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Summer Is the Best Time to Prepare for the New School Year

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The school year just ended, and you probably had an annual review meeting in April or May to update your child's individualized education plan (IEP). Or perhaps the IEP team plans to meet in September or October, once the new school year is underway, to review your child's educational progress and update the IEP accordingly. Summer is the time to scrutinize your child's IEP, organize his evaluations and progress reports, and plan ahead to set him up for success this fall. Here is what you can do to make the start of a new school year less hectic for both of you: 

1. Review the IEP and make a list of questions for your child's teachers and service providers.

Take some time now to read your child's IEP page by page, and write down any questions, concerns, or even potential revisions to his program. Depending on the nature of your child's disability as well as the complexity of his educational program, you may find it helpful to create separate categories of questions that are mapped to his various goals and services. For example, you may have a list of questions for your child's special education teacher concerning his reading, writing and math instruction, and a separate list of questions for the speech and language pathologist about the expressive and receptive language goals.

In addition to reviewing each section of the IEP (including goals and objectives, program accommodations and modifications, and specialized instruction and related service hours), try to zoom out and get the big picture of what your child's program looks like. Does everything make sense, and if not, what might need to change? If the IEP contains three very detailed reading goals, but your child is scheduled for only a half hour a week of direct reading instruction, you may want to email the special education teacher now to ask how the reading goals will be thoroughly implemented over the course of the next year.

2. Plan ahead for any reevaluations that will be due in the coming year.

The IDEA requires the school district to reevaluate your child at least every three years, or more often if necessary to update the IEP so that she continues to receive a free appropriate public education (FAPE). If your child's triennial reevaluation is due mid-year, make a note to ask about the assessment process at your next IEP team meeting, or sooner via email or phone call to the IEP case manager. Is there any area of need in which your child has not been evaluated, but now seems to be an issue? For example, if your child recently began struggling to make friends and interact positively with his peers, it may be time for an assessment of his social and pragmatic language skills. The triennial reevaluation is a good time to conduct additional assessments in any newly suspected areas of disability. But even if the triennial won't be due until next spring, an assessment can be conducted at the start of the new school year if your child presents with needs that may require the IEP to be updated sooner. Another option is to ask for your child's triennial reevaluation to be moved up earlier in the school year.

3. Talk to your child about his IEP and what to expect in the new school year.

You have probably already considered a summertime email or phone call to the principal, or even to your child's teacher if available, to discuss any questions or concerns about the upcoming school year. This is especially likely if your child is transitioning to a new school or program within the district, or if you just moved from another town. But it's just as important to take a moment with your child to talk about the new school year and look at the IEP together, to the extent practicable. Your child may be particularly sensitive about his learning challenges and his perceptions of his own abilities and needs compared with his classmates. Talk to him about his fears, but also ask him what he's excited about and which parts of the school day he is most looking forward to. If he struggles with reading but excels in math, is there a math club he can participate in? If he is especially nervous about a new teacher or program, find out if he can tour the school early, even prior to any back-to-school or open house events that involve the general population. Maybe the previous year was a bad experience for him in terms of a specific subject area or peer group. Even if you just had his annual review meeting, the summer may be a good time for further reflection and coming up with new ideas for a fresh start. High school students might be interested in exploring vocational and career planning services as part of their transition programming. It's never too early to talk to your child about life after graduation, and what kinds of services he may need in high school to prepare him for the adult world.

What are your summer plans? It may be tempting to take a break from dealing with school matters during the vacation period, but it's really the best time to prepare both you and your child for the new school year. Drop a comment below and tell us what you're doing this summer to get ready for school this fall!

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