Parent Leader Spotlight: Better Communication about IEPs

Amy Boyle is using her experience with IEPs to help other families and teachers.

4/5/2021
Amy Boyle is a 2020 graduate of Parents Who Lead, a proven parent leadership training course that JPEF offers in partnership with Duval County Public Schools, the Jacksonville Public Library, and the Kids Hope Alliance. At the end of the course, parents lead a community impact project to advocate for students across Duval County. Amy's project focused on better communicating with teachers about a student's IEP, or individual education plan. Now, she's working with other Parents Who Lead graduates to advocate for students with special needs.

 

We caught up with her recently to learn more about her work.
Tell us about your project through Parents Who Lead.

 

My project was called Learn Without Limits. There are almost 19,000 children under the ESE umbrella in DCPS and have an Individual Education Plan, or IEP.  An IEP a document that contains important educational information about the child who learns differently or has physical limitations. Both my children are dyslexic, with their own various co-morbid disorders, and both have IEPs. The category for qualifying for an IEP, includes 13 categories under which a student is eligible to receive the protections and services promised by this law qualifying for an IEP: autism; deaf-blindness; deafness; emotional disturbance; hearing impairment; intellectual disability; multiple disabilities; orthopedic impairment; other health impairment; specific learning disability; speech or language impairment; traumatic brain injury; or visual impairment (including blindness).
A dyslexic child qualifies for an IEP under SLD, or Specific Learning Disability, but there are a number of categories within that distinction....Dyslexia, Dysgraphia, Dyscalculia, Auditory processing disorder, and Nonverbal learning disability.  I think as a teacher it could become bewildering to not know what SLD a child has, yet be preparing to teach them.
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What makes it hard for teachers to understand a child's IEP?

 

One of my child's IEPs was 54 pages the last time it was printed, and the accommodations are listed on three different, non-consecutive pages. This can make finding the information very difficult for even the most experienced professionals. think it is important to be transparent about your child's struggles -- it helps the teacher to know how to differentiate instruction to best help your child. In other words, it's important to inform the teachers with as much information as possible so teachers can know best how to teach them. 
Every school year I have had to fight for my children to get basic accommodations and it sounds like a broken record of noncompliance, but the information is really tough to sort through. So through all this, I created an 'All About Me' page, which you can see here. 
I intended it to be used as an IEP cover sheet. This one page summarizes the child services and accommodations into a concise description for the child's teacher to read at the start of the school year, and any time it is updated.  
My vision of the page was to create a tool to give the teacher(s) information about a child in an easy to use "cheat sheet" with sections for parents and the child to add information from their point of view.
How do you usually share it with your children's teachers? 

 

Every year I send an email introducing my child and myself and this is how I start it...
My child is staffed SLD, which I realize does not effectively articulate his challenges, so I am giving you the reasons behind him qualifying for an IEP. I believe that being transparent allows a teacher to know how to properly accommodate and serve a child in their class. You may have new ideas to try and I am always willing to share what has and has not worked in the past. Please let me know if there are ever any tricks or accommodations that may be recommended by you that are currently not on his IEP. I am your biggest ally and partner with you in my child’s education. 
How are you working to expand the use of this one-pager to reach more children and teachers?

 

Initially interest was expressed by the DOE ESE Bureau Chief and she wanted to implement the idea on all IEPs statewide, but they changed out the Chief this year and I am not familiar with the current Bureau Chief of ESE. I met with DCPS ESE in the first part of January and I have been working with someone in our county to get a report written in the software system, FOCUS, to pull the information.
You recently reached out about JPEF's new research that describes the positive impact of black male teachers on students. Can you share more about that?

 

Both of my sons have had black male educators that helped close the opportunity gap for them, and they both have learning challenges. My youngest son, Evan, has Mr. Seymore at Mandarin Middle School, this year for Algebra. He teaches 8th graders. One day I was checking Evan out early and I saw Mr. Seymore in the hall. He said he just wanted to tell me, as his mom, that he was polite and wished he had more students like him in his class, and for a mother, there is no higher compliment! I explained that Evan allows anxiety to overcome him and shuts down, especially if he is called out in front of anyone. Mr. Seymore explained to Evan what anxiety was...a need to control something....that his anxiety was creating a need to control, and how changing your thought process and using his anxiety as a tool to prepare for the challenge at hand instead of trying to control the outcome, he could learn how to use his anxiety and dyslexia to work for him, even in a math setting. Evan had realized that day that Mr. Seymore was on his team, he met Evan where he was, he was struggling in math, but I think it was from his anxiety of not understanding it as fast as he thought he should, not the actual subject material. After that day, I saw a profound change in Evan when he realized Mr. Seymore 'got' him. Evan's math grade is now in the low A to B range, it was D range prior to, so here is proof that kids work for a teacher they know believes in them! Last week a 7th grade student told me she was hoping she gets him next year, so he is doing something right!
How did Parents Who Lead help accelerate your leadership?

The word leader was not ever a word that I would have used to describe myself before taking the program. I feel like the program has taught me how to effectively use information over emotion (I/E) to communicate. It has allowed me to make connections to help my project grow, it gave me a seat at the table within our district, and gave me a group of people that partner with me and believe in my ideas. They all encouraged me along the way. It was very much like being back in a college class with a professor, but this time I have a team that has a vested interest in my success. I actually looked into a doctoral program in ESE Education Leadership to further my own personal growth, it's something that has been on my mind. I look for ways to gain a better understanding on how to effectively advocate for children in exceptional education. I feel like it empowered me to be a leader and take my advocacy to the next level.

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