Individualized Education Program meetings, or IEP meetings, are a requirement under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA). IDEA requires the disabled child's school representatives to hold meetings with the child's parent(s) to discuss the child's changing needs and develop an educational plan reflecting the child's needs and goals. These IEPs must contain details of your child's specialized educational accommodations, including things like extra time on tests, oral administration of exams and assignments, a seat in the front row of the class, an accompanied special education teacher, or anything within the school district's ability that will better aid your child's education.
Some parents grow anxious and stressed before their IEP meeting. Parents can be intimidated by school administrators and experts in this field. Additionally, especially in a struggling economy, many parents face limited resources for necesary accommodations. For instance, parents may face teacher shortages, insufficient funds, or inadequate education programs.
Don't let this get you down. Even in a school district with limited funds, you have viable options. And remember, you have a voice and final say in your child's educational needs. Follow these tips to help you prepare for and feel more confident going into your child's annual IEP meetings.
1. Familiarize yourself with your child's legal rights to special education
IDEA requires your school district to provide you with information about special education laws, regulations, and policies. Oftentimes, schools organize this material in a parents' rights booklet. Be sure to request one and read over it carefully well in advance of the IEP meeting. As you study these laws and protections, remember that as the parent you are an equal decision maker when it comes to your child's needs. As your child's teachers and aides gauge your child's performance at school, you are the only one who gets to see your child at home and in other settings. Therefore, yours is an essential voice at the meeting.
2. Talk to other parents and parent organizations
Many parents form alliances and organizations to discuss issues and support each other. Check with your school to see if your district has such a group. If not, consider starting one. Also, ask your local learning disabilities association and your state's parent training and information centers about other support they may offer. These avenues of additional support can give you some great ideas and learning tools, and can help build your confidence about IEP meetings.
3. Determine your options
Collect information about different learning programs in your area that may be helpful to your child. You can ask your child's teachers and school administrators or check with your local learning disabilities association for information on such programs. Before the IEP meeting, visit several of these programs to get an idea of what they're all about. Take notes and organize them for the IEP meeting.
1. Obtain a copy of the school's IEP form
Reading through this before the IEP meeting will enable you to become familiar with what you will be filling out at the IEP meeting. IEP forms typically ask you to fill in
2. Become an expert in your child's educational performance and needs
3. Develop your child's ideal IEP
After all of this careful preparation, you are ready to put together your own ideal IEP for your child. IDEA does require that the parents compose the IEP with the school district. However, it is a great idea, and is even appreciated, for you to put together a blueprint before the IEP meetings. This will help you learn all about your child's educational life and show the school district that your child really does need the educational assistance you are asking for.
4. Gather information and material that supports your ideal IEP
Organize copies of recent evaluations, reports, and medical records; samples of your child's work, showing strengths and weaknesses; and copies of evaluations and letters from any community or extracurricular activities.
5. Ask who from the school district will be attending the IEP meeting
These meetings usually consist of one or more of your child's traditional classroom teachers, special education teachers, and the school administrator responsible for special education (often times the school counselor). Pay close attention to the approach of your child's classroom teacher representative. This person sees your child's academic performance the most out of everyone and so is an essential part of the team. As such, the teacher can either be your best friend or worst enemy in regards to IEP meetings, since the teacher is usually the most convincing member of the IEP team.
6. Invite others to attend the IEP meetings on your child's behalf
Consider inviting your child's doctor, psychologist, independent tutors and evaluators, or even personnel from programs you want your child to participate in. If you really want someone there who can't make it, see if he or she would be willing to write a written statement. Then read this statement at the IEP meeting.
7. Come up with questions you want to ask at the meeting
As you prepare for the IEP meeting keep a piece of paper handy. Any time you have a question, jot it down. Then add to it any other questions you may have included while writing your IEP blueprint or filling out the IEP form. Have this list of questions handy during the IEP meeting and ask anything that doesn't get answered.
8. Organize all of your materials
Organization will make your life a lot easier. If you go into the meeting with a nice, neat, clearly labeled binder or file, you will feel more confident and will be able to move from topic to topic with ease. Organize it in a way that makes sense to you and that will be easy for you to quickly flip to sections you want.
Politely ask that everyone, including any of your guests, introduces themselves and states their roles at the IEP meeting. Jot this down for your records and date it. If you'd like to tape the meeting, be sure to tell everyone there you are going to and record yourself doing this.
2. Follow your organized plan
Go through your binder as you have organized it, asking all applicable questions as they arise.
3. Stay positive
Try not to come across as hostile. Stay positive and polite, but don't be afraid to be assertive. Remember to thank the participants. You don't have to agree on the IEP plan the team composes right away. Take a copy home with you and let everyone know that you will need to review it before you make your final decisions.
4. Reschedule if necessary
You can always reschedule the meeting. If the team is not making progress, or if you just need some extra time to reflect on the recommended IEP, request that another meeting be rescheduled, and when scheduling the next meeting, give yourself enough time to reflect.
Remember that you have control over the quality of your child's education. IEP meetings are nothing to fear or be intimidated by. Be prepared and take the initiative at your child's IEP meetings and you should see results that both you and your child will benefit from.
Contact a qualified education attorney to help you navigate education rights and laws.