Organizing an IEP Binder

Any parent who has attended an Individualized Education Program (IEP) meeting for their child can tell you what an overwhelming and confusing experience it can be. Understood, a website in English and Spanish dedicated to helping parents support their child with special needs, has resources to create an IEP binder.

An IEP binder provides parents with a great way to track their child’s progress and keep key information readily at hand during IEP meetings. Understood suggests including:

  • IEP Binder Checklist
  • School Contact Sheet
  • Parent-School Communication Log
  • IEP Goal Tracker

Downloadable versions of all of the above are also provided, as well as a short video on how to put it all together and use it.

Understood also suggests using six tab dividers to separate materials into communication, evaluations, IEP, report cards and progress notes, sample work, and behavior. They also suggest including a supply pouch to ensure you have pens, sticky notes, and highlighters readily available at your meeting. You might also consider including the list of over 500 accommodations for an IEP or 504 plan from A Day in Our Shoes that Illinois PTA has highlighted before.

Illinois’s Teacher Shortage Visualized

The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) recently released a survey showing school districts in Illinois have 1,006 unfilled teacher positions this year. Teacher vacancies can mean larger class sizes or, in smaller school districts, classes that just aren’t offered. In addition, 74% of the vacancies are in majority-minority school districts, while 81% are in districts where a majority of students are low-income. The net result is that while all Illinois students’ educations suffer from issues related to teacher vacancies, those students who have been historically marginalized face the greatest barriers to a high-quality education and support.

The effect of these teacher shortages have been visualized by Advance Illinois, providing an interactive map and graphic of where and in what fields those vacancies are located. Overall, more than half of the state’s unfilled teacher positions are in Special Education and bilingual education. Regional differences can be seen as well, with downstate seeing vacancies in a broader range of subject areas than Chicago or the collar counties.

ISBE also provides some interactive information on all school vacancies, and the number of open positions for school support personnel is almost as high as that for teachers. These positions include jobs such as school nurses, guidance counselors, and school social workers.

There are various explanations for the shortage both here in Illinois and nationwide, including:

  • A declining number of high school graduates
  • Uncertainty regarding the state pension issue
  • Changes in the position, with teachers often having to take up more of a social worker role
  • Difficulties in obtaining a teaching license in Illinois

Since 1935, Illinois PTA has encouraged graduating seniors to go into teaching or other education-related fields (e.g., school nursing) through the Illinois PTA Scholarship Program. Over the years, this program has awarded more than $2.5 million in scholarships. The scholarship fund is supported by purchased awards and through direct donations. If you’re struggling to find a way to recognize your child’s teacher this holiday season, consider making a donation in their name to the Illinois PTA Scholarship Fund.

For graduating seniors planning to go into teaching or an education-related field, the 2017-2018 Illinois PTA Scholarship application is online. The deadline to apply is February 15, 2018.

13 Necessary Next Steps for Parents After an Autism Diagnosis

According to the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC), about 1 in 68 children has been identified as being autistic, with boys being approximately 4.5 times more likely to be diagnosed than girls. The latter detail is still being debated, as autism diagnosis criteria were developed primarily with data from boys, autism presents differently in girls, and girls may be better at masking their difficulties in order to fit in with their peers; all of which may mean that the occurrence of autism is even higher.

The increased diagnosis of autism means that many families are struggling to understand and come to terms with what this means for their child and their child’s future. The Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism published an article earlier this year on 13 next steps for parents after and autism diagnosis. They are:

  1. Give yourself time to adjust.
  2. Give the people around you time to adjust, and keep them in the loop.
  3. Give yourself time to process information critically.
  4. Give yourself time to learn which organizations and people to trust.
  5. Give yourself time to figure out what autism means for your child.
  6. Give yourself time to figure out what communication looks like for your child.
  7. Give yourself time to figure out which supports, schools, therapies, and environments will help your child succeed.
  8. Give yourself the space to be flexible about needs, and pick your battles.
  9. Give yourself time to find autistic role models for your child.
  10. Give yourself time to think about shared traits.
  11. Give your child space to grow and change.
  12. Give yourself time to figure out what your child really enjoys.
  13. Give yourself time to plan for your child’s future without you.

An autism diagnosis can be a relief that the challenges you and your child have been facing have an explanation. It can also bring worry and concern for your child’s future. Be sure to read the full article for details and resources linked to each of the above points. There is a growing community of autistic teenagers and adults online sharing their experiences and speaking up for others on the spectrum that can also help a family understand what an autism diagnosis means (see the #ActuallyAutistic hashtag on Twitter).

Aligning National PTA and Illinois PTA Legislative Priorities: Special Education

The National PTA Legislative Checklist calls for the reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) that further supports and improves the lives of more than 6.5 million eligible children, from infants through youth. Reauthorization must:

  • Include a statutory definition of family engagement in education based on National Standards for Family-School Partnerships within section 602 of IDEA.
  • Provide greater protections for the rights of children with special needs, as well as their families, to ensure access to resources and supports for high-quality education.
  • Require transition planning for qualifying students to begin no later than age 14, incentivizing school districts to employ appropriate staff to deliver services.
  • Support the inclusion of behavioral intervention plans in a student’s IEP and 504b plan.

One of the fundamentals of IDEA is the inclusion of Procedural Safeguards designed to enumerate the rights of both the student and family, and the school district when determining appropriate educational programs for students with special needs. These safeguards include, but are not limited to:

  • The parents’ right to receive a complete explanation of all the procedural safeguards, the method of submitting any complaints, and the mechanism for resolving disputes,
  • The right to confidentiality
  • The right to review in its entirety a student’s educational record
  • The right to participate in meetings to identify, evaluate, or place a student in a particular educational program, including the provisions of a free appropriate education for the student (FAPE)
  • The right to obtain an independent educational evaluation
  • The right to prior written notice on matters relating to the student
  • The right to give or deny consent before the school make take certain action with regard to the student
  • The right to disagree with decisions made by the school system

The Illinois PTA recognizes that the educational environment for students with special needs, as defined within the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA), must consider the needs of the student as part of the planning process. One critical element of assessing student needs continues to be funding. Item 3c of the Illinois PTA Legislation Platform calls for full funding of all mandated educational and special programs so that all students will have the opportunity to reach their full potential. This position is expanded in Item 3g of the platform which calls for adequate appropriations for the education of special needs students.

In addition, we support the development of Social and Emotional Learning Standards (SEL) which provide content, skills, evaluation, and assessment at age appropriate levels as part of the curricula crafted by Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE).