Community Forum For The Individual Education Program
Newtown Public Schools conducted a community forum on the Individual Education Program (IEP) in Newtown High School's Lecture Hall on Thursday, February 23.
Sonia L. Raquel, supervisor of special education for the Newtown elementary schools, started off the meeting by welcoming everyone attending. Many members of the audience were family members of children currently in or seeking to be in special education programs.
Ms Raquel explained that Superintendent Dr Joseph V. Erardi, Jr, and Deborah Petersen, director of special education, coordinated the forum as a way to reach out to help families and provide them with important information that can benefit their children.
She introduced Connecticut Parent Advocacy Center (CPAC) Executive Director John Flanders, who led the forum with a PowerPoint presentation titled "Developing the IEP."
"Before being the director of CPAC, I was a special education attorney," Mr Flanders explained. "I represented parents who were dissatisfied with what was going on with their kids. I got into it because, at the age of 3, my son lost his hearing due to meningitis."
He communicated with the crowd how that unexpected event changed his life. After being faced with a "less than positive" experience trying to get his son an education, Mr Flanders decided he wanted to make a difference so other families did not have to go through the same things he had experienced.
Mr Flanders decided to go to law school and, after graduating, went to Washington to advocate for children with disabilities. He returned to Connecticut to practice locally.
Now, as a member of CPAC, he is part of a nonprofit initiative that is comprised primarily of parents of children with special needs.
"We are the parent training and information center for the State of Connecticut," Mr Flanders said. "[CPAC provides] training information and advocacy support for families with children who have disabilities, from birth to age 26."
CPAC does training all across the state and is available every day for individual consultations. The organization's mission states it is a resource to help other parents understand how to effectively advocate for their children in school.
The PPT And IEP
For the evening's forum, Mr Flanders focused on discussing the specific process of how to fill out the 12-page Planning and Placement Team (PPT) document. He broke down each sheet, section by section, and gave the parents in the room advice on what to be aware of when filling it out.
The goal of the meeting was to make sure the audience learned the components of the IEP and increased their understanding of how to be actively involved in developing that IEP.
Mr Flanders added, "And we are going to talk about how to make sure the information that you know about your child, and that you can provide about your child, gets integrated into that process."
To simplify the message, Mr Flanders said, "Special ed is kind like hopscotch; there are very specific rules and you have to step on every square."
The first piece of information Mr Flanders went over was the education laws to understand. Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) ensures that every child gets an education and a special needs child should be no different.
"The fact that your child has a disability doesn't mean that he or she gets less education than the kid that doesn't have a disability," Mr Flanders said.
The best way to ensure a child get an equal education is to form a united team. Parents have to be involved and there should be trained teachers helping the child.
Another rule in place is the Individual with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA '04) that "guarantees a free appropriate public education."
Upon the explanation of what the act entails, a woman in the audience asked, "What is the definition of appropriate?"
Mr Flanders answered, "What's appropriate depends on your child. That is where the 'individual' comes from."
To make an evaluation appropriate, it needs to be accurate and impartial, as well as designed to make decisions.
Mr Flanders explained that a child can participate in the team, especially for transition planning (i.e., what the child will be doing after high school). At 15 years old, a child must be invited to that team dialogue to help make the decision, because at 18 years old it will be solely up to the individual - unless the necessary plans were otherwise made.
The document created for the Individual Education Program puts the PPT meeting decisions in writing and lists the services and support the child will receive.
Mr Flanders outlined the form, explaining it requires "who's there, what we're worried about, how we figured out what to do about that, what we are going to do, what we are going to measure to tell us we've done what we are going to do, and what we are going to do next."
The first page of the PPT has a section that lists 14 disabilities written out that can cover a child being eligible for special education. Law requires at least one box be checked off.
While going over the form, a woman from the audience asked for Mr Flanders to explain the specific term "manifestation determination."
"Manifestation determination is a special kind of PPT that takes place involving discipline," said Mr Flanders.
If a child is subject to expulsion, the student is entitled to an expulsion hearing, but before that happens the PPT must determine if the actions the child took were a manifestation of his or her disabilities.
"The easiest example of that is it not [being] acceptable to stand up in school and swear in a classroom," Mr Flanders said. "But if you have Tourette syndrome, sometimes you stand up and swear in a classroom and you aren't in control of it."
Overall, the document requests the basic information about who the child is, who the parent contact is, who showed up at the meeting (i.e., child's regular education teacher, child's special education teacher, and anyone who has filled out an assessment with expertise on the child), and why they are having the meeting.
Mr Flanders and Ms Raquel took time throughout the presentation to answer community member's questions, as many had come looking for extra support and information.
firstname.lastname@example.orgFor those that may have missed the community forum, but have questions about special education and are looking for information about participating in educational decisions for a child with special needs, contact Connecticut Parent Advocacy Center for a free consultation at 860-739-3089; 203-776-3211 for Spanish; or by e-mailing . To learn more, visit CPAC's website at .cpacinc.org