Start of School Tips and Tricks

  • August 13, 2015

An Experienced Education Advocate Shares her Secrets to Success

By Kashonda Babb

All parents want their kids to begin a new school year on the right foot, but this can feel particularly challenging for parents of children with disabilities who are navigating IEPs, BIPs, FBAs and more. So what can parents do to prepare their children, the school, and themselves for a successful year? DRT asked education advocate Kashonda Babb to share her words of wisdom.

What is the most important thing for parents of children with disabilities to do to get the school year off on the right foot?

Without a doubt, the most important thing parents can do is to review their child’s current IEP and to understand the services their child will be provided. I tell parents to look at the IEP and ask themselves, ‘Is my child's IEP SMART? Meaning, is it specific, measurable, action words, realistic, and time-specific.’ 

Then, once they’ve reviewed their child’s IEP, it is time to schedule a meeting with the child’s teacher to share pertinent information about their child and to discuss what education supports the school will provide to the student through the IEP. Parents should take a copy of the IEP with them to review. 

If parents have any pending questions, concerns, or changes they would like to make to the IEP, schedule an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or 504 meeting within the first few weeks of school to address those concerns. The school has a 10-day window to schedule a meeting following a parent’s request, so try to schedule these meetings early. The meeting should be scheduled in writing and sent electronically. If a parent hand delivers the meeting request, we advise them to keep a dated copy and have a school secretary sign and date their receipt of the request.

Why is reviewing the IEP or 504 and then meeting with the teacher so important?

Parents should be informed as early in the school year as possible about what their student’s academic interventions are, what their supports and services are, and how and what they look like from day-to-day. Parents should also be aware of how their child’s progress will be monitored. This will give them the information necessary to take proactive measures to ensure their student is getting their needs met. This is also their chance to meet early on with the IEP team and teacher to tell them about their student’s special strengths and needs.

How do you recommend parents prepare for IEP or 504 meetings, so they get the information they need?

I always suggest parents do the following before an IEP or 504 meeting: read the student’s current IEP or 504 plan, review the IDEA Notice of Parent’s Procedural  Safeguards manual, review Tips for Effective Self-Advocacy, and prepare an agenda for the meeting that includes specific questions and concerns.

A lot of questions may come up once they’ve reviewed the IEP/504, but, in addition to those, I recommend parents include the following questions in the agenda:

  • What changes have been or should be made to the IEP or 504 and how does this impact my student’s services?
  • What does each day look like for my student? Namely, how are the academic supports provided?
  • Are there any needed or identified new assessments, such as academic/social emotional/pre-vocational tests, that my child needs administered early in the year? Reviewing progress monitoring data, such as T-CAP scores, Aims Web scores, or behavior data logs, will help parents identify what and if their child needs assessments. 
  • How does my student’s IEP or 504 plan services align with Response to Instruction Intervention supports? 

What can parents do today to prepare their child for the start of school in a couple weeks?

Starting your child’s transition to school can begin well before school starts. These are my favorite recommendations for parents to do to make their child more comfortable with a new teacher and environment: 

  • Tour the school – Call the school a couple weeks before school starts to set up a tour for your child. It can really help for your child to find their classroom, meet their teacher, and become familiar with a new environment. If you can’t get a full personal tour in time, take your child to tour the outside of the school on your own or attend an open house.
  • Take photos – It can ease children’s nerves and transition to continue to revisit their connection to a new environment. So while you’re touring the school be sure to take their photo in front of the school, with their new teacher, and in their classroom. Post these in your home for them to see and talk about them often.
  • Start a routine – Begin transitioning your child into a schedule that will mimic that of the school year with earlier bedtimes and morning schedules, so they’re comfortable with the process when school starts.

If you have a question or concern about the implementation of your child’s IEP or 504 or think their Functional Behavioral Assessment (FBA) or Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP) is not appropriate, please contact DRT’s intake team at 800-342-1660 or

Disability Rights Tennessee (DRT) is a nonprofit legal services organization that provides free legal advocacy services to protect the rights of Tennesseans with disabilities.

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