Special Education: IEP Tips

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An Individualized Education Plan (IEP) is the foundation to your child’s education. Many parents feel overwhelmed and anxious about these meetings. However, it doesn't have to be this way. Below, you will find IEP tips to help you successfully navigate the Special Education process, including: basic information about the members of an IEP and what to do before, during, and after IEP meetings to help maximize your child's services.

Remember: You know your child better than anyone else; therefore, you are your child's best advocate. You are capable. You can do this!


Before we begin, let's cover some basics about special education. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a federal law that ensures a Free and Appropriate Education (FAPE) to children with disabilities. IDEA lays out what every state must do for students with disabilities; however, it leaves room for interpretation and additional laws within each state.  Because of this, you should always confirm your state’s particular special education laws and mandates.  Here is a website that can help you find information and support specific to your state.

The IEP Team

The first IEP tip is to understand who is included in your child's IEP team and what their roles are.

  • Remember, YOU, as the parent, are an important part of the IEP team.
    • Furthermore, the IEP process should be a collaboration.
    • Speak up, give your opinion, and work together. Your input is invaluable!
  • Other team members include:
    • General Education Teacher
    • Special Education Teacher
    • Local Education Agency Representative (LEA) - usually a principal or special education supervisor
    • Psychologist (if evaluations are being discussed)
    • Related Service Providers (OT, Speech, PT) and other individuals that have knowledge about your child
    • Your child when appropriate and/or they reach transition age

IEP Tips for Team Success

  • Team members cannot be absent in whole or part of the IEP meeting unless prior written consent has been given by the parents and school.
    • If consent is given, the absent team member must submit written input to the IEP team.
    • Additionally, if a team member leaves before the meeting is finished, they should not mark that they agree/disagree with the IEP since they cannot know the details of the final agreement.
  • The IEP is a fluid document that is driven by the needs of the student-not the diagnosis.
    • This means that it can always be changed! You may request an IEP meeting and make changes at any time throughout the year.  
  • Create a paper trail. Put all communication in writing. When you have a face-to-face conversation with a teacher or service provider, follow that up with an email documenting what was discussed.
    • For example, “Teacher, thank you for informing me at school pickup today, Wednesday April 14, 2020, that my child is continuing to struggle with paying attention during math instruction…”
    • In short, the conversation didn’t happen if wasn’t followed up with an email.
  • Attend a local parent support group. This is a great place to meet parents in your district and get advice.

As you know, a little preparation goes a long way. Here are some IEP tips to help you effectively prepare for your meeting.

Review the Old

First, make a copy of your child’s current IEP and carefully go over it. Take notes and use a highlighter. Be sure to check:

  • Goals – evaluate if you feel your child has met them.
    • Go over data reports you’ve received from the school.
      • If you don’t have data, ask for it (in writing).
  • Accommodations – review the list to determine if any accommodations:
    • Can be taken out.
    • Need to be added.
    • Need to be rewritten so they’re easy for new teachers, aides, and therapists to understand.

Review the New

Then, request a copy of the draft IEP at least a week prior to the meeting. Go over it carefully and make notes.

Review Present Levels of Performance

Present Levels of Performance drive the IEP and creates measurable baseline data. Therefore, if you want an area addressed with goals in the IEP, there needs to be a Present Level documented.

Provide Parent Input

Send an email to the team members giving your parent input.  Be sure it includes:

  • Concerns
  • Goals you have for your child
  • Anything else you would like to discuss at the meeting.

Bring a signed, hard-copy of the letter to be attached to the IEP.

Share

Send any private evaluations to the team a week in advance, so they have time to read them.

Get a Buddy

Invite a support person to attend the meeting with you. If needed, bring an advocate or attorney with you. Always let the team know if you are bringing someone with you at least 24 hours before the meeting.

Verify People with Authority Will Attend

Make sure that your LEA representative has the authority to make decisions pertaining to your IEP meeting topic(s).  Examples:

  • If you have a child who struggles to verbally communicate and need to discuss how to train teachers and staff on how to use an Alternative and Augmentative Communication (AAC) device, an AAC Specialist or an Assistive Technology (AT) Specialist should be there.
  • If you are discussing an out of district placement, a principal cannot authorize that placement change.

