What I Have Learned in 7 Years of IEP Meetings and Advocacy
The key to a good IEP meeting is lots of preparation, and it starts long before the day of the meeting. This is one meeting you are not going to want to “just show up” for.
1. Research: Know what you want. Know your rights.
- What do you want the end result of this meeting to be?
- What goals do you have for your child, short-term and long-term, and how can the school help you achieve these goals? It isn’t just about their goals for your child.
- Are they addressing all the concerns you have for your child within the “school” realm?
- Did you know you are a key member of the IEP team and are supposed to be a contributing member? This is your right. They cannot hold the meeting without you.
- Did you know your child also is a member of the IEP meeting and they have a right to be there and speak up for themselves? (Age and maturity are a factor and the parent should decide when it is appropriate.)
- Did you know you have a right (and should exercise that right) to review the tests, IEP draft, and other related documents before the meeting?
- You have a right to have the meeting scheduled at your convenience, not theirs.
- You have a right to bring anyone you want to the meeting with you.
- An IEP stands for Individualized Education Plan. Your IEP doesn’t have to fit another child’s mold or the school’s best interest. It is what is best for your individual child.
- Know that if you do not agree with any part of the plan or findings: A) You do not and should not sign anything. If you do, you should write “attendance only” after your name. B) You have other options. You have 15 days after the meeting to write a letter to the Principal stating you do not agree with the findings and are requesting an Independent Education Evaluation (IEE) and the school district is required to pay for it. You are not required to use their suggested doctor’s, therapists or educational testers either. C) Can’t agree on a plan? Table it. State that you would like to end this meeting and come back at another time when all parties have had time to think further about it.
2. Due diligence with paperwork: Mentioned above is the right to review the tests and draft IEP before the meeting, I usually request that I be given the draft IEP at a minimum of 48 hours before the meeting. Some people request them two weeks before the meeting. There are a couple of reasons for this.
- Emotions: There are a lot of emotions wrapped up in testing scores. It can be disappointing to see on paper just how far behind your child is, or just how bad the behavior is. This gives you a chance to process all these emotions before the meeting so that hopefully you won’t cry. Or at least not as much.
- The draft copy gives you a window into their game plan. You can usually tell if they are going to deny something you have been pushing for, you can pick up inaccuracies and get a feel for how they think your child is doing. This tells you what your game plan should be. Do you need to bring an expert to your meeting? Do you need to research laws and best practices as what they are doing aren’t in line with them? Do you need to spend time thinking of a way to get the things you feel your child needs so it is a win, win situation for everybody?
3. Dress for Success: IEP meetings can be very intimidating. You don’t necessarily have to go into the meeting looking your best, but you want to go into the meeting feeling empowered. Clothing, makeup and accessories can help with that. For me, when going to a meeting, I tend to dress more professional. It makes me feel more together, someone worth listening to. A woman I know always wears boots to the meeting. She calls them her butt-kicking boots. Whatever makes you feel confident and empowered, that’s what you want.
4. Attitude: Frequently in these meetings, there is animosity, or there is the feeling of “you against them.” This is hard. But you want to walk in there letting go of everything, and be determined to find a win, win solution. Teachers and Principals really do want what’s best for your child, too (generally). Frequently they are hampered by administrations, money, not enough time in the day, and their own lives. Start by giving them the benefit of the doubt (even if it seems like they don’t deserve it), and try to bring ideas for solutions to the table. They will be much more willing to see your side of things if you do. And it’s been my experience that if I go in there expecting a fight I can usually guarantee I will get one.
5. Food: Bring food!
Teachers are tired and hungry, too. If you like to bake, bring some fresh baked muffins or cookies. Don’t cook? All local grocery stores have bakeries. This throws them off guard and if you do it more than once, makes them look forward to their meetings with you.
6. Take someone with you: Take a friend for moral support, someone to write down notes. Take an expert who has pertinent information. Take your spouse or significant other. Take someone. If it all goes south and hopefully it doesn’t, this is an additional person who can testify in court to what was said. You can fill the room with as many people as you need or want.
Take a deep breath (or multiple) and if need be, reschedule the meeting. You do not have to complete the meeting in one day. It can be several meetings if necessary. Don’t let them pressure you saying they will be out of compliance. If they waited this long to schedule the meeting, that is their fault. Not yours.
A version of this story originally appeared on An Ordinary Mom.
Getty image by Werhane