IEP meetings can be scary. A group of people surround you using big words and telling you everything your child can’t do.
I’ll never forget leaving an IEP meeting and this parent turned to me and said, “Why can’t they tell me even one thing my child did right?”
If your child has an IEP, you might need some help navigating these hairy and often emotional meetings. I, personally, have sworn to never attend another one again. I’m simply too old for it. That doesn’t mean I haven’t sat in on about a million of them and can offer the following tips for you. (Okay, I exaggerated a bit – it only feels like a million!)
1. You don’t have to sign any documents that you don’t understand or agree with. You can take the documents home and read them or have a professional read them over before signing. But once you sign documents, it is difficult to change what was signed. An IEP is a legally, binding contract.
2. Don’t feel pressured by an IEP team to do or sign anything. If you don’t feel that something is in your child’s best interests, then you don’t have to agree to it. The idea is for the entire IEP team to reach an agreement, and you as the parent are part of the team.
3. If you don’t understand the terminology or what is being discussed, then speak up and ask questions. If the team is talking above your head or rushing, stop them and state how important it is that you understand what is being said about your child. Remember, you are your child’s best advocate.
4. Bring a tape recorder to any IEP meetings or meetings where an IEP is being discussed. You need to inform the IEP team that you are recording the meeting in writing at least 24 hours in advance. After that, place your recorder where it is visible and let the meeting begin. You might need this information later on to protect your child. It also lets the team know that you are serious about protecting your child.
5. If your child has been tested for special education and qualifies for services, you do not have to agree to an IEP. If you don’t want your child in special education, you have the right to refuse services. 6. Your child has the right to be in the least restrictive learning environment available. If you don’t feel your child belongs in Special Day Class or a similar environment, then speak up.
7. If you have a child with an IEP, you have the right to call a meeting at any time. The school must provide you with a meeting within thirty days. If you are requesting an initial evaluation for special education services, the school has sixty days to provide the meeting.
8. If your school or district is not providing services for your child as you see fit, you might need to get an advocate or lawyer to get the school to do what is necessary for your child. Many advocates are affordable. If you can’t afford an advocate, find a knowledgeable friend or family member to help you. I’ve seen many parents work wonders by doing research themselves and advocating for their children.
9. Keep in open communication with teachers and administrators at all times regarding your child’s needs. School staff are usually overworked and busy. It is easy for them to forget about your child. Don’t let them. If your child has an IEP, the school receives extra funding to help your child. Be sure that your child is benefitting from this money.
10. Keep in mind that accommodations and modifications are important for your child to get through school but try to aim for a student who is able to read, write, do math, and function in society. It is easy to get bogged down with letting students with learning disabilities off the hook, but employers won’t do this once they enter the work force. The goal should be to rehabilitate and slowly ease the student off accommodations and modifications if possible. 11. Last, but not least, keep your cool and remain unemotional during any IEP meetings. You need to remain professional for your child and that doesn’t mean flying off the hook, crying, or screaming about how bad a teacher is. The goal is to find solutions to help your child succeed in school or life.