Participating in the IEP Meeting (page 5)
So, your first IEP meeting is coming up. How do you get ready? Here are some suggestions.
What do I do before the meeting?
Review the information on your child-from home, school, or private sources (such as doctors, therapists, or tutors). Ask yourself, "Do these records show the full picture?" Fill in any missing pieces, if you can. (If you feel current evaluations are not complete, you may want to ask that the IEP meeting be postponed until more information can be gathered on your child. Ask the school to evaluate your child and reconvene the meeting when the results are available. Bring your records to the meeting. You can also bring examples of your child's work (on paper, audiotape or videotape) to show specific concerns or insights you may have.
Talk with your child about the upcoming IEP and ask about school. "What things are hard? What things are easy? What do you want to work on this year?" Your child may have a lot to say about his or her needs and interests. Students are often much more aware of their strengths and weaknesses than parents realize. Make notes on what your child says.
Think about your child's involvement in general education classes. Consider his or her learning style, special education needs, and social needs. How can these needs be addressed in the IEP? What kinds of supports or services might your child need in order to be successful in the general education class? Ask your child what he or she wants or doesn't want in the way of support.
If your child will be attending all or part of the IEP meeting, explain how the meeting works in a way that he or she can understand. Let your child know how important the meeting is and that his or her opinions and input are valuable. You may need to prepare your child to speak up at the meeting. Talk with your son or daughter about how to share his or her feelings about what is being proposed.
- Do a Positive Student Profile to share with the team. To do this profile, you answer questions about your child (see box below), which will help you organize your thoughts and focus clearly on your child's strengths, needs, and goals.
- Brainstorm with people (teacher, friend, family members, tutor, therapist, consultant) to get some ideas before the meeting. Write down things you feel must be included in the IEP. Decide how you want to share this information with the other members of the IEP team.
- Ask other team members if they can share their ideas about your child's program ahead of time.
- Know your rights. Review the IDEA regulations and other helpful publications (see the Resources section at the end of this publication). Take the regulations with you to the meeting in case you need them.
- Are there any areas where you and the school might disagree? Plan how you want to handle these. List any information that might support your position. Think of alternatives to offer if the school is not willing to accept your first suggestion. Decide where you can compromise and where you can't.
- Figure out who can go to the IEP meeting with you to help advocate for your child. Inviting someone to attend with you is a good idea, even if this person only takes notes. Another person may think of things during the meeting that you do not. As a courtesy, let the school know if someone will be attending the meeting with you. If an advocate will be attending the meeting with you, review your agenda together before the meeting. Above all, be sure that the advocate understands what role you would like him or her to play in the IEP process.
Doing a Positive Student Profile
Answer the following questions about your child as a way to prepare for the IEP meeting.
1. Who is ____________? (Describe your child, including such information as place in the family, personality, likes and dislikes.)
2. What are __________'s strengths? (Highlight all areas where your child does well, including school, home, community, and social settings.)
3. What are ________'s successes? (List all successes, no matter how small.)
4. What are ________'s greatest challenges? (List the areas where your child has the greatest difficulties.)
5. What are _________'s needs? (List the skills your child needs to work on and the supports he or she needs.)
6. What are our dreams for ____________? (Describe your vision for your child's future, including short-term and long-term goals.)
7. Other helpful information. (List all relevant information, including health care needs, that has not already been described above.)
What do I do during the meeting?
- Stay focused
Use your notes to keep yourself and the team on track. Keep the focus on your child's individual needs and in creating a plan that will lead to success. Remember your child's social and emotional needs, including the need to be with nondisabled peers. Encourage the other members of the IEP team to use simple language, so that anyone reading the IEP can understand and carry it out.
- Ask questions
If a team member says something you don't understand, ask the person to explain. If someone says something about your child that you don't agree with or have a question about, ask for backup information that supports the person's statement (teacher notes, checklists, evaluations). If you have different information, be sure to share it.
Make sure you don't accept or reject a goal for your child based on incomplete information. If a present level statement is appropriate, there should be data to support it. If a goal is appropriate, there should be documentation to back up the need. You want to make sure that decisions are not made based upon a single event or random observations.
- Be thorough
Make sure you agree with the language in the present levels of educational performance before you finalize goals and objectives. Try not to move away from one area until you are confident that it adequately addresses your child's needs. If you find that needed information is not available at the meeting, have the team make a note of what is missing, who will get the information, and when they will get it by. Then you can agree to move on and come back to discuss the issue when the needed information is received.
What can I do if we don't agree?
If the team cannot agree on a particular item after several minutes of discussion, add it to your list of concerns and suggest coming back to it later. Avoid getting stuck debating a particular point over and over, especially if it feels like you are not getting anywhere. You need to be clear in your mind on where you can and cannot compromise. Communicate this in a reasonable and calm way. Sometimes, the following words can help the team resolve an issue.
"What will it take for us to reach an agreement on this issue?"
"Why don't we just try this for 6 weeks and see how it works?"
