If you have a special needs child, the prospect of an IEP meeting can fill you with dread. Sitting in a room full of teachers and experts, while listening to what you child is doing wrong, is not anyone’s idea of a good time. If you do your homework and come prepared, an IEP meeting can go from an anxiety filled event to a stepping stone towards your child’s success in school. The more you know about how an IEP meeting works, what your rights are as a parent, and how to follow up once the meeting is over the more success your child will have. This will ensure that your child will adjust smoothly to any modification, and he will ultimately be successful in school.
Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), when a child is receiving special education services they must have an Individualized Education Program (IEP). This will list all of the special education services that your child will be receiving and is put together by your child’s IEP team which will consist of you, his teachers, and school counselors. This is a very important document that will determine how successful your child will be in school, so it is important to come prepared and know exactly what you need to advocate the best possible outcome for your child.
How is an IEP meeting set up?
A parent or the school may call for an IEP meeting. According to the IDEA: Each school must ensure that the parents are present at each IEP meeting and must take steps to make sure they are offered the option to participate… [§300.322(a)]
These steps include:
- (1) Contacting the parents of the meeting date within enough time that they have the opportunity to attend; and
- (2) Schedule the meeting with a time and place that is mutually agreed upon. [§300.322(a)(1) and (2)]
The school must notify parents of the IEP meeting and tell them who will be attending the meeting and what the purpose, location, and time of the meeting is. The school is also required to notify you that you have the right to invite an advocate to the meeting to help represent your child’s interests, or a Part C service coordinator or other representatives of the Part C system.
What the purpose of an IEP meeting is can vary, so the ensuing discussion may be different than you are expecting if you are not aware of the meeting’s purpose. Both the parent and the school can invite individuals with special expertise and knowledge that can contribute to the IEP meeting. Both parents and school must inform the other if additional individuals will be attending.
If you can’t attend the IEP meeting, then the school is required to find another way to get your participation through avenues like conference calls or video conferences. If both parties agree to the alternative communication, the IDEA will permit it. The only way a school can hold an IEP meeting without the parents is if the school has been unable to convince the parents to attend and all attempts to get them to attend have been documented.
In the event you are the one that would like to request the IEP meeting, here are a few reasons why an IEP review can be requested:
- One. or several, of the goals in the IEP has been met by your child.
- Your child is not making enough progress toward one, or several, of the IEP goals.
- In order to make more progress, your child needs more services or other services.
- Your child no longer needs one of the services he/she is receiving.
- There has been a major change for your child such as injury or illness.
To file a formal request for evaluation, you need to include the reasons you are concerned and provide evidence that supports your request. To speed up the process, include a statement that your signed letter includes your consent to evaluate your child. Make sure you sign the letter as your consent for evaluation.
At this point, the school is required to send you a written notice of its decision. They can respond in one of three ways.
- Continue with the targeted interventions and provide you information on how long the interventions will be used and how they are measuring whether the interventions are working.
- Deny your request with a formal letter. The letter must contain the action that was refused by the district, an explanation of their decision, and the other options the district considered and rejected, plus the factors that influenced their decisions. If the district denies your request, you still have options that are outlined in the procedural safeguards.
- Agree to evaluate your child which must be done within 60 days of receiving your consent.
What do you do prior to the IEP meeting?
When preparing for the upcoming IEP meeting, there are few important things to do before you go.
- Make sure you have all your updated records
Every time you have an IEP meeting, it is important to have your child’s current IEP, current progress reports, report cards, and doctor’s evaluations. If your child is struggling in a specific area, having examples of the work that he is doing helps the teachers understand your concerns and see where there may need to be additional instructional focus. If certain support has not been helpful or your child is facing new challenges, make sure to have any homework examples that may be needed to back up your report. It is helpful to create a folder just for this type of information and update it after each IEP meeting.
- Invite advocates
When you first start going to IEP meetings, you may be unaware that you can invite an advocate to be there with you. An advocate can be a professional, a family member, or even a friend that may have some experience with IEP’s. It is always a good idea to meet with your advocate beforehand so you can discuss your concerns, listen to their ideas, and plan an overall approach to the meeting.
- Prepare Recommendations and Questions
Always make sure you have a simple list of questions or concerns that you want to bring up at the meeting. It is possible to get flustered or off track and forget a few things, so the more that you have written down the better. At this time, it is a good idea to go through your records, your child’s homework, and discuss how the school is going with your child to figure out what needs to be brought up at the meeting. Teachers also appreciate suggestions that you may have regarding things like motivating your child in class or helping them focus. Always make sure to have backup documentation that will help to support your concerns and suggestions.
