Plan an Educational Accommodations Meeting as Learning Situations Change

Most schools have returned to an on campus or an on-campus/at-home learning schedule depending on the school district’s needs, as most of the United States sees an improvement in COVID-19 public health benchmarks. With these changes, many families are requesting a review of their child’s academic accommodations plan to be sure it still meets their child’s needs.

If your student has an IEP or a 504 plan, it may be a good idea to schedule a meeting with the education team, either in person or using a video conferencing tool. Many students with special learning needs struggled to keep up with their classmates as educational situations changed during the previous semester. Your student may need updates made to his learning plan to either help him catch up or to better understand the information presented during the school day.

Revisit academic plans

Even though your child started the school year with an academic plan carried over from the previous school year, it’s possible things haven’t gone as expected because of changes to the school schedule.

“IEPs or 504s are certainly set up with good intentions, but they’re fairly vague and leave room for interpretation that can lead to inconsistent implementation. Parents really need to be advocates for themselves and their children,” says Joshua Langberg, PhD, co-director of the Center for ADHD Research, Education and Service, and director of the Promoting Adolescent School Success (PASS) Lab, both at Virginia Commonwealth University. “Schools are busy—they’re overwhelmed. So, it’s on the parent to take the initiative to, in a non-threatening way, reach out and say, ‘How are things going?’”

Accommodations that were working before the pandemic or that were developed while learning from home may no longer meet the student’s learning needs. Or, with the changes in learning situations, accommodations may again need to be added or modified. Dr. Langberg says you’ll want to keep two things in mind:

  • Goals: What behaviors are you concerned about? What are you hoping the teacher will do in response to those behaviors? If your child has trouble staying on task, for example, and his teacher has agreed to help him get back to his schoolwork and follow through, what will that look like?

“I would want to know how often the teacher’s going to help,” says Dr. Langberg. “Is it going to be an everyday thing? Is it going to be once a day? Are you aiming for multiple times a day when this student would be prompted? Otherwise, you feel like this is a good thing, but the teacher may or may not be thinking in the same terms that you are thinking.”

  • Measurement: How will you know whether the accommodations are being made? Will you need to check in with the teacher? Will you get feedback from the school regularly and will it be on the school’s education platform for you to access? And, perhaps most importantly, how will you know whether the accommodations are working?

Meet with the academic team

Once you’ve scheduled a meeting with your child’s teacher and the education team, Dr. Langberg suggests you spend time preparing. He encourages parents to brainstorm questions and practice asking them. It’s important you feel comfortable asking as many questions as you have. Thinking about your concerns and the information you’re looking for ahead of time can help keep in check some of the emotions that often come up at such meetings.

“You’ll want to consider the words you’re going to use that are going to make what you want from the school most likely to be well received—and that’s hard,” says Dr. Langberg, adding that in his work, he often practices role playing with parents. “It’s one thing to go in there upset and yell, but often, that’s not going to lead to the outcome you want. So, think about how you can be calm, direct, and logical to get the outcome you want for your child.”

If you think you’ll have a hard time staying calm, consider having someone with you, either in a meeting at the school or on the video conference. Besides your child’s other parent, it might be an aunt or uncle, for example, or a close adult friend—someone who knows your child well but is a bit removed from the situation and can help you say what you really mean. You might also choose to invite a professional, a psychologist, or an educational advocate who can speak for your child from a professional standpoint.

In this together

Think of your efforts as a collaboration with the school—and make sure the team knows you see it that way. John Brady, PhD, is professor emeritus of school psychology at Chapman University and an advocate of regular communication between parents and educational teams. He suggests that if you haven’t already, you might consider saying something to them along these lines: “You, the teacher, and we, the parents, are in this together. We all want what is best for our child, but the process often puts us at odds because we aren’t communicating well. We suggest thinking of this as a problem-solving process in which both the school staff and the parents are responsible for creating and implementing a program of success for our student.”

These kinds of conversations don’t require formal sit-down meetings or video conferences, either. Dr. Langberg suggests that any meeting between parents and their child’s school include an understanding that there will be follow-up. Maybe you’ll agree to touch base by email or phone once a week or every other week to see how things are going from the school’s perspective and discuss whether any adjustments need to be made. You may decide to contact the teacher or someone else, such as a school psychologist or guidance counselor, for the routine check-ins.

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Join the discussion: How often do you check in with your child’s teacher and school?