Make Time

Last but not least, schedule time off from work to attend the meeting, requesting Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) if needed.

Below are some IEP tips to help you become an active and confident member during the meeting.

Come Prepared

The night before the meeting, pack your bag and make sure it has the following:

  • Signed, hard-copy of the parent input you emailed to the school (see above).
  • Notebook with plenty of room to take notes.
  • Audio recording device/app to record the meeting if your state allows:
    • Give at least 24 hours' notice to the school that you intend to record the meeting.
    • You can send the audio file to an online transcription company to have a hard copy created that can be attached to the IEP.

Understand Your Child’s Rights

Request that the Procedural Safeguards be explained to you at the beginning of the meeting. Ask questions. Make sure you understand your child’s rights.

Ask Questions and Seek Clarification

Special education professionals can use jargon and acronyms that you are not familiar with. Asking questions shows confidence and lets the team know that you are actively listening. Use phrases like:

  • “Are you saying ______?”
  • “Can you please clarify what you mean?”

Make Sure New Goals are Observable and Measurable

Make sure that your child’s new goals are SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timely).

  • Ask the team how data will be taken and reported on each goal.
  • What setting(s) will they be measured in?

Know When to Take a Break

No doubt, IEP meetings are emotional. However, you can always request to take a break, go to the bathroom to calm yourself, or adjourn the meeting for the day and schedule another meeting in a few days if you feel the need.

Know the Difference Between Procedure vs. Policy/Law

If the school states that something is against their policy, ask for a hard copy of that policy to keep for your files. This establishes if there is a written policy on the issue or if it is simply your district’s standard procedure that is not backed by a law or mandate.

Compromise Correctly

If a compromise on goals or services is being made between yourself and the LEA, set a date to reconvene and evaluate if the proposed plan is working or needs to be changed.

Don’t Sign… Yet

At the end of the meeting, if they ask you to sign the IEP documents immediately, don't do it. Instead, take it home to review.

  • Check your state and district policy on how much time you have to return the IEP.
  • If you disagree with all or part of the IEP, put your concerns in writing and attach it to the IEP.
  • Keep in mind that some states do not require a parent signature in order for the IEP to be implemented.

Below you will find some IEP tips to help ensure that things move smoothly and efficiently after your IEP meeting and throughout the school year.

Follow-up

Send an email or letter to all team members within 48 hours of the IEP meeting.

  • Restate what was discussed, what the team agreed to provide, any concerns you still have.
  • To give the school a chance to clarify anything, end your letter with a statement like:
    • “Please let me know if there is anything I misunderstood.”
    • “If you have any questions please contact me.”
  • If they do not respond, then what is stated stands as fact.
  • If you are expecting another meeting, you can state ‘I will be looking for my Prior Written Notice before (date).”

Stay Organized

Don’t let the paperwork pile up.

  • Add the finalized IEP to your files.
    • Scan all documents and create a ZIP file for all IEP documents.
    • A 3-ring binder is still a great option if you prefer hard copies.
  • Add to your calendar upcoming meetings or when to expect paperwork from the school.

If You Can’t Agree

If an agreement cannot be reached after several meetings, your next step is making a written request for mediation. This is a negotiation process overseen by a neutral person called a mediator. If an agreement cannot be reached, the next step is due process. For more information about due process, please read Special Education Conflict Resolution: Mediation And Due Process.


Conclusion

In summary, familiarizing yourself with some basic information about the Special Education process can help you become a confident member of your child's IEP team. Furthermore, implementing some of these tried-and-true IEP tips can help ensure that your child gets the most from their special education experience. Above all, remember that you know your child better than anyone else; therefore, you are your child's best advocate! You are capable. You can do this!

Resources

School District and IDEA Law:

Further Reading:


*All content of this article is for informational purposes only. Furthermore, it is not a substitute for legal advice. When it comes to matter of the law and policy – please consult an attorney or advocate on your child’s behalf.