Special Education: Preparing for the IEP Review Season
Breaking down the larger projects of IEP review into smaller tasks and manageable goals should set you up for success in 2023.
Once the calendar flips to the new year, we seem to move at breakneck speed toward June. Therefore, we suggest you start preparing for IEP review season now. Although, most annual review meetings occur later in the spring, there are things you can do now, so you do not find yourself running out of time to iron out details for ESY (extended school year), or to have next year’s program and placement finalized before school staff and administration are off for the summer. Here are the first steps to take:
- Begin by getting organized. Create a 3-ring notebook for your child's documents. Get dividers to separate the binder into 504 Plans/IEPs, testing/evaluations/reports from your school and specialists, report cards, IEP progress reports, and communications between you and school staff members. We recommend filing the documents by date within each section, with the most recent on top. If any of those documents are missing, ask for them.
- Next, review your child's 504 Plan and/or IEP. Make note of any services that are not being provided at the frequency set forth in the IEP. Compare the goals and objectives with the progress reports to be sure that everything is being tracked, and if progress is being made as anticipated.
- If your child is 14 or older, transition planning should be addressed in the IEP. Make a note if it is not, and be sure to raise it in your annual review meeting. Transition planning serves to prepare your child for college or a career. This section of the IEP should have its own set of goals and activities, with time frames for achievement. This is one area of the IEP where input from your child is vital; their life plans should be taken into account when developing a transition plan.
- If your child is in 12th grade, be sure that you and the District are on the same page with respect to graduation. You do not want to be caught off-guard and discover late in the school year that the District intends to graduate your child, thereby terminating all services. A student who is not graduating may still walk in the graduation ceremony and participate in other end-of-senior year activities, if they wish to do so. If you believe your child is not ready to graduate and the District believes otherwise, it is essential that you file for mediation or due process.
- If your child has turned 18 since the IEP went into effect, be aware that education decisions have now transferred to your child. This should be noted in the IEP. If your child is not capable of making their own education decisions, there are steps you can take to ensure that you continue to make those decisions, like having your child authorize you in writing to make them, or, if your child does not have the capacity to understand such authorization, you can seek guardianship of your child (whereby the court will grant you authority to make decisions for your child). If you believe you will require guardianship of your adult child, be aware that it may take several months for a guardianship to be heard by a judge.
- You should also review the most recent evaluations. Be sure all of your child's needs, as noted in the evaluations, are being addressed in the IEP. Remember, your child should be evaluated every three years. If your child is due within the next 6 months, ask that evaluations begin now. Given the length of time these evaluations take, it would be best to have them completed prior to the annual review meeting.
Estate Planning: Reviewing and Updating
Making manageable goals for estate planning tasks should make 2023 a successful year.
Estate planning is something that often remains at the bottom of the list of things to do. However, it is essential to protect your family, especially your children with special needs, by doing a quick review and update. We recommend you start by pulling out your old documents to review them. Things to look for include:
- When did you last update or review your documents? If it has been more than 5 years, or if your family has experienced significant changes since the documents were signed (i.e., birth of more children, change in your marital status), we recommend sitting with your attorney to review and advise if any changes are needed.
- Have you indicated your selection of guardians for minors as well as adult disabled children?
- If you have disabled children, have you directed their inheritance into a Special Needs Trust in order to protect their eligibility for means-tested government benefits?
- Do your estate planning documents include a Last Will and Testament, a Durable Power of Attorney, a Healthcare Directive and a Funeral Disposition Representative Document?
There are other things to consider that are not addressed within your Will. For example:
- You should also review the beneficiary designations of your retirement plans and other accounts, to confirm that nothing is going directly to a beneficiary who is, or will be, receiving government benefits or is a minor beneficiary. A disabled beneficiary’s share should go into a Special Needs Trust, and a minor’s share should go into another protective trust.
- If your child with special needs is age 17 or older, you should consider guardianship or another protective arrangement.
- If your child with special needs is age 18 or older, you should apply for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Medicaid on that child’s behalf.
Breaking down the larger projects of “IEP review” and “estate planning” into smaller, more manageable tasks should set you up for success in 2023. It also makes these seemingly overwhelming tasks much more feasible. In the end, you will appreciate the peace of mind you will give yourself when you can cross these off of your mental or actual “to do” list. Most importantly in 2023, take time for yourself. You deserve it!
If you have questions about preparing for your annual IEP review, or your estate plan, please contact Manes & Weinberg, LLC, to discuss your family’s needs and options. (973) 376-7733 firstname.lastname@example.org www.manesweinberg.com
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Beth C. Manes, Esq., is a founding member of Manes & Weinberg, Special Needs Lawyers of New Jersey, LLC. She is licensed to practice law in New Jersey, where she has been practicing for over 25 years. Her practice concentrates in Special Education Law, Special Needs Planning, Guardianships and Estate Planning. Beth is also active in her community, raising puppies for the Seeing Eye of Morristown, and serving as a member of her synagogue’s Accessibility and Inclusion Task Force. Beth resides in Essex County with her husband, several dogs, and whichever adult children are home at the time. Beth loves to travel; her favorite vacations are on a bicycle, in a tent, or observing animals not typically found in New Jersey. Beth started her career in corporate law but did not like the impersonal nature of the practice and decided to change direction. After a few more turns in her career path, Beth searched for the field of law where she could have the most impact and discovered a love for special needs advocacy and planning.
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