Pursuant to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, a parent of a child with a disability who disagrees with the school district’s evaluation of the child is entitled to request the performance of an independent education evaluation (“IEE”) of the child at public expense. (Notably, an evaluation may consist of multiple “assessments.”) You may request assessments not performed by the district (i.e., if you disagree that the district performed the appropriate assessments in the first place), and the district cannot then go back and do their own assessment before responding to your request. Once you submit your request, the district has twenty (20) days to respond. Its only proper responses are either(i) to agree to perform the IEE (which must be without unreasonable conditions), or (ii) to initiate a due process hearing in the Office of Administrative Law, at which the district would have to prove that its initial assessments were appropriate.
You’ve received an invitation to attend your child’s IEP review, your blood pressure rises, and your hands begin to sweat as your anxiety reaches its peek… you think I’d rather be operated on than attend another meeting at my child’s school!
You’re overwhelmed with terms, services, and anachronisms that just act as fuel for an anxiety induced melt down; IEP, FAPE, LRE, CST, OT, PT, and speech, oh don’t forget SPEECH!
Now you’re questioning, “Who needs services more…me or my child?”
Well there ARE services for you! Problem is…the school doesn’t want you to know that there are. In fact they count on keeping you as much in the dark as they possibly can, by having you believe they have the best interest of your child in mind. BUT..you know that you are the one that knows your child best!
3 Main Things you NEED to Know about that IEP meeting…
This is YOUR meeting!
If not for the fact that you have a child with a disability, this meeting would not be taking place. Take charge and run that meeting like the “Chief Operating Executive” (COE) that you are of your child and family matters.
2. Be PREPARED!
Go into that meeting with YOUR agenda, not theirs! Put together an agenda of the main points, issues, and services you want to address and discuss for your child’s education going forward.
Know ahead of time what all those numbers, percentages, and percentiles are all about. The law requires that the CST provide all parents at least 10 days in advance of any meeting the outcomes, synopsis’, and evaluations, therefore there is NO reason on God’s Green Earth, to sit there and be mesmerized to the point of hypnosis by the case manager spouting off number after number of your child’s evaluated disability level.
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?????
Know ahead of time that for the most part, these charts and numbers prove that your child needs help! Needs Services! Modifications, placement, and accommodations!
3. Have a Plan!
Go into that meeting with the requests for services that fit your child’s disability. Know that you want to request a home to school communication log, make requests for assistive technology, or a behavior intervention plan.
How will you know what to ask?
What to discuss?
Call me first!
Linda McDougall-Leenstra is passionate about advocating for special needs families. She has been in the special needs community professionally for over 25 years. Linda began advocating for better, more effective special education programs after experiencing first-hand the challenges of our school systems as a certified special education teacher.
Linda is a child centered crusader, who feels the education of a child with special needs works best when the strategies are carried out across all environments of that child’s life. However, Linda quickly found out how difficult it is to make sure these strategies, modalities, and services cross over when she was met with adversity from her employers in the public school sectors. In finding that; acquisition of funds, availability of services, a general desire to do the very least possible for each individual child was the driving forces behind our educational services, when in reality, the national laws of the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) are the legal RIGHTS of families and students. Therefore, Linda was forced to leave the employment of public education and became the wonderful advocate she is today.
Linda’s mission is to educate and empower parents and professionals on how to design and implement special education programs for success. Linda understands the modern-day special needs family and the struggles families are facing in both the education and medical communities. As an advocate, Linda is able to help families navigate the all too often confusing waters of special education with goals towards receiving the full and appropriate services a child “needs” based on their individual disability.
Special Education Parent Advisory Groups: are required for all school districts in New Jersey.The purpose of these groups is to provide opportunities for parents and community members to offer input to their districts on critical issues relating to students with disabilities.
New Jersey Administrative Code 6A:14-1.2(h) states that:
Each board of education shall ensure that a special education parent advisory group is in place in the district to provide input to the district on issues concerning students with disabilities. Developing & Implementing an Effective SEPAG Understanding
• To provide direct input on the policies, programs and practices that impact services and supports for children with disabilities and their families.
• To increase the involvement of families of children with special needs in making recommendations on special education policy.
• To advise on matters that pertain to the education, health and safety of children with special needs.
• To advise on unmet needs of children with disabilities. Keeping the Focus on Input
• Keep a policy focus: make sure the SEPAG keeps its focus on providing input on special education policy issues.
• A SEPAG is not a “support group” or a place for a “gripe session”.
• Avoid getting bogged down in busy work; such as doing carnivals, information fairs, fund raising, and organizing speakers
. • There may be both a parent advisory group and a support group in a district.