- Ask the school for any special requests
Make sure the school is aware in advance if you need a translator or if you need special arrangements like video conferencing. This is also a good time to let them know if you are bringing special guests to the meeting as you will need to explain who they are and their relationship is with your family.
After you have prepared everything for your meeting, try to take a few minutes to focus on your child, his interests, and his strengths. This can be a very emotional meeting where you will hear a lot of information on where your child is struggling. If you concentrate on your child and his gifts, it can help you be an active advocate for your child.
Examples of Questions to Ask at an IEP Meeting
Before an IEP Meeting
- What do you want the goal of the IEP meeting to be?
- Will there be an agenda for the meeting?
- If you do not already have it, can you obtain a copy of the most recent IEP for you child for the meeting?
- Can you obtain all the notes and reports that the teachers are using to evaluate your child at the meeting?
- Who will be attending the meeting that is qualified to interpret the data and results of your child’s evaluation?
During an IEP Meeting
- Who is in attendance at the meeting and how do they know your child?
- Can you describe my child’s day at school so I can understand what it looks like for him?
- How is my child’s behavior or academic progress different from the other children in the class?
- Can we walk through the current accommodations step by step?
- How is my child’s progress toward his goals in the IEP?
- Are there changes that the IEP team would recommend?
- How are these goals measure and how do you plan to monitor my child’s progress?
- How is my child assessed based on their grade level?
- Which teachers or aides will be working with my child? Exactly when and for how long?
- Does the staff working with my child have special training for this intervention?
- What will the intervention or accommodation look like in the classroom?
- Is there anything I can do at home to support these goals?
- I would like to see a copy of the IEP before signing anything, can I take a copy of it home with me?
- When will the interventions or accommodations begin in class?
- Will you explain to my child how these changes will work in class?
- What is the plan for staying in touch to discuss how these changes are working?
- Can I have a copy of the notes the teacher used for her evaluation in this meeting?
- Who is the right person to talk to if I have questions about the information you gave me on my child’s rights?
IEP Meeting Process
Two weeks prior to the IEP meeting, a Parent Notice will be sent out notifying you of the scheduled meeting date. This notice should also include Positive Parent Profile, Procedural Safeguards and ESY Guidelines. The school may have a pre-meeting with the IEP team members to go over details and see if more data is needed and draft copies of the IEP will be made.
At the meeting, all the participants will be introduced, and the purpose of the meeting will be stated. After the Procedural Safeguards are explained to the parents, the child’s strengths and prior goals will be reviewed as well as the needs of the student that include what the student needs to learn. Next, any disabilities he may have will be identified and new goals will be developed based on identified needs.
At this point, you and the rest of your child’s IEP team will decide what will go into your child’s IEP plan. Your child’s regular teachers will also be in attendance to give their feedback on your child’s progress with the material they are teaching. The team will develop measurable short-term goals as well as annual goals for each of your child’s needs, and you can help guide them in determining the areas and skills that need the most attention.
If there are a lot of services recommended, it may seem overwhelming to include them in your child’s school schedule so that the services may be provided on a consultative basis. The professional consultant can then work with the teacher to come up with methods in the classroom that can help your child in those specific areas. Other services like occupational therapy can be done in the classroom, so they child isn’t being taken out consistently to attend therapy.
After all the s and modifications have been decided on and finalized, the notes from the IEP meeting will be reviewed and summarized by the team. There will be an opportunity for final comments and questions, and then the IEP will be completed and signed by the IEP team with everyone receiving a copy.
This document will then be reviewed annually to make sure it is still meeting your child’s needs. If necessary, the IEP can be modified at any time if needs have changed or goals are not being met.
Monitoring IEP goals
Schools will monitor your child and his academic performance with weekly and monthly measurements. The teacher’s instructional techniques will be adjusted to meet your child’s individual needs based on these measurements. This will benefit your child as he will be receiving instruction that is better suited to their individual needs.
The most common method that schools use to evaluate student progress is called the Curriculum-Based Measurement or CBM. CBM uses short-duration assessments that can monitor a student’s progress in math, reading, writing, and spelling. These are valid, standardized,and reliable procedures with the results graphed over time to decide how effective the instructional interventions have worked.
Not all schools use a method like CBM to evaluate a student’s progress. Many use a standardized achievement test prior to the annual review of your child’s IEP to see how your child has progressed. If you child’s school says he is making progress, but you don’t agree, you can ask what methods they are using to monitor and evaluate his progress.
