IEP meetings hold a symbolic and practical position as the core of educational planning for students with disabilities. Parents can become nervous in anticipation of IEP meetings. This is especially true for parents who are new to specially education processes, but veteran parents can experience the same anxiety. So much seems to be riding on the meetings that many parents will worry that the fate of their children’s education cruxes on the outcomes. Parents worry about their children getting necessary services. They worry about whether or not they’ll understand the team discussion. Worrying can be beneficial, as it heightens awareness. Better than worrying is being prepared.
Parents can enter IEP meetings with confidence by performing some thoughtful preparation. This applies to the first IEP meeting for a child right up to the final meeting prior to graduation. The list below details some tips parents can use to prepare for effective, productive meetings.
1. Review the Evaluation – An IEP meeting won’t be happening unless an Evaluation or Reevaluation has been written at some point. Whether the upcoming IEP meeting is following a new Evaluation or is happening between Evaluations, parents should review the findings of the most recent Evaluation prior to the meeting. In particular, parents should focus on the performance levels found during that Evaluation for the sake of comparing these with the current levels reported in the next IEP. Some caution is necessary, because the same assessments might not be used during the interim between Evaluations. Also, expectations about progress need to be tempered by what is known about the level of any specific student’s delay.
Beyond looking at levels, parents can focus on recommendations made in the most recent Evaluations. The school should be acting on these, or should be able to provide evidence for having tried to do so. The recommendations in an Evaluation should inform the next two to three IEPs for a specific student. Thus, parents would be wise to know them.
2. Review the Previous/Current IEP – Parents should revisit the current or previous IEP prior to the meeting. Points of interest should include present levels, goals and objectives, and specially designed instruction (SDI). At the meeting, parents will want to inquire about changes (or lack of changes) in present levels, whether to maintain goals and objectives or move on to new ones, and which SDI pieces have been most effective along with what possible new SDI pieces could be considered. Generally, parents can use the current or previous IEP as a foundation for the next one.
3. Review any Progress Reports – Schools should be providing Progress Reports at whatever intervals the IEP Team had determined. Referring to these will be important for parents. They will want to ask what is working to promote progress, as well as why progress is lacking if that is the case.
4. Get Organized – Even in preparation for the first IEP meeting, the deluge of paperwork can make parents feel as though they are drowning. Keeping everything in one place and having a system of organization is crucial. Schools maintain classification file folders for special education documents. These typically are arranged by document and then chronologically per document with the newest on top. Parents could use a similar system of organization to facilitate communication while at the meeting table. Whatever system a parents chooses, some method of organizing the Permissions to Evaluate, Evaluations, Invitations to Participate, IEPs, NOREPs, and other documents is crucial to staying afloat.
5. Maintain Communication with Other Team Members – Leading up to the meeting, a proactive parent should keep in touch with the student’s teachers and related service providers. These professionals should be making information readily available as well. Fostering continuing discussion can help the formal meeting progress smoothly and serve as somewhat of a recap of what has been discussed over the course of weeks or months. Along with this, parents should keep track of what other team members have said along the way, just for the sake of prudence. Any such notes could be included in whatever file parents maintain.
6. Come to the Meeting with Questions and Suggestions Prepared – Rather than waiting until the meeting, parents can prepare questions or suggestions in advance of the meeting. This might seem obvious, but attempting to do this during the meeting can result in ideas being forgotten or overlooked. Also, during the meeting, parents should not hesitate to ask for clarification about anything. The school members of the team have an obligation to clearly explain programming plans.
7. Take Notes – Also accompanying that classification file folder should be either a notebook dedicated to recording thoughts during the meeting or a laptop or mobile device at the ready for typing these. Relying on memory isn’t advisable. Having notes can provide something else to review prior to the next meeting.
8. Take It with You – As the meeting concludes, parents can ask to review the draft prior to agreeing to it. Unless absolutely satisfied during the meeting, taking a day or two to review the proposed IEP would be advisable prior to signing a NOREP.
9. Consider the Team – The school members of the IEP team in almost all cases have the best interests of the student in mind. They want to provide the best possible education, just as the parent wants this in place. Parents should resist the urge to enter an IEP meeting looking for a fight of any kind. While this might feel necessary if the school has seemed to neglect some service, a contentious attitude often will be met with a defensive one. Tension usually undermines productivity. Even if a parent knows a legal battle might be looming, civility will go much further than hostility. More often than not, if a school is failing to provide something, this will be due to some funding or staffing issue rather than pure negligence. Keeping in mind the various strains schools face could be the equivalent of taking a deep breath before shouting at someone. Now, that doesn’t mean parents should let it go if a school isn’t following through with something. It does suggest that any slight degree of making it personal will likely make matters worse.
10. Consider the Process – Parents should remember that while the IEP meeting is crucial, it is not the end of anything. It happens to be one slice of conversation amid what should be an ongoing conversation about services. The IEP can be amended at any time with parental permission. Also, an IEP meeting can be called at any time by any team member. The process of monitoring and reporting progress along with designing and implementing interventions continues throughout the year.
Other generic tips apply to all meetings. Parents should be as knowledgeable as possible about special education processes. Online resources can help fuel this knowledge, as can the thousands of publications available about procedures and laws. Parent groups can be worthwhile resources as well. When in doubt, parents can turn to advocates, although doing this typically incurs a fee. By keeping informed, organized, and open to working with a team, parents can come to each IEP meeting ready to help design the right plan and can do so without fretting unduly over the affair.
Written by Jeff Hartman