Episode 94: Shelly Kenow
By Cameron Suorsa
March 6, 2022
0:00 / 32:07
Mothers of Misfits00:01

Welcome to the Mothers of Misfits podcast. Join me for conversations about how to advocate for our kids in a one size fits all world. Be sure to subscribe, so you never miss an episode!

Emily Melious00:17

Welcome back everyone to another amazing episode of Mothers of Misfits. I'm really excited to introduce you to our guest, Shelly Kenow, today. She is a mom, a former special education teacher, a wife, and now an education consultant and master IEP coach. She helps families, teachers and school districts make the world better for all, which I love.

One IEP at a time. And don't worry if you have no idea what those letters mean, we're going to address that first thing. She's also the author of Those Who "Can't..." Teach. And I have to tell all of you that Shelly is a saint because we have actually go through a just a tremendous amount of tech problems before this.

And, um, she has just been smiling through it. So, Shelly, thank you for coming on and thank troubles and troubles technical troubles and inabilities.

Shelly Kenow01:10

I'm happy to be here. Thanks for having me

Emily Melious01:12


What is an IEP?

So we're talking about a subject that matters a lot, hits home to so many families. But let's get the jargon and acronyms out of the way. What is an IEP?

Shelly Kenow01:27

Yeah so, in education, probably as in all fields, we use lots of acronyms. This one is the most important one. It stands for Individualized Education Program. Sometimes the P is interchanged with plan. So if you hear somebody. Individualized Education Plan. It's the same thing. And what it does is drives the specially designed instruction for the student who becomes eligible through an evaluation process that can take months, unfortunately. It can be about by either the parents or the school district. All of this is driven by the federal education law, and I'm not a lawyer. I just want to say that upfront, because I direct to the law. That's where I get my guidance from. But anything that I say is strictly just my understanding of the law and advice, it's not me practicing the law and that law is the individuals with disabilities education act, or IDEA.

Emily Melious02:24

Such a good point. Yes. We, uh, are not attorneys, not medical professionals. Of course. We're just here to be helpful, but. You will want to consult with the appropriate professionals, make sure you that you're checking with the laws in your state, or if out of the US of course your, your local laws and what's, uh, guiding your, your particular school district.

Cause I think even within a state, you can find differences. So that just makes it more complex and nuanced, and tough right? Um, so, and, and something else that I want to point out because my son has a GIEP so a gifted IEP plan.

And I found that some people don't realize that the IEP process and resource can apply to a child who's anywhere outside of that sort of average for lack of a better word grouping. So if they have special needs, because they might be struggling or they have a disability or they have physical or emotional needs, but it could also be because they're excelling, they need to step out of their level of classroom and go to a higher level of classroom for certain subjects, really is anywhere outside the average. And maybe to a higher level or a

a lower level, whatever that means for your child.

Shelly Kenow03:43

Yeah, absolutely. And that's an excellent point because so often people do not associate gifted special education. It is covered under the law, it's not a technical eligibility, but it is within the special education law. Because again, it goes back to that specially designed instruction. So as you said, it is a student needs something outside of the general population, then the IEP might be the appropriate documents for

Where to start when your child needs something different?
Emily Melious04:12

So if I'm a parent. I'm thinking, I think my child needs specific. I think they need something outside of the general population. Where do we start?

Shelly Kenow04:26

So how you would kind of know that. Um, you know, if you're talking to your child's teacher and you're like, Hey, you know, there's this issue and, and that's a once and done, or maybe it's a, okay, we did it this year and oh, now it's, mid-year the following year. And I need to go talk to the teacher. You probably don't need to be concerned.

However, if you're talking to your child's teachers frequently or every year and working in accommodations for your child, Teachers are wonderful. I am one. I love my teacher friends still. And so I'm, I'm not going to say that teachers, um, are doing anything wrong. We tend to over help, if anything, um, we, we just automatically accommodate without sometimes even realizing that we're accommodating.

And so, if you know that too, that your child is getting a lot of support from a particular grade level teacher or a particular subject teacher. You might still want to talk to them about having your child evaluated for special education. Because again, I've run across this where if a child is getting a lot of accommodations from one grade level that's really helping them be successful and access that general education curriculum, and then they go the following year and they're not getting those things. Then they don't have the same benefits, but if they have that IEP that would carry from one year to the next year.

