TIPS FOR A SUCCESSFUL IEP MEETING
If your child receives special education services, by law he or she must have an Individualized Education Plan, or IEP. The IEP is a legal document that lists your child’s needs, a plan for the school to address those needs, and a method to measure your child’s progress. The IEP must include: a report of your child’s present level of performance; your child’s current educational goals; a list of supports, services, modifications and accommodations the school will provide for your child to help attain those goals; how and when the school will measure your child’s progress toward annual goals and transitional planning to help your child transition to life after high school (Stanberry, 2014-2015). These components will be determined in a meeting between you, the parent, and school officials. Parents often leave an IEP meeting feeling frustrated and unheard. The IEP is the district’s official offer of a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) for your child. By following a few important guidelines, you will leave the IEP meeting with a smile on your face knowing your child will receive the best possible plan for success.
1. Preparing for the Meeting
- Establish initial communication with the classroom teacher, principal, or special education teacher. It is important to build a positive rapport with at least one of these individuals before the meeting. It will make you feel more at ease, and it sets a collaborative tone for the meeting.
- Write down any information you feel is important, and prioritize the areas you wish to address. Notes will help you to ensure everything you wanted to discuss is covered. Determine which officials will be attending the meeting ahead of time. Walking into a room full of strangers can be intimidating. Knowing the people who will be attending will take the surprise out of the initial introductions.
- If you have pertinent documents you would like to share with school officials, it is best to send them copies before the meeting. This provides them with time to examine the information.
- By law, you should have a copy of the district’s reports in advance of the IEP meeting.
- Don’t allow the district to offer you only one potential date for the meeting. Don’t be intentionally stubborn, but to a point the district has to work around your schedule.
2. During the Meeting
- Go into the meeting with a positive, open mindset. It is easy to allow emotions to cloud your purpose. Understand that you are part of a collaborative team working for your child’s best interests. You are an integral part of the IEP team, and you should feel empowered by that fact.
- The law states that parents must be afforded “meaningful participation” in the IEP meeting. Ask for any special accommodations you may need, such as an interpreter. It is important that you are as comfortable as possible and understand everything related to the meeting.
- When you are discussing your child, it is important to realize you know him or her better than anyone else. Make sure you personalize the meeting by discussing your child’s specific strengths and needs. Give a face to the name on the IEP.
- The school professionals will most likely have data about your child with which you are unaware. It is important to accept this information to understand the entire scope of your child’s strengths and needs. School officials may see things you don’t see at home. Keep an open mind to their information.
- As the parent, it is your job to stay focused on the final outcome and not the process. It is the professionals’ responsibility to come up with a plan to achieve that outcome. If you do not trust the plan, you can contest it in a due process proceeding, either on your own or with the assistance of an attorney.
- Ask questions about anything that is unclear. Educators and administrators may use unfamiliar jargon and acronyms. Ask them to clarify any confusing terms or concepts.
- Bring another person, such as a spouse, friend, or other relative, along to the meeting for support. They can also provide a second set of ears in the event you forget something that has been said. It is a gray area as to whether or not you may make an audio recording of the meeting. Notify the school before the meeting as to who will be accompanying you and that you plan to record the meeting, if you are doing so. If you do choose to record meeting, the district will probably also record the meeting, even they allow the meeting to be recorded at all.
- Include your child in an age appropriate manner. At age 16, your child has the legal right to be included in the meeting. At 18, he or she will be the adult making the decisions for their transition after high school. If your child is younger, come to the meeting with a list of their concerns or thoughts to be shared with the group. You are your child’s second best advocate; they are their own best advocate. It is important to have your child involved in the decision making process when appropriate.
- You should ask to take the IEP home before signing it after having taken the time to properly review and digest everything that you have just learned. This is an especially good idea if you were undecided about anything, or if you simply want to review it with fresh eyes the next day. Before leaving the meeting, you should sign the area that states you attended the meeting. Signing the attendance page does not bind you to anything, it just says that you were in fact present.
3. After the Meeting
- If you have concerns about anything listed in the document after reviewing the IEP, return the unsigned IEP with a separate document listing those concerns. Contact officials and reschedule another IEP meeting to address your concerns. If you have signed the IEP, but you have new concerns or something is unclear, contact officials for clarification. It is important to note that you may withdraw your permission for all or part of the IEP at any time. You may also ask for a new IEP meeting at any time to discuss new terms. The IEP is a fluid document that can and should be modified and revisited whenever appropriate.
- Discuss the IEP with your child. It is important to acknowledge your child’s areas of strength and any progress that he or she has already made. Review the goals and objectives of the IEP so your child knows what is expected of them and what measures will be taken to help them achieve those ends.
- Keep your copy of the IEP in a safe, easily accessible area. You should be receiving periodic updates on your child’s progress, which you can keep filed with the IEP. Review the information regularly to ensure the goals and objectives are being met.
- Keep an open dialogue with the teachers and special education teachers. Work together with the educators to help your child achieve their goals. Incorporate activities at home that reinforce the areas being addressed in school.
Final Thoughts on Successful IEP Meetings:
Preparation is key to a successful IEP meeting. Attending the meeting armed with a positive attitude, documentation, and questions will facilitate a positive experience. Keeping a collaborative mindset and knowing your rights and your child’s rights will ensure a productive outcome implemented to help your child flourish. It is important to note that by no means must you accept what the district offers without protest. If you feel as though the IEP is inadequate and/or inappropriate, consult with a special education attorney. Most attorneys that specialize in school law will gladly take a look at your child’s IEP for no charge and give you their opinion as to whether or not your child is being denied the Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) that they are entitled to by law.
To learn more about your legal rights when it comes to IEPs , give Montgomery Law a call at 215-650-7563.
Note, nothing in this article or on this website is to be considered medical or legal advice.
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