The Tennessee Department of Education and Support and Training for Exceptional Parents (STEP) conducted an evening of information sharing and discussion between the agencies and Johnson County parents who have a child with a disability. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) defines a disability as not only profound mental and physical disabilities but any condition that impacts a student’s ability to learn. A student who is medically fragile due to diabetes or seizures, suffers from attention deficit or a learning disability, speech issues, emotional issues or even a displacement issue such as foster care that has left them behind their peers qualifies for testing and support from the school system.
Assistant Commissioner for Special Populations and Student Support for the Tennessee Department of Education Joey Hassell and his staff came prepared to not only give an overview for families new to the process but also answer in-depth questions from families who have been struggling with certain issues or areas that need improvement in order for their student to succeed.
“Educators, administrators, support staff and parents have been charged with the responsibility to address the needs of each child in their care,” Hassell explained as he addressed his audience.
He went on to say that not only should teachers and staff pin point issues that are affecting a child’s ability to learn but parents can also come forward and notify the school that they are seeing a problem and ask for help. Once this has happened and the parent has given written consent, the student can then be evaluated and a plan formed to address their individual needs. If a student then qualifies for special education in one form or another, the parents can expect a plan to be made and follow up evaluations to be done every three years. One such plan is called an IEP or Individual Education Plan. In a nutshell, an IEP is an agreement between parents and school personnel regarding the best plan of action for the student to make progress toward his or her specific educational goal. Parents and educators are equal partners in the decision making process. The key to success is for each person involved in the IEP process, including special education teachers, general education teachers, and parents to openly share information and communicate strengths and concerns.
Parents can vastly improve a teacher’s understanding of their student by simply giving the teacher a written one page profile about the child including what equals a good day, triggers that bring on problems, and concerns at the beginning of the semester, and then keeping them informed as to any changes occurring outside of school. “It is your right as a parent to ask questions,” Hassell stressed to parents.
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