And so they would go through this whole evaluation process and how that happens is if you, as the parent feel, you know, in your gut, like I said, you've gone through that, talking to the teachers multiple times episodes, then you can request in writing, make sure you in writing.

That your child be evaluated for special education. And then what happens is the school gets that note and they have to respond to you within, I'm pretty sure it's 10 school days. They have to respond to you as to whether or not they're going to go ahead with the evaluation. If they decide to go ahead with the evaluation, then you will be called in to have a meeting and you'll talk about, okay, what do we know about my son or my daughter?

Okay. What do we need to know about this child and where are we going to get that information? And those are called different things. In some states they're called some states they're called domain meetings. Other states they're called a pre IEP meetings. I there's just a lot of them.

Emily Melious06:49

So many names, acronyms, it's hard to keep track.

Shelly Kenow06:52

It is. It really is. And even myself, as a master IEP coach, with families all across the country, they'll, they'll even teachers, um, you know, we'll throw out acronyms and I'm like, I don't know what that means. And so if I don't know what it means, having been an educator for all the years that I was, how is a parent who's first coming into this, supposed to know what that means.

So we have to get better about that, about remembering that people don't know what we're saying. When we use all those acronyms. So, um, they will call you and you'll have that meeting. And at that meeting is where you will give official permission to go ahead with the evaluation. The evaluation happens. Um, they then have, and again, this is a timeline state, uh, decision. In my state in Illinois, they have 60 calendar days. I'm sorry, 60 school days, 60 school days. Um, in other states it's just 60 calendar days. And they have that do amount of time to all the different evaluations that they need to do. how they do is, if you are looking at related services, then those professionals would come in and work with your child. You probably won't know, because it's just how it fits into their schedule they're going to come in and do that type of evaluation. And then you'll have, um, usually a pretty formal type of evaluation usually a through evaluation a school psychologist or like that who can administer certain tests, um, cognitive tests, behavioral tests, that kind of thing to determine, once all of that information is gathered and done. Then you come back together for one more meeting, because we love meetings in education. Not really, what the law says we have to do. So.

Emily Melious08:27

Everybody is just trying to do it by the book. Which is good, but yes, it can like there are a lot meetings to you're going did, what your going to But it's important to know the I'm so glad you're taking us through so we know what expect. Okay we those evaluations done, then we have another meeting to do what?

Shelly Kenow08:50

Then you talk as a team about all the results of all those evaluations. And then at that meeting, you determine as a team, you as parent are an equal member of the team,

you are the expert in your child, hold on to that, accept that roll into it. Do whatever you have to do really be the expert on your child. Everyone else at the table is an expert in their field, whether that's administration, psychologist, the educator, the related service personnel, whoever that is they're experts at what they do. You are an expert in person that they are talking about and that is. I just can't emphasize enough. Because you're going to be there. You were there before the school got involved, you will be there after the school is involved. You're going to have all of that information that they don't have. They have access to it, but I guarantee you, they don´t have the time go back and look through everything.

Even if they did, they still, aren't going to get it in the exact same way that you, the parent is going to get it. So then once eligibility is determined, if it's determined that the child is eligible. There's a couple of options. Some states go ahead and Illinois, we just always would write the IEP while at least in my districts, write the IEP if necessary, right at that meeting. If not, um, there are other other states that they don't have to do it. They have another 60 days. again, those timelines were so scketchy, um, to write the actual IEP. And so the way that the IEP is written, is again, it's a legal document. And it is formulated by the entire team. And within that is that specially designed instruction that specially designed instruction is written based upon the present levels of performance.

And in present levels of performance that talks about all those evaluation results. And talks about exactly what your child is able to currently. There is also something in there that gets overlooked, not given enough attention, and that's your section as the parent It's called the parent. It's called the parent concerns or the parent input or the parental something. It's, it's worded a little bit differently across the country, but basically it's what, what are you concerned about?

