YORK COUNTY, Va. (WAVY) — While most families have a long list of things to do to prepare students for the school year, families who have a student with a disability can have even more anxiety surrounding the first day.

IEP is short for “individualized education plan.” Special education experts suggests those who are new to the process learn as much as they can about the program.

They also recommend building relationships with the special education teacher and staff at the child’s school. Tracking a child’s progress along with their teacher is essential. 

Holly Sheffield with the York County School Division said attending meetings are important. If attending in person is not possible, she recommends requesting a virtual meeting. 

“Have a sense about what you want for your child. You are their expert,” Sheffield said. “You are their greatest advocate. We want students to be part of that process as well. You think of middle and high school, but even the littles have a sense of what works and doesn’t work for them. We need to make sure we are involving the child as much as possible.”

Educators stress that learning doesn’t stop at the end of the school day. Parents can check in with their medical provider about waivers that are available for their child at home.

The process can start as soon as they are identified as a person with a disability.

“We have them for seven hours a day, but sometimes they need in home services. They need ways to improve their life outside of those seven hours. Many of our students with disabilities or neurodivergent, they benefit from social activities outside of the school setting,” Sheffield said. 

Sheffield shared several helpful organizations listed below: 

Virginia Department of Education – https://www.doe.virginia.gov/programs-services/special-education/iep-instruction/individualized-education-program-iep

PEAT-C – https://peatc.org/

Dreamcatchers – https://dreamcatchers.org/

Exceptional Family Member Program for Military Families –https://www.militaryonesource.mil/special-needs/efmp/

SSEAC – https://www.doe.virginia.gov/data-policy-funding/virginia-board-of-education/board-committee-meetings/state-special-education-advisory-committee-sseac