As we enter a new year, many school districts begin the process of reviewing and renewing students’ Individualized Educational Plan (IEP). These meetings are often emotional for parents, we see our children as the beautiful, talented children they are and want teachers and other school personnel to see them the same way. We want to make sure our children receive every opportunity to succeed in school and in life. Your child’s IEP meeting is an important step for setting up accommodations but for many parents it is intimidating and feels as if it is a battle of wits.
The following tips can help you create effective IEP meetings:
View your child’s teachers, the school psychologists and other school personnel as part of your child’s educational team. It is easy, especially if you have been through several meetings and don’t think the school is listening to you or meeting your child’s needs, to view the IEP team as “the enemy.” But this type of thinking will add more problems than it solves and may make the school personnel see you as the enemy. The educators in your child’s school want to see him succeed. They want him to do well even though you may sometimes have different ideas on how to get there. When everyone works together, as a team, your child benefits; keep this in mind at all times.
Learn about your child’s disability and special education laws. You know your child better than anyone but you also need to understand your child’s disability. Read articles, websites, books. Learn all you can and keep a list of what you have read to share with teachers and other members of the IEP team. Don’t stop with understanding your child’s disability; you also want to learn as much as possible about laws concerning special education. Wrightslaw (www.wrightslaw.com) offers a wealth of information and has conferences you can attend. Another organization, The Council of Parents, Advocates and Attorneys (www.copaa.org) also has information and an annual conference. The more you know about your child’s disability and special education laws, the better prepared you will be for the IEP meeting.
Be prepared. Have all the documentation you need to explain your child’s health and educational history. You should have copies of past and current school work, report cards and any medical documentation with diagnoses. Keep notes on all communications with teachers and keep copies with your documentation. Keep copies of any previous IEPs. If you have had your child assessed privately, keep copies of all evaluations. You may want to organize all material in a 3 ring binder so you have it accessible and organized during meetings.
Don’t go it alone. IEP meetings are intimidating. You are able to bring advocates, lawyers, therapists or other professionals to the IEP meeting to give further insight and information about your child’s educational needs. Be careful, though, if you bring an attorney with you for the first meeting may make school personnel leery of working with you. You may want to wait to see if you need an attorney. You are also able to bring a friend or family member for moral support. Having someone with you can help you stay more focused and calm during meetings.
Know your child’s strengths and weaknesses. The best educational setting doesn’t just address your child’s weaknesses but builds on his strengths. Understanding how your child learns, what his interests are and what areas he excels in is just as important as knowing what areas he needs extra help and support.
Assess your child’s progress. If your child had a previous IEP, specific goals are listed. Go over each goal to determine if your child has met these goals, and, if not, why not? Look over copies of recent school work, tests and assessments to find out if goals have been met. Talk with teachers, guidance counselors and other therapists and note their perspective on your child’s progress.
Understand what you want to accomplish. Under the law, schools are required to provide “a free and appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment.” This does not mean your child’s school must go above and beyond to “maximize your child’s potential.” The IEP process is meant to find a way to give your child an education, although, that doesn’t mean you and the school should not have high expectations, however, these expectations should be realistic. Make sure you are setting goals that are in your child’s best interests, not on your expectations or the school’s resources.
Keep an open mind and listen to the “other side.” There is nothing so emotional to a parent as their child and their child’s future. IEP meetings can sometimes get quite heated or you may feel defensive and angry about what the educators are saying. Take a deep breath and listen; you may learn something. At the very least, you will let everyone in the room know you respect them. Instead of giving an angry retort, restate what you think you heard to make sure you understand and then calmly state your position.
At the end of the meeting, make sure you have decided on a mode of communication between you and your child’s teachers. This may be via phone, email or another type of communication. Make sure all parties understand how often communication is to take place, for example, do you want a daily email or a weekly phone call? Go over what communications should consist of. This way, everyone understands exactly what is expected after the meeting is over.
“Tips for Preparing for an IEP Meeting,” Date Unknown, Linda Carter-Ferrier, Pathfinders For Autism
“Parent Guide – Chapter 6 – Individualized Education Programs (IEPS)” 2009, Illinois State Board of Education
Published On: January 03, 2013