What are you worry about? I have a whole training that I do on that, because it is so important for you again, because you're that expert. You have all the prior knowledge, you know what your child and you are thinking can happen in the future. And you know, what's happening in the present. You want to have something in that section that says these are my concerns.

Even in the situation like your child, with your child being gifted, there are probably social concerns that you have along with that. Because Oftentimes, not always, but oftentimes a child who has gifted a lot of anxiety and a lot of social. Um,what am I trying to...

Emily Melious11:48

Insecurity, concerns.

Shelly Kenow11:50

Insecurity, yeah.

Emily Melious11:53

That may not be with their biological peers. I know my son is often with kids who are older than him, because that's where he is educationally. But that´s, a concerned socially. So excellent point. I love that you're encouraging us to think in a well-rounded way as we give our feedback and concerns, because we might jump to the educational piece, but it's bigger than I hope every listener you up on that I'm super interested in I I a parent, and going through this this experience,

I felt like just total newbie, cause I was. I felt like I was drinking from a fire hose. I had no idea what I was doing. I was trying really hard to get input from other experts, to read, get. help my first time much I don't a tremendous from Whereas the school system has gone through this hundreds thousands of times. And and they they have a much better understanding of the rules what's possible, what's not. And feel like it's uneven as you enter this process Um but it's just I love that your us to be that advocate that we are to be confident into that be strong in that and make sure that we're fairly representing our viewpoint because we are in equal at that figurative and literal table

Shelly Kenow13:16

Right in some instances are your child only voice because at a certain age your child is required to be invited You can invite your child with you at any age If you think that they are able to understand what's going on and have input and can handle hearing because unfortunately at these IEP meetings we are talking about they're not perfect parts parts them And so you know if they're able to hear that and be okay hearing Um at any age they can come but after 14 and a half uh they usually start inviting them by the school district inviting them Um and so yeah making sure that you're thinking of it cause I and IEP is purpose is to provide free appropriate public education to meet the child's unique needs them for further education employment academic piece It is the whole child. So you do want to be thinking about those things when you're writing up that parent input statement and you don't just want to think about the year that you're doing it want to think about five years years 20 30 years even And that's really difficult when you have a kindergarten and a first grader, like how do I know what they're going to want to do when they're 30 or 20 or you know. But it's just it's just getting that started the parent input just like the IEP itself living document is changeable You can change it every year if you want to change your input every year which I personally think you should and so yeah don't ever think that oh I put it down once It's going to be forever.

Emily Melious15:02

bring that up that that you to do some overlooked underused not a full capacity I mean I thought for a long time that your annual IEP was it And you get everything in there that you want or you have to wait a year which is not at all True So can you talk us through some of those misunderstandings that parents often have.

Shelly Kenow15:33

Process and you've been determined that your child has whatever they have is their eligibility at least once a year it says it at least once a year, .The school district has to call a meeting in order to go over it and make sure that all accurate information is in there ,that current information is in there that's the time when you can change goals and objectives for the next year. You can change related service minutes or uh specially designed instruction minutes. You can go through through and change pretty much anything in there they have to do that at least once a year. But if you as the parent are like, something doesn't feel right or you know I think they've already mastered this goal, why we are we going to have the school continue to work on it, when they could be working on something? Else I want to call a meeting. You absolutely have the right to call a meeting every month I wouldn't advise it, but you have the right call We than one meeting.

Emily Melious16:30

We have to make sure that we are onering the paternship with the school district, but, yeah, to your point, you have that right. Its just important to know the options that we have because of the year partnership sometimes how you thought the IEP was going to be implemented might be different or just for to no fault of anyone's it's just not it's not it's not panning out how you wanted it to but you don't have to wait for that next year meeting you can call a meeting right now.

Shelly Kenow17:08

This was happening or we change this without having to call the full IEP team Cause there are some things that you can do that are called IEP amendments you just add that in. And then uh the special ed teacher makes sure that everyone who was on the team a copy of it and is aware of the amendment but it wasn't something that had to be decided by the entire team. So you can get some things done without having a full meeting if you need to have something discussed and you need everyone at the meeting everyone on the team at the meeting you can absolutely call that. Excuse me. And every three years that full evaluation, formal evaluation ,will happen at least again at least every three years if you and the school decide that that needs to happen years after two years you can ask for that to happen After two years you don't have to wait for the three but the law says and again not a lawyer The law says that it has to be done at at a minimum three years.

