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School’s Back! 5 Essentials for the First Week

School’s Back! 5 Essentials for the First Week

Published: Aug. 20, 2021Updated: Aug. 10, 2023

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Special education advocate Dr. Sarah Pelangka, BCBA-D and owner of KnowIEPs, sat down with us to talk about five essentials that parents should be aware of — and make a plan to tackle — as we send our kids back to school!

1. Write a brief introduction for your child and their IEP

Dr. Pelangka recommends writing a “brief, concise, to the point” letter to introduce your child and provide essential information about them without overwhelming their new teacher(s) and providers.

Introducing your child by showcasing their whole selves — strengths first! — will help teachers prepare by getting to know your child, what works, and what doesn’t work. This allows teachers and providers to meet them where they are, which makes the work more effective (and hopefully more fun). Dr. Pelangka says it's great to start the year by “showing you really care, you're going to be on top of it, and these are the priorities for your child for the year.”

She also recommends summarizing your child's IEP for teachers who likely haven't read the full document by the start of the school year.

Undivided Navigators can prepare an IEP at a glance for parents using child’s IEP. If you’re writing it yourself, check out our “All About Me” template for creating an introductory letter and IEP at a glance in just two pages:

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In addition to giving copies to new teachers and providers, you can place this document in your child’s IEP binder for easy access during future meetings.

2. Be aware of staff shortages

As many of us know, there are staff shortages across many industries these days, and unfortunately one of those is in school districts.

Dr. Pelangka explains that school staff shortages may mean a shift in the way that special education classes and related services will be offered. This could include everything from co-taught classes to virtual related services (such as speech therapy). It’s important to remember that while we all need to work together to do what’s best for our kids, parents do not have to agree to classroom placements or service delivery models that don’t work for our kids. Here’s how to push back:

3. Advocate for inclusion

If your child spends some part of their day in their general education classroom, that’s not a guarantee of inclusion. As Dr. Pelangka says, inclusion and proximity are not the same. 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 — to see 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.

4. 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 an 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.

“Give them some time to acclimate,” Dr. Pelangka says, especially if the school is considering a change in placement. She advises parents to ask the district about all other options for changing placement: “Have we considered a one-to-one aide or a classroom aide or an extra parent in the room? Have we looked at if there's behavioral needs, like introducing a behavior plan? Have we looked at accommodations?”

5. 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:

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



1. Write a brief introduction for your child and their IEP

2. Be aware of staff shortages

3. Advocate for inclusion

4. Prepare for assessment plans

5. Reach out to your IEP team to request a one-month check-in

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Undivided Editorial TeamStaff

Reviewed by

Undivided Editorial Team,


Dr. Sarah Pelangka, Special Education Advocate, BCBA-D, and owner of KnowIEPs

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