BOOK REVIEW This book is intended to provide parents of children with disabilities with the information they need to “make special education work.” Overall, I was very impressed with the theme and presentation. Chapter 1 was extremely helpful in describing the special education process. There is an explanation of referral, evaluation, IEP (Individualized Education Program), triennial evaluation etc. However, missing from “related services” were sensory integration and social skills, which are becoming increasingly common. There is a good explanation of Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) and Least Restrictive Environment (LRE.) However, it mentions that “the Team decides on a student’s placement” without explaining that parents are part of the IEP Team that is making this decision.
Also, the explanation of the “continuum of alterative placements” is good, except for the omission that it needs to be as close to home as possible. Families may not realize that the first option should be the home school and alternate placement only occurs if the IEP cannot be
implemented in the school the student would attend if they did not have a disability. There is a good description of “appropriate” education – i.e., not “the best” education – so that expectations can be realistic. Families must understand their rights as well as the responsibilities of the district. Under “What Parents Can Do,” it should be mentioned that the IEP should not be developed before the meeting, but rather developed at the meeting with parents as equal partners. If the district does bring an IEP to the meeting, it must be made clear that it is a draft, and that families should get a copy in advance of the meeting so that they can review it prior to the discussion.
Chapter 2 defines school personnel. On occasion throughout the book I saw “regular” education, which infers that students in special education may be “irregular.” The preferred terminology is “general” education. There is a good discussion of No Child Left Behind (NCLB.) However, what is missing is that teachers must now be highly qualified in content area, not just in special education techniques. This meant that, for the first time, there was accountability in special education under NCLB, and research indicated that students with disabilities progressed academically once there were higher expectations for their performance and they were provided with access to the general curriculum. There was also a good discussion on the difference between paraprofessionals and aides. The discussion on “Related Service Providers” and qualifications could have included behaviorists as this is becoming more common. The description of “Occupational Therapists” could have included training in sensory integration as “sensory diets” are also commonly being used for some students. The discussion on “Special Education Etiquette” was very good regarding partnering with professionals. The focus must be on the child’s strengths and needs and the services that will help the student achieve their goals.
There is a discussion of due process, but I would recommend that families contact their federally
designated Parent Training and Information (PTI) Center first.
Chapter 3 has an excellent discussion of outside professionals. Families should know that if “the school may not have a properly qualified person with the training needed,” they can contract with consultants (rather than change placement) or the parent can offer an expert for in-service training. Under “Finding Professionals” it should be noted that the new Center for Parent
Information and Resources (CIPR) listing all PTIs is now found at http://www.parentcenterhub.
org. Also, in addition to district parent advisory councils there are State Advisory Panels for systemic issues found at http://www.stateadvisorypanel.org/. Under neuropsychologists, I
would recommend a pediatric neurologist or developmental pediatrician. There is a good discussion on finding advocates, but families may want to try technical assistance from PTIs
first. Another good resource is the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates found at
http://www.copaa.org/. Under “What Parents Can Do,” if “resources are limited” it’s good for
families to know the help from PTIs is free. Lastly, “Protection and Advocacy” is now called “Disability Rights” and state organizations can be found on the National Disabilities Rights Network at http://www.ndrn.org/index.php.
Chapter 4 contains a very good description of “Understanding School Evaluations.”
Families should be aware that there is a “native language” requirement, which also includes sign language.
Chapter 5 explores “Conflicts of Interest” very comprehensively. Under “What Parents Can Do” families should know that they are not limited to independent evaluators recommended by the district and can bring suggestions of other state Board of Education approved clinics and agencies to the team for consideration.
Chapter 6 explains that IEPs are only as good as they a re being implemented. I particularly liked the section explaining an IEP vs. a 504 plans and that there are more procedural safeguards under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) using an IEP. Besides districts using 504 plans inappropriately, families should know that districts have also used I&RS (Information and Referral Services) to delay or avoid classifying a child. I disagree with the subtitle “Student’s disability and diagnosis” since the 2004 reauthorization of IDEA eliminated the requirement for a medical evaluation. Indeed, some districts have inappropriately requested families to go to a doctor for a diagnosis when, in fact, the district has the responsibility to do an evaluation for eligibility for special education. Therefore it would be more accurate to have the students’
classification, rather than diagnosis. I did think the section on measuring progress was very good. Under transition, I would add that this would include not just schooltowork or post-secondary education, but also transition to adult healthcare and financial literacy as components of effective transition to adult life. Under “What Parents Can Do,” families should be aware that that parental consent is now only required for initial evaluation under IDEA but that there are procedural safeguards for families if there is disagreement, and that, in addition, families can unilaterally withdraw their child from special education if they feel that the services and/or placements are not meeting their child’s needs. This can give parents some leverage with the district.
Chapter 7 contains a very good explanation of writing IEP goals. Annual goals and objectives in an IEP must be measurable.
Chapter 8 describes “Team Meetings.” I respectfully disagree that “parents…should attend whenever possible” as parents are part of the IEP team that develops the IEP at the meeting and makes decisions including goals and objectives; academic, behavioral, and related services; placement; participation in state and local assessments including needed accommodations; participation in extra-curricular activities, also including needed accommodations; and how and
how often the parent will be informed of their child’s progress. I disagree with the notion that parents are “equal participants” but not decision-makers. Again, there are conflict resolution processes available to parents if they disagree.
Chapter 9 explains why documentation is so important. I would add that telephone calls can’t be proven as having occurred unless the parent sends a follow-up letter with their understanding of the conversation. Indeed, besides putting communications in writing, I would suggest some sort
of receipt confirmation whether the letter is stamped in person as received in the office or sent certified mail, return receipt. In addition, parents should get a copy of the IEP changes before leaving the meeting. Under “Using Your Paper Trail,” I would add that if needed parents can bring a highlighted copy of IDEA and their state special education code to reinforce what they’re
requesting on the IEP.
Chapter 10 describes the legal process. Here again I would suggest that families first contact their PTIs before going the legal route, which would also be seen as less adversarial by the district. There is a good description of mediation, resolution sessions, and due process. However, families should be aware that mediation protects the “stayput” provision during the process.
Chapter 11 explains the transition to adult life process. Under “Independent Living,” I would add that there are Centers for Independent Living (CILs) in each state. CILs teach independent living skills to maximize the potential of the individual, even if they won’t be living completely independently. CILs can be found at http://www.ncil.org/. Also under transition is “Social Skills…Assessment.” Again, this should be addressed throughout the IEP process as a related service under IDEA, not just during transition. Inadequate social skills are the single largest barrier to successful employment. Under graduation, families should be aware that children can
attend special education programs through the school year in which they attain 21 years of age.
In general, I would recommend this book for all families who have children in the special education system. I would also recommend their blog covering topics such as how to be your child’s advocate.•
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Lauren Agoratus, M.A. is the parent of a child with multiple disabilities who serves as the Coordinator for Family Voices-NJ and as the central/southern coordinator in her state’s Family-to-Family Health Information Center, both housed at the Statewide Parent Advocacy Network (SPAN) at www.spanadvocacy.org