The PPT and IEP: Five Things Every Parent Should Know and Do

May 8, 2009

Spring is here and it’s open season for PPT’s and IEP’s. If you’re new to the game, PPT stands for Planning, Placement Team Meeting or PPT. The “team” is comprised of several school staff that directly work with your child and as the parent/guardian you all meet at least once a year to discuss and develop your child’s Special Education – Individualized Education Program or IEP.

 Sounds simple – right? However, we know that this is not the case for some of us. Most parents would rather have a root canal than sit in one of these meetings fighting for basic and reasonable services for our children. I’m sure the feeling is mutual on the other side of the table. For those educators and parents who work well together, give yourselves a pat on the back for a job well done. We need more of you out there.

 In the last ten years, my husband and I have attended our share of PPT meetings. Some havebeen productive, cooperative and outright fun. Other meetings have been contentious to the point the tension was so high the only participants speaking were the Director of Special Education and my husband. Did we always walk away from the meeting with everything we asked for? No. However, we did successfully negotiate what was most important on our list and left the rest on the table for another day.

 This is where I give all the credit to my husband. He is a gifted negotiator and we put these skills to work to obtain the best possible services for our daughter. He once explained it to me like this. Our daughter’s school career could be at least 15 years – do we want to take the first shot in the first year in the first quarter? Or, is it best to pace ourselves, provide as much as we can outside of school and save our energy for the big issues? What items can we reasonably negotiate by ourselves without hiring an Advocate or an Attorney?

 So we began the process of documenting the facts, questioning, and evaluating our daughter’s educational program during the year – constantly checking and questioning the school to make sure that Katie was on track. If a situation developed we could pull back review our facts, ask additional questions (if applicable) and then determine our response in a controlled manner rather than just reacting to everything that came at us.

 Before going into a PPT, the most important thing to remember is knowing what you want, then articulate to the school what action(s) you want them to take and have concrete facts to back up your request.  For example, one year on the first day of school I met our daughter’s “new” paraprofessional. As I’m getting to know this sweet woman, I find out she is 80 plus years old and has been suffering from severe osteoporoses. In addition, she has a “no lift” order from her doctor.

  I’m thinking to myself, okay this means she won’t be able to lift our daughter out of her wheelchair to change her diapers, physical therapy is out and she won’t be able to participate in circle time on the floor. If she does have to lift Katie for any reason and something happens, I’m envisioning both of them on the floor and enough broken bones between the two of them to keep two orthopedic doctors  busy for awhile. We have a big problem. 

 We quickly notified the school principal that for safety reasons (hers and our daughters) my husband and I cannot allow this woman to work with our daughter.  An emergency PPT proceeded – it was a bitter pill for them to swallow recognizing the mistake hiring this woman. They agreed to our request to hire our homecare nursing agency at whatever the current the contract rate was. 

 Our process of evaluating the situation:

What did we want?

 A guarantee our daughter was safe at school and the person filling the position of paraprofessional was qualified. (Note: Safety issues are huge red flags and every school administrator is afraid of being sued because they failed to keep your child and their peers’ safe at school. You will be surprised how fast a mountain moves to resolve “safety” issues.)

What action did we want the school to take?

 Hire our homecare nurse. Prior to the PPT, I had called the homecare agency confirming it was possible for the school to contract with them. I found out that schools routinely contract with homecare agecies and this was not a big deal. 

 What were the facts to support our request?

The school’s newly hired paraprofessional has a preexisting medical condition that prevents her from carry out her duties as a paraprofessional.  Therefore she was not qualified to be our daughter’s paraprofessional.

 What are the consequences to my child (and/or family) if I wait a week, several months or more to address (or not) this problem?

 Katie gets hurt and/or other health problems develop from not being repositioned often.  She’s segregated from her typical peers by not being allowed to sit among them during group activities. Consequences to our family would be my husband has to take additional time off from work for doctor’s appointments and possible hospitalization for injuries sustain in a fall. There is a financial strain because of expenses incurred trying to resolve the health problem/injuries and added emotional stress on the family.

 Our decision: Act immediately – remove Katie from the care of this paraprofessional and request an emergency PPTfor safety reasons. We cannot trust the school to hire appropriate staff – to resolve the situation quickly they hire our homecare nurse.  

 To facilitate and simplify this process, we have created 5 things that will help every parent keep factual records so when a situation occurs resolving it will be  factual and persuasive.

1. Create a home Special Education Journal

 Phone Log

Meeting Log

Event or Situation Log (This is a log that will benefit those parents/guardians whose child has frequent episodes of behavioral outbursts at school. This will give you a way to document school staff need training in positive behavioral management techniques.)

