It is not uncommon for parents to think of Individualized Education Plan (IEP) meetings with anxiety and dread. While parents may be pleased that the school district provides special services, they sometimes dread the meetings needed to design these programs. As parents, they tend to feel alone, and find it difficult to speak up and disagree with trained professionals who don’t always seem open to questions and ideas. Below are tips to make it easier for parents to navigate and participate in IEP meetings.
Look at the current IEP. Think about what is working well and what isn’t. Review recent evaluations and assessment information that you have. Do you have copies of the most recent assessment information done by the school district? If not, ask for it. Make a list of questions you want to ask at the IEP meeting and points you would like to make.
If possible, both parents should attend an IEP meeting. It is also very helpful to take someone else as an advocate or support person because it can be hard to advocate for yourself. Having someone to brainstorm with you ahead of time, take notes in the meeting and ask questions can reduce your anxiety and help you participate more effectively.
Look at the notice inviting you to the IEP meeting. The notice should tell you who the school district intends to have at the IEP meeting. Are there additional individuals that you would like to attend the meeting? You have the right as a parent to invite other individuals who have knowledge or expertise about your child’s special needs. For example, does your child receive speech therapy or other therapies from a provider in private practice? Consider asking that professional to attend the meeting to make recommendations to the other members of the IEP team.
Are you and the others you would like to attend the meeting available at the time scheduled? You have the right to arrange the meeting at a mutually convenient time. If the meeting is not scheduled at a time that works for you, you should contact the appropriate school staff to reschedule.
While at the meeting, make sure you ask all of your questions. Educational professionals often speak in their own language. If you don’t understand something that is said, don’t hesitate to ask that it be restated in more understandable terms. It is part of an educator’s job to communicate effectively to parents and others. It is important that all team members understand what is being recommended in the meeting.
As the parent, you are a member of the IEP team and as the parent, you have important information about your child’s strengths and needs that should be shared with other members of the IEP team. While wanting to provide appropriate services, school staff can sometimes forget whose child it is. You are not just the parent. You have an important perspective to share, and you do not have to just agree with what other members of the team recommend.
Special education is a specially designed instruction to meet the unique needs of a child with a disability. If the needs of other students or the administrative needs of the school staff creep into the discussion, the meeting can get off track and result in a poor plan. While these other needs may be important, they should not influence your child’s IEP. The IEP should be designed to meet the unique needs of your student with a disability.
Make sure issues are discussed sufficiently and the meeting does not end without completing the task. Sometimes, it takes longer to complete the IEP than the time the school has allotted. For example, an IEP meeting may be scheduled from 3 to 5 pm, but the discussion can become rushed as 5 pm approaches. Or sometimes the meeting runs long and individuals cannot stay for the entire time. There is nothing wrong with scheduling another meeting to complete the IEP when all the needed team members can be available.
Try not to take comments about your child personally or encounter disagreement with anger. You may be justified in your anger, but the views of parents who become too angry can sometimes be discounted. So, try to keep your anger in check and keep cool.
Review the IEP document to ensure that everything agreed to in the meeting is actually written into the document.
The IEP is the most important tool parents have when their child is receiving special education services. However, in order for the tool to be effective, parents must learn how to navigate the process and successfully participate in IEP planning meetings.
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