When my mentally disabled grandchildren were young, I enrolled them in a private Christian school. By doing so I believed they would benefit from the one-to-one monitoring the learning centre provided, and the help and instruction they received was impeccable, especially from the kindergarten teacher who, despite their disabilities, taught all four the basics of reading and writing related to their specific age group.
But as time progressed, it became obvious that their mental challenges were impeding their learning and so, as the Christian school had no alternative programming for disabled students, it was necessary for me to make the decision to take them out of the Christian school and place them in the public school system. Since then they have received a lot of help regarding their disabilities including an education assistant and an IEP (individual education plan: See – What is an IEP?) and, in September 2012, the two older children were registered in a specialized program which focuses more on learning independence for daily living, rather than on the ABC’s.
However, experience has taught me the importance of communicating with the school staff in order for the children to receive the help they need. Before the two older grandchildren qualified for the specialized program, a psycho-educational assessment had to be completed for each of them and IPRC meetings (See – What is an IPRC?) had to be attended, but above all, the children’s resource teacher is to be commended for her advocacy of them being placed in a specialized environment. For this, I thank her profusely, and pray all other parents of disabled children are as fortunate as I in receiving help such as hers.
Another resource is after-school programming. This can provide respite for the caregiver, and also remove the disabled child from the after-school neighbourhood play which invariable leads to bullying of the child by neighbourhood kids. In the after-school programme they can play safely and under supervision and benefit greatly from the structured routine.
What is an IEP?
I initially registered my grandchildren in a private Christian school where an alternative program for disabled children was not available. But as time progressed it became obvious that they needed specialized programming so I placed them in a public school. It was then I heard the initials I.E.P. and had no idea what it stood for or how it was to be utilized in my grandchildren’s education. Now I understand that IEP stands for Individualized Education Program: a legally binding document that explains exactly what special education services your child requires.
When I attended my first IEP meeting at my grandchildren’s new school, I learned that the IEP was developed by each child’s teacher and learning resource teacher who, together, had taken into consideration their recent provincial report cards, my assessment of their needs, earlier psychometric assessments, verbal reports from their previous school, and reading, math and language assessments. The IEP also recorded areas of strengths and needs, and noted the reason for the development of each IEP.
Also a list of accommodations to each child’s learning needs were recorded, i.e. Instructional Accommodations, Environmental Accommodations, and Assessment Accommodations. These provide suggestions on how the child can be best helped in the classroom, such as, buddy/peer tutoring; extra time for processing; strategic seating, and use of technology/calculators, etc.
This was followed by a list of Learning Expectations, Teaching Strategies, and Assessment Methods for each of the child’s learning problem areas, such as: Math, Language, and English, etc. This IEP was used throughout the school year to help each child’s level of achievement improve, with a new IEP established annually if necessary.
The IEP meeting was attended by myself, the learning resource teacher, the teacher, and a caseworker overseeing my grandchildren’s development. But the meeting does not have to be limited to mostly school staff. If a parent or guardian would like other members of the community who he/she feels could add extra insight into the child’s needs, for example: a psychologist, a therapist or social worker, it can be requested.
It’s important not to feel intimidated during these meetings. At the first IEP meeting for my grandson, I remember having the IEP placed before me and being led through it one item at a time, but due to my nervousness at being surrounded by staff who appeared to know a lot more about my grandson’s needs and IEP’s than I did, I had difficulty following along, but when asked to sign the IEP, I did so without hesitation when in fact I should have taken it home first to study it and return it signed when satisfied. It would also have been a good idea to go prepared with appropriate questions and comments instead of sitting with my head hung down in embarrassment because of my uncertainty of what an IEP actually was.
What is an IPRC meeting?
By the time I attended an I.P.R.C. (Identification, Placement & Review Committee) meeting I understood more about the specialized programming for children with special needs. The IPRC meeting was scheduled for two of my grandchildren when it became obvious their disabilities could not be served by an IEP alone. A committee decides whether or not a child should be identified as having special needs that fall under one of Ontario’s Ministry of Education categories. The IPRC’s objective is to ensure safeguards surround the student to ensure his/her full learning potential is reached.
Either the parents, guardian or school staff can request an IPRC, with the parent being notified at least ten days before the meeting takes place. The time and date can be changed by the parent if inappropriate to their schedule. Remember, you have the right to be present and participate in all IPRC dialogue about your child, and it’s in your, and the child’s, best interest for you to attend every IPRC meeting.
Those usually attending the IPRC meeting are the student’s teacher, resource teacher, guidance counsellor, principal, psychologist, a school board representative and the parents. Using information from the staff and parents, the committee will form a recommendation for placement of the student, and the parents will be asked to sign a document agreeing to the committee’s recommendations.
All other information submitted by the child’s doctor’s or other professionals involved in his/her diagnosis must be taking into consideration by the committee, and is usually done so before the meeting takes place.
According to the Ministry: If everyone is in agreement, the statement of decision may be signed at the IPRC meeting and a copy given to the parent — but parents may also take the document home to review it before signing.
The statement of decision must include:
whether the Committee has identified the pupil as exceptional
where the Committee has identified the pupil as exceptional, the decision must include:
- the Committee’s description of the pupil’s strengths and needs
- the categories and definitions of exceptionalities identified
- the Committee’s placement decision
- the Committee’s recommendations, if any, regarding special education programs and services.
A key element of the IPRC decision is the proper identification of the child’s learning needs. The Statement of Needs on the IPRC document should include all the areas for which special education support is required. There is no limit on the number of needs that may be included on the IPRC document.
For information regarding Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board programming contact 905.527.5092 or visit their website at http://www.hwdsb.on.ca