Hillary Freeman, a special education attorney, spoke to parents about how to best prepare for their child's individualized education plan (IEP) meetings Wednesday night in the library of Edison Intermediate School.
Sponsored by the Parent Teacher Council-Special Education Committee, Freeman, who has offices in Princeton, Freehold and Haddonfield, spoke for 90 minutes and offered best practice tips for parents of elementary, middle and high school students.
Freeman stressed that an IEP should, as its name suggests, be individualized. She noted that it is designed to address more than simply academic goals. If a child has a disability that adversely impacts his or her ability to learn, whether it be emotional, behavioral, social or cognitive, he or she can be evaluated to assess whether he or she will be eligible for an IEP, which could then serve as a goal-oriented roadmap toward achieving success and ultimately independence.
In additon to her legal expertise, Freeman has first-hand experience advocating for the special education population. She told attendees that her adult brother has autism and noted that the advice she was about to share contained many of the steps her family followed to secure the best possible future for her sibling.
When it comes to creating an IEP, the attorney spoke of the importance of writing SMART goals: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-based. As parents are part of the planning team, Freeman said some things to think about prior to the meeting are:
- Where was the student before this year? Look back to the previous IEP, progress reports or email correspondence for detailed information.
- How is your child performing? How are they performing academically, socially, emotionally?
- Where should they be one year from now?
- How are we going to get there?
Throughout her presentation, Freeman fielded questions from attendees and repeatedly suggested that parents not sign their child's IEP at the meeting. She also shared 10 statements that should raise red flags for parents. They are as follows:
- "We don't offer that here. This is all we offer."
- "We know you want an independent evaluation but we have the right to do it first."
- "Your child is not entitled to ESY (Extended School Year) if he/she is in this class."
- "We think your child should be in a different class because of his/her behaviors."
- "We don't need to reevaluate your child child because we know he/she is still eligible."
- Repeated goals.
- Behaviors but no BIP (Behavior Intervention Plan); a BIP but no FBA (Functional Behavior Assessment)
- "He needs medication."
- Reduction in services
- "We received your request for evaluations during vacation."
Freeman also touched on the importance of transition plans, which can begin as early as when a child is 14 years old, to determine what the child might do following graduation and if certain accomodations will be necessary down the road.
Following her presentation, Westfield parents had an opportunity to meet with the attorney one-on-one for 10 minutes to discuss their child's IEPs at no charge.
Prior to Freeman's talk, Helene Bernstein Bergman, co-chair of the Special Education Committee, announced that the next regular meeting will be held at 7:30 p.m. on Feb. 20. An extension of Wednesday's meeting, parents can join in an IEP roundtable where they will be divided by their child's age and have a chance to discuss how best to prepare for their upcoming meetings.
The Special Education Committee is also in the planning stages for its annual symposium. The expo, which features eight to 10 speakers, will be held March 20.
For more information about Freeman, visit Freeman Law Offices' website or call 609-955-3529. For more information about the Westfield Special Education Committee, visit http://www.westfieldnjk12.org/education/dept/dept.php?sectionid=1501