"I understand that you can't say yes to this request. Can you tell me who does have the authority? How do we get that person here?"
"We can all agree that this is not an easy issue. But we need to find a solution that will work for (your child) that we can all live with."
"I just don't see this as being appropriate for (your child). There have to be other options we haven't looked at."
One of the most difficult things in an IEP meeting is keeping emotions under control. It is easy at times for anyone at the meeting to get frustrated. Everyone has demands placed on them that are outside of their control. The teacher has concerns about meeting the needs of all her students, including your child. Therapists may be concerned with how many children they need to work with and how to fit everything that needs to be done into a single school day. The administrator may be worried about having enough staff, supplies, and equipment on a daily basis. And, like any parent, you want what is best for your child, even though the law says you are only entitled to what is most appropriate. It is a challenge to balance all these needs and demands. The key to reducing frustration and avoiding conflict is to be respectful of each other, even when you don't agree. Keep coming back to the purpose of the meeting- to develop an appropriate IEP for your child.
What if we still don't agree?
If you've done as much as you can and still cannot come to agreement on the IEP, there are several options open to you.
If this is your child's first IEP, you can refuse to give permission. This means that the school may not carry out the IEP. In this case, your child will not receive the special education services outlined in the IEP.
Ask the school to give you prior written notice on the issue(s) you disagree upon. Written notice must tell you in detail what the school is proposing or refusing to do, why, and what information was used to reach the decision. (This includes: telling you other options the school considered and why they were rejected; describing each evaluation procedure, test, record, or report used as a basis for the action being proposed or refused; and describing any other factors that are relevant to what the school is proposing or refusing to do.) With this information you may be in a better position to convince the school to rethink its decision or to proceed with the next step below.
If your child has been receiving services, and you are disagreeing with an updated IEP, you may request mediation or a due process hearing. With mediation, you and the school sit down together and try to work out the disagreement with an impartial third person, called a mediator. The mediator does not work for the school system. The mediator helps you and the school talk about your differences and work toward an agreement. The mediator does not make any decisions for you or the school. The due process hearing is a formal, legal procedure. You give the school written notice that you disagree, the reasons why you disagree, and the solution you would like to have. Both you and the school present your views on the matter to an impartial hearing officer. After all the evidence is presented and witnesses have spoken- much like in a court case-the hearing officer decides the case and tells you and the school how the matter is to be settled. He or she gives the decision in writing.
You can also file a written complaint with your state's department of education. When you file a complaint, you must tell the state what part of the IDEA you believe the school has violated. You must also state the facts as you know them and provide copies of any documents or correspondence on the matter that you may have. The state will investigate your complaint, request documents if necessary, and give a written decision.
There is a lot to know about each of these ways of resolving problems with the school. You can learn more by contacting NICHCY or by getting in touch with your state's Parent Training and Information (PTI) center. Call NICHCY for the number of your state's PTI or visit our web site, where you'll find the number in the State Resource Sheet for your state.
When the IEP is completely written, am I supposed to sign it?
As the IEP meeting comes to a close, you will probably be asked to sign the IEP document. Depending on the state you live in, your signature on the IEP will mean different things. In some school systems, your signature on an IEP means that you agree with the IEP. In other states, a parent's signature on the form simply means that the parent attended the IEP meeting.
There is no regulation that says you must sign the IEP immediately at the end of the meeting, or at all. If you feel the need to wait before signing the IEP, if you need to "sleep on it" or share it with your spouse/child's tutor/consultant, say so. You may wish to list specific items in the IEP that you want to think about before signing ("I'm still uncomfortable with ____, and I'd like to think about it some more"). This lets the school know where you stand and gives everyone time to think of possible solutions or compromises. Whatever you decide, read the IEP document in its final version before signing. This is also a good time to review the list of concerns you prepared before the IEP meeting. Did the team talk about all of those items?
When all the talking is done, if you are comfortable with the IEP, go ahead and sign. If you agree with everything except one item, you can sign your agreement and add a statement about the one item you disagree with. The team can implement all of the IEP except that one item, until you do resolve it.
What do I do after the IEP (and before the next one)?
Hurray! You've successfully completed an IEP for your child. Now that you have a well-written IEP, you may want to schedule a follow-up meeting after a month or so, so that you and the rest of the team can talk about how things are going. Watching your child work at school and talking with the staff will help you keep track of your child's progress. Remember, if you ever feel that the IEP needs to be changed, you can request an IEP meeting.
Even when you have done many IEPs, you can still forget things from one IEP to the next. So, after each meeting, jot down any thoughts you have about the IEP and the process. What did you like? What did you not like? What would you do differently next time? What will you do the same? When you are finished, store your notes in a safe place so that you can read them before the next IEP meeting. Keep in mind that developing an IEP is a learning process. With time it gets easier. Maintain your sense of humor and try to relax. Even though it can be hard, when parents and schools truly work together, the process works and the best results for your child can be realized.
Reprinted with the permission of the Department of Health and Human Services.
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