It happens to all of us. Days before the IEP meeting we start to get nervous and sometimes even begin to feel we are preparing for war. We often doubt whether we are prepared enough. We question whether we are asking too much, or sometimes not enough. Here are some suggestions to bring confidence and collaboration to the table for your next IEP meeting.
1. Complete your child’s parent input section beforehand. This is your opportunity to highlight your child’s strengths and needs from your personal observations at home. Your child is only at school for about 6 hours a day. That is only one quarter of the day! It is the parent or guardian that can shed light on so many characteristics, qualities and struggles their child has. The parent input section is your chance to be your child’s advocate on your own turf.
2. Write everything down prior to the meeting. Remember I just mentioned how much more time you spend with your child? Well here is your chance to truly show the IEP team what you witness. Write down specifics such as how long your child can concentrate on school work before breaking down, the setting your child can focus the best, and even the environment (table, standing, laying down, noise, lighting). It is even important to write down daily routines at home and any days where the routines may be changed up a bit (busy schedule, late bedtime). This can assist in school transitions and scheduling services provided by the school on the days best suited for your child.
3. Bring questions and concerns in a listed format to the meeting. Oftentimes it is easy to forget what you wanted to address at the meeting. Furthermore, the IEP team sometimes takes the lead and a parent may feel rude to interrupt. Remember that this is your child and you are an equal part of the IEP team. Feel free to respectfully interrupt at any point if there is irrelevant conversation so you can address your questions and concerns. After about 60-90 minutes you will start to see those in attendance checking the time. Be sure to use the time wisely and take charge!
4. Invite a friend or an advocate. I have attended meetings with 3 school team members and others with up to 10! That was not a typo. 10. The point I make is having someone by your side helps keep some balance and may even keep you from getting defensive. Even though you are an equal member of the IEP team, too often an IEP meeting feels like it is you versus the school. Have this person take notes so you can focus on listening and addressing your questions or concerns.
5. Bring a red pen to write on IEP. Since you will be bringing the draft copy of the draft IEP (this should be given to you days before the meeting), it will benefit you to mark it up with a colored pen so you can quickly address concerns. Before the meeting you can mark anything you need clarification on and during the meeting you can mark any changes discussed during the meeting. A small suggestion but very helpful. Plus you will look very prepared and organized!
6. Be openminded. This is where I used to struggle. We often hear what the best reading program is or what the best speech curriculum is and want to demand this for our child. This is where the school is probably more of an expert than you. If they suggest a different program, aid, device or classroom then listen to their reasoning behind it. There may be something different that is better suited for your child. Have a conversation about the pros and cons then think it over after the meeting.
7. Do not sign anything at the meeting. This is points back to being open minded as different learning tools or accommodations may have been discussed at the meeting and you need to think about your decision. Districts often push for parents to sign at the meeting but there is absolutely no obligation to do so at that time. In fact, federal law does not require a parent or legal guardian to sign the IEP. They are however required to give informed consent before the school can provide services in the initial IEP, but not subsequent IEPs.
8. Prioritize your child’s needs. Prior to the meeting, write down your child’s behavioral, physical, academic and social needs. Decide which areas are the most important to address and which can be put aside. This way you address what your child needs most within during meeting.
9. Leave the meeting with a contact person. During the meeting, determine who your main contact at the school will be when questions arise. Ask this person the best way to communicate with them as some people prefer email while others prefer phone calls. If it is a phonemail be sure to follow that up with a brief email. Ideally this would be someone who interacts with your child on a regular basis.
10. Bring your child’s daily/weekly schedule or ask for IEP Team to bring it to meeting. This is so important because it is easy to discuss accommodations and modifications at the table but it is more important to actually walk through your child’s schedule through their eyes. Ask yourself if the services provided are done at a time where your child is receptive. Perhaps your child changes rooms so often within a short period of time that it is disruptive to their concentration and ability to give their best efforts.