It Takes a Village: An IEP Experiment Pays Off in Michigan


Written by Shelley Cates, Kylie Sharp and Melissa Cohen, Michigan Hands & Voices

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be a fly on the wall of another family’s Individual Educational Plan (IEP) meeting? Have you ever wished you knew what they were asking for, what they were getting, what worked, and what fell flat? Three families decided to stop wondering and ask out loud. What happened was a marvelous example of cooperation that benefited everyone.

This is the story of three kindergarten students in the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (DHH) program in Oakland County, Michigan. These three children; two girls and one boy, are as unique as three kids can be, each with different levels of hearing loss and different specific needs. One child has bilateral cochlear implants, one uses hearing aids, while the other child does not benefit from amplification. Our families are unique too, and come from three corners of northern Oakland County. We recognize that what worked for the three of us may not be suitable for everyone and/or every situation.

We came to realize as we began preparing our IEP goals for first grade that what one family chose for their child had a direct and profound impact on the other two children. Nobody expects to get a call asking for the details of your child’s IEP, but that is how it all began. There was a huge release of anxiety to find that we were all on the same page and desperately needed to know what the other parents were thinking and planning.

After discussing our common goals, concerns and dreams for our children, we decided to hold a joint IEP meeting. It gave the faculty the opportunity to speak freely about the whole child, especially how the child will be affected by the other DHH children’s placements. This can be difficult to do if the other parents are not present:  confidentiality concerns restrict important sharing of information. We were able to overcome this by the three of us being present, allowing the information to be disclosed.

There is strength in numbers too, and being able to advocate for each other was another benefit of holding a joint IEP. Besides, who can advocate better for you than a parent in the same situation who has a vested interest in the outcome of your child’s IEP?  We quickly realized that as the other two children succeed and do well, so does my child. There are so many reasons why this is true, and we could probably write another entire article on that subject alone. 

We ended up with three IEPs that related to specific needs of each individual child, but were greater than the sum of their parts because of the cooperation of three families. Together our requests made sense; collectively we were able to confidently express our goals.

Looking back, now, over our children’s first grade experience, all three of us feel great satisfaction with how well our children are progressing.  Staying in constant contact with each other, being transparent and developing a wonderful trust has reaped great rewards for our children’s educational experience. 

We parents of deaf and hard of hearing children don’t often have a rich resource of local peers that we can tap into for ideas, advice and support. Many of us live very far from where our children go to school and it becomes difficult to feel as though you belong to a community. But don’t let that stop you! Reach out and find others who share in your common goals for your children. Michigan Hands & Voices (MI H&V) has become a great avenue for us to find other parents and grow our network of resources.

Teachers and staff rarely come to IEP meetings alone: they have a team. Their team is designed to benefit the child. Why can’t parents do the same thing? Having the support of other parents gave us the strength to honor the quiet requests of our children and follow through on our gut feelings of knowing what was right.  ~

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