Emily Melious18:12

Now says evaluation by law and the determination is that your child no longer needs an IEP. Could that be revoked without your consent?

Shelly Kenow18:28

You You prove so to the child is every year. there has to be a need and it has to be able to be a verifiable Um, that's what the law says. That's to. protect All kinds of students because, and school districts, because unfortunately, you know, there are people who are I telling needs to be in the school district kid they need to be in special ed and they in special ed and didn't really need to be in there. So it is something that has to be proven. But can't just be taken out from underneath a family. There would have to be that fully process to my then the together and a team that that need that's students out of the need for special education Um There is one eligibility that sort of ends around age nine and that's called a developmental delay so a lot of kids if they have something early on and they're getting a lot of services and support the developmental delay is is exactly that it's that maybe in a couple of years the development will catch to speak to the age level and the ability level of the peers of that age then they will I've I've had multiple students that have happened to I was not ever completely.

Emily Melious19:59

Well like your perspective on I as parent feel Think about that often is the goal have to need accommodations get them to a place where they're thriving inside of the normal classroom And um I'm glad to be reminded of that What about approving We are offered offered that the annual know we're across the here No no felt I in that moment that like there's what's a want to be the You parent so there's there's absolutely social pressure I don't think there's anything Um malice somebody making us do something somebody do but you know the papers said across here sign here to approve Do we sign to like speak now or forever Hold your peace Like approve it there Or we lose our opportunity or what's that Can we think about it Can we come back with feedback What's our what are rights?

Shelly Kenow21:08

Yeah. So as far as that goes, um, you do have, that days to a have signature.

That signature, the IEP is going to go into affect anyway, then you have options and avenues to go down to. fight What the school has said without your consent, so to speak. But there is always a sign in page, which is everybody at the meeting signs in, because the school's way of saying, look, we invited the parent and the parents said they were coming and they showed up and here's our proof.

That is usually done at the very beginning of the meeting signature that you're talking about usually happens around the end after the whole IEP has been written and everyone at the, at the table, or hopefully everyone at the table or is on board with what's going on. And then they say, okay, are you good all of these things If you are go ahead and sign it If you're not even if you just want to say I just want 24 hours to just absorb it all because there is a ton of information thrown out a person in these meetings for that reason I'm going to talk about bringing people but yeah even hours and think this that and the things that I said are in here, um, and the things that we agreed upon, or, you know, I just, and, you have the absolute right to do that.

Emily Melious22:52

There is because again, us It's we don't do long every day okay. That's And across from the table takeawayaway likely going to say, great, no problem. Let us know when you feel comfortable, you did allude to bringing guests. So how does that work? I did not know that was possible. A little bit later in my experience. Um, and I also know there's a lot of other people at the table that we didn't invite per se.

We're happy to and how does work do you know who's gonna be there?

Shelly Kenow23:26

So you as a parent should get a

notification of conference. Now, again, the law is weird. Um, and I, I love the law, but I hate the law. Um, I hated studying the law because it's like, oh, here's a part. But then that is connected to this part. That's 300 pages later. And then that's connected to this part over here.

That's 250 pages sooner. Um, and so what the law says is they have to notify you at least once all that they have to notify you. However, if you dig further into the law, it says that hold the meeting without you present As long as they have done due diligence to notify you and work with you about attending meeting So how I was taught and that I was actually taught by a due process hearing officer is you send at least three notifications conference you send them differently So maybe one is by a phone call One by sending the note with the child and one is by Um so that at least you know you're showing look I didn't I didn't send them all home with with the diligence.

Emily Melious24:36


Shelly Kenow24:38


Right and then on that notification it will tell you exactly who the school is inviting I say exactly it could just be the title of the person not the actual person's name because if they put a name in there and that person doesn't show up there's a whole other thing that has to happen so they sh they have to tell them exactly who they are inviting don't they are things that you can people show up that list and were on the list to will steps.

