School’s Back! 5 Essentials for the First Week

Article
Aug. 20, 2021Updated Oct. 7, 2022
Special education advocate Dr. Sarah Pelangka, BCBA-D and owner of KnowIEPs, sat down with us to talk about 5 essentials that parents should be aware of — and make a plan to tackle — before we send our kids back to school for the 2022–23 year!

1) Send an introductory letter and at-a-glance IEP

There are so many reasons to create an “All About Me” document that describes your child’s likes, strengths, goals, and needs. To start, it’s an easy way to share essential information about your child with new teachers and providers who probably haven’t had a chance to read their IEP yet.

Introducing your child by showcasing their whole selves — strengths first! — will also help teachers prepare by getting to know your child. Knowing what works and doesn’t work for your child allows teachers and providers to meet them where they are, which makes the work more effective (and hopefully more fun). It will also keep teachers accountable and ensure they are offering your child FAPE (a free, appropriate, public education).

Part of an “All About Me” also includes summarizing their IEP in a shortened format that contains basic information about their goals, accommodations, and services.

You can place this document in your child’s IEP binder for easy access during future meetings. Undivided Navigators prepare this summary for new clients using the child’s IEP. If you’re writing it yourself, check out our All About Me template that functions as both an introductory letter and IEP at a glance in just two pages to create your own.

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2) Make a plan for inclusion

As Dr. Pelangka says, inclusion and proximity are not the same. If your child spends some part of their day in their general education classroom, that’s not a guarantee of inclusion. One of the most important ways to find out if and how your child is being included with their peers is through observation — either by a parent visiting the classroom or by a service provider. Collecting data on what’s working and what isn’t, whether (and how often) your child is having positive social experiences with their peers and teachers, and whether they have access to their curriculum and school environment is part of making sure inclusion is working.

3) Make a plan for staff shortages

4) Reach out to your IEP team to request a one-month check-in

When your child is starting out the school year, whether it’s at a new school or with a new teacher, it’s a good idea to set a check-in meeting four to six weeks after school begins. Here’s a refresher on how to request an IEP meeting.

While you may have specific things in their IEP to discuss, the main reason it’s important to hold this meeting is to start building trust and relationships with a new IEP team. Dr. Pelangka explains why in this clip:

5) Prepare for assessment plans

Dr. Pelangka recommends asking your district to wait about thirty days into the new school year, depending on how quickly your child is able to adapt, before offering an assessment plan. Many students struggle with changes in routine, and your child may need time to acclimate to their new classroom, services, and school environment. A thorough assessment is the first step to creating a strong IEP that accurately reflects your child's goals, strengths, and areas of need, so waiting until students are comfortable can go a long way toward making that happen.

Read more about the types of IEP assessments, how students are assessed, and how parents can review their child's assessments in our article IEP Assessments 101.

Looking for a complete back-to-school toolkit to help you prepare? Check out our resources here!
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Contents


Overview

1) Send an introductory letter and at-a-glance IEP

2) Make a plan for inclusion

3) Make a plan for staff shortages

4) Reach out to your IEP team to request a one-month check-in

5) Prepare for assessment plans

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Related Parent Questions

How do I make sure my child has opportunities to socialize at school?
Build inclusion into every IEP; seek out or create lunchtime social clubs; and make sure your child has equal opportunities to participate in activities that interest them, like choir or drama, with appropriate support.
What is required for a high school diploma for a child with a disability?
Every state has its own graduation requirements. Therefore, parents should carefully research what classes students are required to take in high school, and what standards they need to meet.
How do I know if my child needs an IEP or a 504 Plan?
A 504 is sufficient when a child needs support accessing the learning environment or content. A 504 plan will typically only cover accommodations. A child who needs either specialized academic instruction or to be in a special education classroom will probably need an IEP.

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