September 20 — 11:00 pm, 2006

Back to school: a checklist for parents

Starting a new school year presents challenges for students with disabilities and their families. The new year presents a chance to do things differently and perhaps better.

Here is a checklist of ten things that families of children with disabilities can do as a new school year begins.

  1. Remember that your child has a right to a quality education. When problems happen in school, you can always talk with the teachers and ask for a meeting of the Individualized Education Program (IEP) Team for your child.
  2. Get a copy of the general school rules and procedures for all students and parents. This “handbook” will usually include student discipline rules and a list of key administrators and staff at the school.

  3. Make a file with copies of your child’s school records, especially the most recent IEP evaluations, notices, and report cards. Also make sure you have details on your child’s performance on standardized tests (PSSA and TerraNova). How is your child doing compared to other children in key areas? Does your child need more evaluation?

  4. Give the school staff detailed information describing the special education services and accommodations needed to help your child. Emphasize any medical or medication issues for your child that must be handled during the school day. If possible, give the principal, the teachers, and the school nurse information about these issues in writing from your treating physicians. This information should also be in your child’s IEP. If your child has a disability but does not qualify for special education, you may still ask the school for a “504 plan” that sets out what the school must do to meet your child’s needs.

  5. Review the goals in the IEP for your child. Find out how progress toward these goals will be measured by the teachers and reported to you. If your child is in high school, does the IEP contain a good transition plan that will help your child prepare for life after graduation? Also, think about other kinds of assistance that your child needs to have a successful school year. Make a list of a few ways that the teachers can help your child to establish positive behavior, strong learning habits, and real friendships with other students.

  6. Schedule a time to meet privately with all of your child’s teachers. Give each teacher a file containing the documents listed above in #3 and #4, if appropriate. Do not assume that the teachers already have this information. In your meetings, emphasize a few of the most important issues. Make sure that teachers have high expectations for your child!

  7. Schedule a time to sit in your child’s classroom to observe how things are going.

  8. Think about whether your child is in the right type of program and has necessary accommodations and supports. Is your child included in regular classes and supported in appropriate ways? Would your child do better in another setting, with additional services and supports, or with different assistive technology?

  9. If your child has not had an official IEP meeting at the school within the last year, ask the school to schedule an IEP meeting as soon as possible. Remember that you can always ask for an IEP meeting to address issues that arise during the school year.

  10. Learn more about your child’s rights under the state and federal special education laws. For example, you should know how to ask for mediation and how to file complaints and appeals if things aren’t working for your child. It is always important to first try resolving problems with the school, but you can be a more effective advocate for your child when you know about your rights.

Have a great school year! Remember to protect your special education rights by talking with your child’s teachers or scheduling an IEP meeting to discuss any of these issues.

For additional help, see the fact sheets on the website for the Education Law Center (ELC) at or call ELC’s HelpLine at 215-238-6970.

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