This is going to seem like a small divergence off topic, but trust me when I say it’s not. I’ve learned a lot on this journey and I’ve had a couple of painful lessons learned.
Consider the following as a primary rule of engagement.
Regarding your child’s IEP or 504, and really this needs to be a rule of thumb for all children, conduct as much business as possible in writing.
For all in person meetings, and for this part you’ll need to check the laws of your state, record every meeting. Fortunately for me, Texas is a one-party consent state so I do not require either their consent or permission to record any meeting, but be fully aware that depending on the laws, if it’s a two-party consent, the school could refuse to allow you to record, therefore, if you have an in person conversation that is not recorded, take tons of notes and follow up the meeting with an email outlining everything that was discussed, agreed to, denied, tabled, etc. The emailed document is part of the written record of the 504 / ARD.
Also, be aware that if it’s a one-party consent state, that means THEY can record YOU without your knowledge or permission, so cover your bases and record it yourself.
Let me give you my “lesson learned” on recording meetings. I did not record the very first 504 meeting I had. It was our first year in public school and I walked into the meeting not knowing much on the subject of dyslexia. It was a new diagnosis for our family and I had spent the last 5 months focused on just getting our son to read. I had heard the term IEP and so asked the question of the Vice Principal why we were doing a 504 and not an IEP. She looked at me and said, “Oh, IEP’s are only for our truly mentally and physically handicapped students, not dyslexia. Dyslexia is managed under 504.” Now, it’s my word against hers that this was actually said. I remember being floored at the statement, but accepted it as truth because I believed the VP was on my side in getting my son services. Now you might be giggling just a bit at my naivete, I do in hindsight. Needless to say, I’ve learned a great deal since then.
For any service or evaluation for which you are denied, get in writing the official denial. They owe it to you in writing.
Here’s something else to consider, how is it in writing? What I mean by this is I made a very specific request and in an ARD meeting the denial of my request was black text on a plain white sheet of paper with no names or signatures. I handed the paper back across the table and said that this paper was not a denial, and I refused to recognize it’s validity. There was no proof of who wrote it, therefore it could be the words of a receptionist at another school (no disrespect meant to any receptionist, anywhere). Until it was on letterhead, with a name and signature, it was not a formal denial.
I’ve allowed some business to be conducted over the phone, but I took notes of the meeting so I could type it up if I needed to email it.
I prefer all of my communication, outside of ARD meetings, to be conducted over email. Make sure you have the email addresses correct and cc yourself on all emails so you can confirm receipt. Your very first email might be an innocuous little question with no bearing on your child’s 504 / IEP so you can get a response and know that the email address works as it’s supposed to.
At this particular stage in my relationship with the school, I use emails as checklists for what I expect to happen in the next ARD meeting. I try to give them ample time to refuse specific requests which gives me ample time to prepare my rebuttal, using the Texas Dyslexia Handbook and IDEA as my direct sources as to why I’m going to get what I’ve requested.
Why do you need to do all of this? Emails are a written record. Just think about that for a second. The email is written proof, evidence, of any and all exchanges about your child. Now, I won’t go so far as to say it’s your “GOTCHA!” when they actually write something stupid, i.e. illegal, because people never do that right? Right?
Now, here’s a handy tip for all of those recordings you will have, download Otter Voice Notes. Here are two articles about it:
Otter’s new app lets you record, transcribe, search and share your voice conversations
If you use Otter, it can transcribe your meetings, in real time, into actual, searchable text. How cool is that?! (And, how handy!) Now, everything is in writing.
Create a folder system, which you understand, on a reliable cloud based storage site. A good rule of thumb is you’ll need two (2) backups.
Print the critical communications, meeting transcriptions, notes emails, etc. and put them in the relevant location in the IEP folder for quick access. I have a “Communication” tab in my IEP binder for emails I want to track, or it may belong under your IEP tab for your actual meeting paperwork, depending on what you’ve needed to print for quick reference.
I know this is a lot and trust me when I say I’m very anti-paper. You should see my desk at work, there’s not a single sheet of paper on top of it. However, trust me when I say, this is a rule of thumb you need to adopt. You are fighting for your child’s legal rights, for what they’re legally entitled to in their education. If you aren’t managing all of the details in writing, you are opening yourself up to not being able to back up complaints meaning you can’t provide proof for special education and / or civil rights violations. On the school side, they are managing it all in writing, whether they admit it or not. Whether you’re in a highly supportive district or a contentious district when it comes to dyslexia support, you need to be thinking from the perspective of protecting your and your child’s legal rights. Any advocate and / or lawyer you may need to hire in the future will be able to support you if you have documents. Without documents, you will have to prove lack of services, over more time, which you won’t want to expend and will be yet more time your child is not getting what they need. Think about that….