Caring for those in Need

Back To School Tips

It’s that time again! The beginning of a new school year often brings excitement, but it can also be anxiety provoking (for both your child and you), especially if your child has special needs. Don’t be scared – below are several tips and suggestions to assist families in transitioning into the 2022-2023 school year:

BY Jessica Weinberg, Esq.and Denise Gackenheimer Verzella, Esq. | September 2022 | Category: Education

Back To School Tips
  1. Preparing your student for the first day. Schedule a visit to the school to meet the new teacher(s) before the first day of school. Putting a face to a name helps the child feel more comfortable with the new teacher(s). If your child is transitioning to middle school or high school, you should request an opportunity to see their locker and walk to their respective classrooms an additional time beyond orientation; this can be particularly helpful if your child struggles with school avoidance, school related anxiety and/or has difficulty with transitions. If your child had struggled the previous school year with school attendance, contact your case manager (if your child has an IEP) or principal (if your child has a 504 Plan) to develop a transition plan to ease your child back to school. Some students begin the first week only attending school partially and build up each week to a longer day.

  2. Be prepared with all of the school supplies and summer homework that is assigned for the first day of school. Additionally, if your child struggles with organization, take the time to color code subjects, create folders or establish any other system that will enable your child to keep track of assignments and papers. Your child will be able to walk into the classroom prepared and ready for the new year.

  3.  Review your child’s IEP/504 Plan. It has likely been several months since your annual review meeting. It is a good idea to review your child’s IEP or 504 Plan with a fresh perspective and the benefit of time. Does everything in the document still seem appropriate? Is it clear who is responsible for implementing the various services/ accommodations in your child’s IEP/504 Plan? If you are uncertain or believe a change is warranted, you should request an IEP/504 Plan meeting to discuss your concerns and propose any changes.
  4. Most important, if there are any outstanding items that were not addressed in the annual review meeting, or that were tabled until the fall, make note of them and send an email to the case manager or principal asking to meet to address these items. September is a very busy month, so it is important to get a meeting on the calendar as soon as possible.
  5. 3. Introductions. Sending an email to your child’s teacher(s) at the start of the school year can help introduce your child to them. The email should not only include a copy of your child’s IEP or 504 Plan, but some of the wonderful things that make your child unique. Does your child love to fish, go to baseball games, or bake? Are particular things, like fire drills or recess, a challenge for them? This should not be a long list but is intended to introduce the teacher(s) to your child outside of the black and white IEP or 504 Plan filled with accommodations and modifications that they must implement. This can be extremely important for students who lack the ability to communicate effectively, providing teacher(s) with topics or pathways to help unlock a student’s potential. Also, ask the teacher(s) what the expectations and priorities are for the students, so you can work with your child at home.

Meeting the teacher(s) in advance of the school year, not only facilitates your child’s transition back to school, it also provides you with an opportunity to explain your child’s strengths and needs, and what strategies have worked best in the past at school and/or in the home. For instance, your child’s IEP or 504 Plan may provide for “preferential seating.” This is very subjective to a teacher(s). Does this mean seating should be in the front of the room, by the teacher(s) and instructional material, or in the back of the room away from distractions? Guide the teacher(s) as to which location you believe would best meet your child’s needs. Any information should be memorialized in a written summary so the teacher(s) does not forget the details.

4. Bullying Incidents: If your child was the victim of an incident of bullying, undoubtedly, they are anxious about returning to school. Ask the principal to ensure that your child does not have any classes with the student(s) who committed the act(s) of bullying, to alleviate your child’s discomfort, and ask if any other safety measures can be put in place for common areas, such as lunch and the hallways. The school district’s willingness to do anything will be contingent upon the severity and frequency of the bullying.|

Above all, communication with your child’s teacher(s), case manager, and the school or district administration is vital to transitioning back to school and ensuring a productive school year.

If you have any questions about strategies for communicating with your child’s teacher(s), case manager, or other staff members, please contact Manes & Weinberg, LLC. Our team is here to support you all year long! Make this school year a great year! (973)376-7733 

About the Authors:

Jessica Weinberg, Esq. is a founding member of Manes & Weinberg, Special Needs Lawyers of New Jersey, LLC. She is an attorney and mediator with over 25 years of experience. Jessica resides in Union County with her husband, son and daughter.  She and her family love to travel and be outdoors. Her passion for helping children with disabilities started at a young age when she learned sign language to help a friend who was socially isolated as a result of her deafness. Jessica’s career in special education advocacy began after she helped a family member navigate the special education process. Jessica has worked on every side of education: she began her career representing school districts, then spent over 10 years as a special education mediator with the New Jersey Department of Education, and now she advocates for children. With her unique background, Jessica has the ability to understand all positions involved in special education disputes, which better enables her to advocate and negotiate settlements for her clients. Given the intimate and lengthy relationship that exists between parents and school districts, cost, and disruptive nature of a hearing to a family’s life, Jessica believes special education disputes should be resolved amicably whenever possible. Jessica also advocates for students who are victims of harassment, intimidation and bullying (“HIB”) or accused of committing an act of HIB or a disciplinary infraction, and routinely presents on these topics. 

Denise Gackenheimer Verzella, Esq. is a Senior Associate at Manes & Weinberg, Special Needs Lawyers of New Jersey, LLC. Denise has spent a large part of her career working in a variety of areas of higher education at Cardozo Law School, Seton Hall School of Law, and the Silberman College of Business at Fairleigh Dickinson University. Prior to working in higher education, she represented employees in actions against their employers. Denise lives in Essex County with her husband, two children, and their rescue dog. It was while advocating for the needs of her own children, that she recognized the need for an attorney who specialized in special education law due to the complexity of the laws and processes pertaining to special education. She began to assist friends and relatives in advocating for their own children with special needs. She explained the IEP and 504 processes, and helped parents understand the structure and substance of their evaluations, IEPs and 504 Plans. When she decided to return to the practice of law, it was this desire to assist other families navigate the special education process that drove her decision. Although she spent a short time representing school districts, she quickly realized her passion was representing families. 

Read the article here.