You can request a meeting with your child’s teacher to ask how his progress is being monitored and measured and discuss how this information can communicate to you. If you still have concerns and questions, it may be time to schedule another IEP meeting to find out more information and clarify the questions you may have.
Be Aware of Your Rights as a Parent
The more information you have on the IEP process and your rights the better prepared you can be to be a successful advocate for your child. There are several common mistakes parents make at IEP meetings.
Signing the IEP
During your IEP meeting, there is a lot that will be discussed, and it may be difficult to remember everything that was discussed. Make sure that every page is reviewed and request that the pages that have been skipped are also examined. Once you reach the end of the meeting, it is perfectly fine to ask to take the IEP home to look over.
Make sure to ask how many days you have to review it. You should feel perfectly comfortable asking to take it home to make sure it is meeting your child’s needs. If you still have concerns, you can request to have another meeting to discuss those points.
You can also sign only the parts of the IEP that you agree with. You are allowed to say that you are not happy with the IEP. At this point, you can write down your issues with the IEP and request that your objections are added to it.
Use the Law
It is not uncommon to be told that the school district cannot accommodate one of your requests, and it is ok to question them and ask for proof. Ask to see the section of the IDEA that supports their policy and feel free to say that you cannot sign the IEP until that issue is resolved.
Don’t Believe that Professionals are the only ones that are experts
When facing a room full of educators, it is normal to feel intimidated. They may bring a lot of experience to the table, but you are bringing the most important knowledge of all, experience regarding your child. Remember that you are also one of the experts and you bring the child’s personal history as well as know what works well with your child that the IEP team may not be aware of.
Make Your Requests in Writing
Anytime you have a request, make sure it is in writing. Written requests are helpful as they start a timeline that the school must follow to meeting your request, plus they create a paper trail. If you happen to have a phone conversation, follow up with a letter or email that outlines what you discussed so that you can avoid miscommunication in the future.
Familiarize Yourself with Prior Notice of the Procedural Safeguards (34 CFR 300.503)
This is a document that gives you the leverage you need in an IEP meeting. You should receive a lot of copies of this document as the IEP team is required to give it to you at all IEP meetings and when these meetings are scheduled. This makes the IEP team responsible for what it decides and forces them to focus on the standards of the IDEA.
Request the assessment instead of the related service
IEP teams often will deny a request for services if they feel there is no proof that the student needs the service. If you request an assessment instead, and the certified or licensed professional determines your child needs the service, the IEP team cannot argue with that.
Do Not Accept Assessment Results Your Child Doesn’t Need
If you feel that the assessment results you have received are not accurate, and you do not agree with the recommended interventions or accommodations that the school says your child needs, you do not have to accept them. Under 34 CFR 300.352, parents have the right to get an independent evaluation at the public’s expense if they do not agree with the school’s assessment. The school has two choices when the parent asks for the Independent Evaluation. They can provide the independent evaluation within a reasonable amount of time, or there can be a due process hearing with the parents. The parents and school will need to agree on who is qualified to assess the child, and it cannot be an examiner that works for the school district. School districts will also have a policy on the qualifications and guidelines that the parents need to know when choosing an examiner.
See the Assessment Information Prior to the First IEP meeting
Before an IEP meeting, parents are allowed to have the information on the assessments explained to them. You can have the person who gave your child the assessment give your report copy and explain it to you before the IEP meeting. This gives you time to think about the information before needing to make decisions for your child. It is important to have reviewed the assessment results and be as familiar with them as everyone else that attends the IEP meeting.
Only Accept Goals and Objectives that are Measurable
When discussing the goals and objectives of the IEP, make sure that all goals and objectives are measurable. This is an important aspect of any IEP as it is difficult to know if your child is succeeding with the interventions and accommodations if the results aren’t measurable.
Ask A lot of Questions
Make sure to ask a lot of questions, especially if you are not sure what the educators are talking about, especially with terms and acronyms that are specific to special education. If you start to become confused, you will become frustrated, so it is important to ask as many questions as you need to clarify everything that is being discussed. You cannot make an informed decision if you do not understand everything that the school staff is talking about.
For more information on IEPs and your rights, here are a few reputable resources for your reference.
The IEP process can be challenging and overwhelming, but it is a necessary step in making sure your child’s issues are addressed. Remember that you have rights, so ask a lot of questions during every step of the process. Only you know your child and what he needs, so it is important to be the best advocate possible for his success in school.