Emily Melious25:16

Have to have you back and I hope everybody listening seeks you out And we'll talk about how to do that at the at the end of this conversation because yeah this is just tip of the iceberg stuff but I'm learning so much let's just uh But was Yeah I was going

say so how about us What

Who can you bring to your IEP meeting?

Who can we bring? Can we bring people?

Shelly Kenow25:38

Yeah absolutely You absolutely can bring anyone that you want The law asks that the person be either knowledgeable in your child special education or the perfect is if they're knowledgeable in both and you do not have to tell them That you are bringing anyone And I would absolutely recommend that you especially to that very first meeting you're going to hear things I mean all the meetings that having a second set of eyes and ears and also somebody who's not as emotionally involved with the child as you are as the parent all the things that are going to be I think I mentioned it We're not talking about the best qualities about your child unfortunately if that was all we were talking about know I mean maybe in your situation with gifted a little bit different but the majority IEPs you know it's it's not we're not we're talking about deficits you know have someone there that can hear and see things that you are also hearing and seeing but maybe you're not comprehending because your emotions are raised or it's there's just so much of it So you can bring myself as an educational advocate Um I mean I can't believe I just said advocate cause I usually use that word about myself educational consultant master IEP coach you can bring a family You can bring your best friend you can bring an advocate or a lawyer I don't advise that to that very first meeting Cause that probably won't a

Emily Melious27:14

wisely because

Shelly Kenow27:15


Emily Melious27:16

create impression don't want to force Come the


are partnership with those teachers but that school district if with an position might you Um it's a little bit of that dance And so I think I agree with you that something to be reserved for when and if you need it you know if you're feeling like not being heard or you're are not working out or your rights aren't being honored. Somehow the process is being abused.

That's when it's a good time to engage those folks and you can engage them privately. In fact, I think that's a great idea. So you can understand what are the laws of the state? What are my rights? I know I'm in Pennsylvania. I know that they have a resource where you can call and ask for help. Um, that's great too, so that you are more confident, but in terms of bringing them to the meeting, who that can, that can set a tone that we didn't intend to.

Shelly Kenow28:27

Right. And me as as a master IEP coach what I come to the how I'm different that's word advocate came out of my mouth because typically advocate starts like adversarial and they actually usually are together districts And I'm still I still am finding this as a coach even because the same typically the come in more okay we're you're doing all these bla but not how I have an IEP that is appropriate best The law only requires appropriate another whole conversation so um making sure that the the IEP is appropriate for the child even though the parents hire me the child is really who my focus is who I am trying to get everyone at the table to do what is going to help this child reach their fullest potential And um I know I hope that at some point You won't you feel like you you don't have you annually still going to be with you district every day or weekly or quarterly because your child is there.

Everyday I want to make that relationship a positive relationship because there. I'm not, I don't want to come in and cause problems for you and then walk out the door and leave you in the wake. I want to come in make it as as possible. But i´m not saying it's going to be all rainbows and unicorns, but is sort of my my

Emily Melious30:28

Well, and I just get that impression from you and how you carry yourself that you're good at executing on that goal and creating those mutually beneficial relationships and collaborations. And I have learned so much, and again, we could go on and on and on and on, and I'm sure there are so many questions from our listeners, which by the way, if you have questions, just send them out on our Facebook page on Instagram email.

Us Submit them on the website. We're happy to, um, have Shelly back or, uh, whatever we can do to help the answer to these questions we love hearing from you, but Shelly did generously provide an IEP meeting checklist to our listeners. And what we're going to do is provide a direct link for you to get a copy of that.

In the episode insiders, those are the newsletters we send out every Tuesday when we publish a new episode. So just go to MothersOfMisfits.com Scroll to the bottom of the page. Enter your email address. It's. really That fast and you can be sure to get your hands on that IEP meeting checklist. Cause that, that sounds hugely valuable.

Thank you so much for your time and your wisdom. Shelly, you have helped so many of us better navigate the IEP process and I'm sure for those that want some extra help, you'll be hearing from them too.

Shelly Kenow31:44

I hope so that, that is my goal is to help everybody, like you said, at the beginning, making the world better for all one IEP at a time.

Mothers of Misfits31:53

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