Parent Involvement in building membership through Special Education:
• A majority of members should be parents or caregivers of children receiving special education services.
• Be sure to include families of children in out-of-district placements.
• Include students receiving special education services or former recipients as members
. • Conduct outreach to ensure that the parent advisory group is representative of the special education services received, placements, programs, ages, disabilities, schools attended and racial, ethnic and gender diversity. Providing input on Systemic Issues
• District policies and procedures
• Inclusion/ LRE • Funding issues
• Staffing and professional development needs
• Related services
• Facility issues; such as accessibility, location of programs
• Extended school year Holding Productive Meetings
• Announce meeting dates and agenda items early enough to give interested parties an opportunity to plan to attend
• Create opportunities for active participation
• Build agendas with input from multiple people
• Use “people first” language in reference to individuals with disabilities
• Keep minutes of all meetings and make minutes available on request
• Hold regular meetings at least quarterly
• Start and end meetings on time
• As a group, agree on the process for making decisions developing Effective Practices
• New member orientation
• Established by-laws for the group’s operations
• Annual meeting to set goals and priorities
• Provide interpreters and other necessary services as needed
• Develop close working relationship with other district groups • A report of group activities and suggestions should be presented to the local Board of Education, at least annually
Special Needs NJ Family Services serves locals in Sussex County
Sussex County NJ Parent Advocate: Linda Leenstra
BY CLAUDIA CARAMIELLO PUBLISHED DEC 10, 2013 AT 6:18 PM (UPDATED Feb. 2017) ShareThis ANDOVER —
“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” This famous quote from “The Lorax” appears on the cover of a pamphlet for Special Needs NJ Family Services LLP in Andover. It serves as an important message and theme of the children’s advocacy agency, who believe that all children have the potential to succeed academically regardless of any “special needs.”
Offering a helping hand For a parent, having a child who has been classified in school is usually an emotional experience fraught with confusion, questions and anxiety. The question, “What do we do next?” is raised, and parents can feel overwhelmed with paperwork, Individual Education Plans (IEP) interpretation, and meetings with Child Study Teams.
Helping a child to stay motivated, reach their potential, and like school can be a daunting task for mothers and fathers. Serving families throughout NJ but anchored in Sussex County, Special Needs NJ provides individual services to families who have a child in the school system with special needs. These services include Advocacy for the child, tutoring, life skills, ABA therapy, and now adding Life Coaching for parents and aging students.
The goal of Special Needs NJ, is to help parents navigate the sometimes confusing world of having a classified child, as well as making children aware that they have someone on their side.
“If you went to work everyday and were compared to the guy in the next cubicle, you would start to hate going to work,” says Special Educator, advocate, therapist, and life coach, Linda Leenstra, known warmly to her students as “Ms. Linda.”
“Everybody needs to understand that we are not all square pegs that fit neatly into the square hole. The American education system is so stuck on this concept that children begin to feel like there is something wrong with them; they don’t fit into the system,” says Leenstra. “Here at Special Needs NJ, we feel that individualism is a great thing!”
Classification: In New Jersey, there are 14 different types of classifications within the education system. For parents, making sense of the terminology, and navigating a path toward well being for their child can be intimidating. Leenstra provides the important service of going into the schools with the parents and attending IEP meetings with the Child Study Team. She often encourages parents to bring a picture of their child to the meeting which helps keep the focus on why everyone is there. They are there for the child. “It is important for school systems to know that we are not working against them, but with them,” says Leenstra. “The best thing for a child is an educated parent, and our main drive is to educate parents on how to get their child in the right program.”
In an effort to help a child reach their potential, Special Needs NJ also will go into homes and provide, not only tutoring, and help with a specific subject, but life skills for children who have a learning disabilities, and behavioral training for both parent and child. Special Needs NJ can help train parents on how to deal with struggles their child may be going through, and provide encouragement to the child. The agency will also assist parents in organizing and understanding the paperwork and forms that comes with having a child who is classified.
Anniversary: as Special Needs NJ is entering it’s fifth year, they continue to grow and provide help to families in New Jersey. The agency also works on a sliding scale fee, and are individualized to a client’s needs. Leenstra regards her role as advocate and educator as more then a job, and establishes a strong connection to the families she works with.
“If you think about it, kids are always under scrutiny, always judged,” says Leenstra. “They are naturally free spirits who want to learn, explore, touch everything, but then they go to school and have their art work compared to other kids.” “For every negative statement made, we should always make five positive ones,” Leenstra advises. “People want to be complemented, not compared.”