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Schools Must Do More to Involve Parents, Students in IEP Process

Parents and students with disabilities aren't as involved in the process of mapping out their goals with schools as much as they should be, although federal law intends for parents and school staff to work together on these plans, a new study finds.

The study, published this month online in the Journal of Disability Policy Studies, found that participation in IEP (Individualized Education Program) meetings varied based on the type of disability a student has, their family income, and their racial or ethnic background. Parents of students who had demonstrated "challenging" behavior at school, or who had poor social skills, reported they found meetings about their IEPs or transition from high school to college or work less than satisfactory, the authors found.

"These findings raise questions about whether schools are doing enough to engage the diversity of children and parents who are part of their communities," the study concludes.

The IEP, with its technical name, is a source of angst for both schools and families of children with disabilities. Meetings can be difficult to coordinate, and schools and parents, as well as the students in question, may not agree on reachable goals and the services needed to reach those goals, as well as the setting in which a student will be taught.

The study found that schools could make this bureaucratic process easier on parents and students by addressing obstacles to productive meetings. For example, for low-income families, schools might need to adjust meeting times and locations. For parents who are less well educated, schools could take measures to avoid using special education jargon.

The plans could become even more important as states shift to adopt and incorporate the common core standards.

"How welcoming are schools to parents whose children struggle academically and/or behaviorally? Findings presented here that parents of students with negative events in their educational histories or with factors associated with behavior issues are as likely as others to attend IEP/transition planning meetings but are less likely to be satisfied with their inclusion in decision making are troubling," the study found. "The students whose parents come to meetings to represent [them] may be the ones who most need and could benefit from a strong parent-school alliance in support of their educational success, yet that alliance seems elusive."

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