, a child may get an Individualized Education Program (IEP) to specify services, but the process begins with an evaluation. Holmes said a parent might notice an issue with their child and contact a school guidance counselor for help or a teacher might notice a problem and request a meeting. Much of the process of evaluating students and providing services is spelled out by law. A team including specialists of applicable disciplines, parents and teachers comes together to discuss any needs and to work for the best interest of the child. 

“That’s really just to sit down and problem solve,” Holmes said. “Mom knows the kid in a whole different way than the teacher. Sometimes that will go into an evaluation and sometimes it doesn’t.”

Some children may need simple interventions that can be put in place to resolve the issue. 

“When that team as a whole decides that an evaluation is necessary, the parent needs to give written consent,” Holmes said. “The evaluation has to occur within 60 calendar days of the written consent.”

Once the child has been evaluated, the team will meet again to discuss the results and determine how best to proceed. 

“If the child was eligible under one of the 14 disability categories, the team would develop an IEP,” Holmes said. 

Categories of disability cover a wide range from speech-language impairment, learning disabilities (including reading comprehension and dyslexia), other health impairments and more.

Holmes said parents should expect to receive regular progress reports – at least every nine weeks. 

“The parent can call an IEP meeting at any time,” she said. “It is required that you meet annually to review that IEP.”

Holmes said her district wants students to have meaningful participation in their program. As a result, each child is in their IEP meeting for at least a portion of the meeting, beginning in first grade. 

For parents, Holmes offers encouragement that teachers, counselors, therapists and school administrators are on their team. 

“It’s really difficult if your child is diagnosed with a disability,” she said. “Parents go through mourning. Ask as many questions as you can. If you get home and process it, call and ask questions again. Take it step by step. Do some research and ask as many questions as you need to feel comfortable.”