Updated: Jul 2, 2021
When Donna Drown was an elementary school teacher, she came to understand that parents and school districts did not see eye to eye when it came to Individual Education Plans for special education students. During the ten years that she worked in education, she saw that while the district is in the business of writing IEPs for all special education students, parents often come to the table with little or no knowledge about how to get the help their students need.
As part of the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) regular education teachers are required to develop Individual Education Plans (IEP) along with special educators for each student. As a teacher in the regular education classroom, Donna made appointments with special education teachers so that IEPs could be developed together. She noticed that the special education teachers seemed frustrated about her involvement. Donna asked what input other regular education teachers provided. A Special Education teacher responded that every other regular education teacher simply signed off on whatever plan was presented to that teacher. Until then, Donna had no idea that her participation in the development of IEPs was an anomaly, and she was shocked both that other teachers did not participate, and that they were expected to sign off on whatever plan was presented to them.
Donna realized that it was only because she had read the IDEA pamphlet, and then had not asked about whether teachers actually participate that she assumed that teachers actually did participate meaningfully in this process. Fortunately for Donna’s students, this conversation took place only after seven years of involvement with her students' Individual Education Plans. By then Donna was not willing to give up participation because she made decisions about the ways in which the Special Education department could help her best teach students. While she did not come up with all of the interventions, Donna added interventions as she saw the need. This will be discussed further in future posts.
The Importance of an Attorney for IEP Development
Through this and many other experiences Donna came to realize two things: First, teachers are powerless to change an IEP from a practical standpoint if administration does not agree with the changes. Second, teachers often are not aware of what types of changes might be useful for their students. IDEA does dictate that teachers have a great deal of power in the development of the IEP, but teachers are up against the special education department, school administration, and district administration if they disagree with a plan. Often even if they see that something is not effective, they have little or no experience in suggesting alternative methods of education. Over the long haul, and in a state where the legislature pays the least per student for education, it is just too exhausting, and too damaging to teachers' careers to expect them to fight against administration when disagreements arise.
This was the inception of her interest in the law as it pertains to students with disabilities, and people with disabilities generally. If you need help devising an IEP for your child, feel free to reach out to Donna Drown at 801-635-4238.