2. Learn how to read your child’s IEP 

Understand what the goals and objectives are. If you don’t understand, ask the school team to explain what they wrote.

Confirm your child is receiving all their modifications/accommodations and support services listed in their IEP. If not, find out why and document what you learned in your home journal. Then go back and address the situation. Call another PPT if you cannot get the problem address outside the PPT. 

Evaluate if your child is making progress during the term. If not, can you figure out why? For example, has your child has been sick for long periods of time; spent more time out of the classroom in the nurse’s office, principal’s office or hallway, having too many behavioral problems that need to be addressed by a behavioral specialist or is the school not doing their job?

 If the school insists that your child has made progress during the school term, and you disagree, ask for work samples, test scores or evaluations that confirm the progress. Don’t be afraid to ask what is their definition of “making progress”. That answer might be different from what you think. 

Note: http://www.CTdisabilitiesconnections.org will soon be posting a “new” tutorial on the Connecticut IEP page by page. So be on the look out!

3. Get a basic understanding of the Special Education laws; both Federal (IDEA and NCLB) and your state Special Education laws. Some state laws go beyond the Federal laws and hold schools to a higher standard – that’s a good thing! You don’t have to be an expert on this – just the basics are good enough.

4. After the PPT, go home and immediately document in your home journal the facts of what happened. Were all of your concerns answered/addressed? If not, assess your next steps.  Ask yourself these questions:

What is it that I want from the school?

What action(s) do you want the school to take?

What documented facts to you have to support your request?

What are the consequences to my child (and/or family) if I wait a week, several months or more to address (or not) this problem?

5. Control your emotions! Never threaten school officials with a lawsuit and/or take them to due process. Not only does this make it appear that you are out of control but it has minimal impact on the officials since this threat is made often. Save your breath!  I have been guilty of making these comments in the heat of battle. However, my husband reminded me that you never let them know they “got ya.” Instead, you keep your cool, are professional and fight fire with fire.

 How do you handle a contentious situation? By ending the meeting immediately before you and/or others get out of control. When you’ve cooled off, follow up with a letter and/or memo outlining the issues that resulted in the impasse to the person with the authority to change your child’s IEP. Try to see things from the school’s perspective if you can (I know this can be hard). What is the biggest thing they are afraid of? (Child safety is a big fear for administrators).

Understanding the schools perspective (you don’t have to like it or agree with it) but will give you some tools to suggest a reasonable solution to the problem that will be a win/win for both sides. The tenor of the letter should be one of cooperation and reason – not words of hate and anger (even though that may be how you feel). Remember this is all admissible in court so you want to give the appearance that you are in control – trying to cooperate and it’s the school that is being unreasonable. Send additional copies to everyone who attended the PPT/IEP meeting and also send a copy to the senior authority person at that meeting supervisor. For example, if the person of authority was the Director Special Education and their boss is the Superintendent then send a copy of your letter to them as well. (For more information on navigating the Connecticut School System go to www.CTDisabilitiesConnections.org click on Education then click on “Connecticut Education System”).

  If you were mistaken and/or misunderstood the facts, request a response that will correct/clarify your mistake. It’s critical that this be done in writing. District personnel are not dumb – they will figure out quickly that you are converting opinions into written facts and creating a legal trail that will be admissible in court. That’s how you get their attention!

 A few years ago, we had to ask the Special Education Director to no longer communicate with me by phone but only in writing. Every time she spoke, she was rude and disrespectful, she violated IDEA and state Special Education laws and it always ended being my word against hers. It was no secret what our issues were.

 The problem was resolved quickly – however, not by the Special Education Director but by the Superintendent (her boss) and by the school principal. They, as well as the entire PPT/IEP team and Chair of the Town Board of Education, were copied on all of our written communications, which were polite, professional, factual, and direct. The documented legal trail we had created was an attorney’s dream come true – and the Superintendent knew it.  

 In Connecticut, an important statistic to know is that 90% of Due Process rulings favor school districts. Parents are spending tens of thousands of dollars defending their child’s right to a free and appropriate education or FABE and are not winning. So why are the rulings so out of balance? My theory, based on my own research, is that parents might be “jumping the gun” prematurely and don’t develop enough strong evidence to win their cases. Whatever the reason, parents need to document the facts, preferably by using the districts own letters and memos that are in direct contradiction of what’s been written in the IEP and IDEA and state Special Education Laws. We need more success stories of parents prevailing against schools.

 Disclaimer: I am not an attorney. However; I do have a legal assistant degree and worked in corporate law for ten years (five of which involved the litigation arena). If you feel that expert legal advice is essential, please be sure to engage an experienced special education attorney in your area.

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