SPECIAL EDUCATION SERIES:
February 16, 2021
It is hard to believe that it is that time of the year again to start spring IEP meetings. For parents with children who have been navigating the special education system for years, this seems to be part of their standard spring schedule. I have heard stories of teachers who really make it a positive experience. What is your child doing well? How are they progressing? Others, unfortunately, don’t do it so well.
Some teachers want to rubber stamp a plan from year to year and miss the opportunity to bring together a child’s special ed team and collaborate on the future. In light of nearly a year living in a COVID world, we all could use some fresh insights on how to move forward. Even things that were the same for years, now may be different.
1. The IEP Team
This is a team event! Every person on the child’s IEP team should be present at IEP meetings and should participate. Who is on the team? Parents, Teachers, other school staff, a school administrator, and the child (if appropriate). And as a parent, you can bring an advocate or lawyer to help you navigate the process. Some parents tell me this is invaluable if they know they are going to have a challenging issue. Let’s face it, it is hard enough to talk about our kids’ challenges, it is even harder to interpret all the options and set new goals. Having someone with you can be helpful.
The law below provides specifics you can share when setting the meeting.
IDEA (at §300.321) https://sites.ed.gov/idea/regs/b/d/300.321/a describes the IEP team as including the following members:
— the parents of the child;
— not less than one regular education teacher of the child (if the child is, or may be, participating in the regular education environment);
— not less than one special education teacher of the child, or where appropriate, not less than one special education provider of the child;
— a representative of the public agency who is qualified to provide, or supervise the provision of, specially designed instruction to meet the unique needs of children with disabilities; is knowledgeable about the general education curriculum; and is knowledgeable about the availability of resources of the public agency;
— an individual who can interpret the instructional implications of evaluation results;
— other individuals who have knowledge or special expertise regarding the child, including related services personnel as appropriate (invited at the discretion of the parent or the agency); and
— the child with a disability (when appropriate).
2. IEP Meetings: Before You Go
Imagine you are going on a cruise around the world. You can only take one carry-on bag with key necessities and must be prepared for everything to stay alive and make it home. Oh, and your hands are tied behind your back, and they ask you to chew gum and hula hoop the whole trip. Ridiculous, maybe, but parents tell me that is what it feels like to go to an IEP meeting—too much information and too little time.
First, no one says you can only take a carry-on. Take some time, create a binder for your ease of reference, but bring the rest on a laptop or tablet, something you can easily open and access while in the meeting. Some school districts have IEP files online and will allow parents to upload key documents which may be helpful. Ask if that is an option for your school district, and if it is, take advantage of it.
More isn’t always better. Bringing the kitchen sink is not the best strategy and can be overwhelming. Figure out what makes sense and ORGANIZE, ORGANIZE, ORGANIZE! Our special education advocate in our office spends more time helping parents organize and prepare for an IEP meeting than she does at the meetings. Organization is that important! Start with the basic information and build from there. As much as you may think you need your child’s daily physical therapy notes, don’t forget the diagnosing report about the difficulty.
And, the #1 question we get and #1 thing we push back on is recording the IEP meeting. Please record the IEP meeting. I haven’t had a client yet that regretted taking that step. You do need to give the school notice of the intent to record the meeting, but that notice doesn’t have to be threatening or adversarial. Something as simple as “I plan to record our meeting next week so that I can make sure I don’t miss anything I need.” Short, simple, and the truth! If you need a formal letter to send or more information, check out our post on Recording IEP Meetings.
3. Keeping It Real: IEP Discussions
IEP discussions are exhausting. Period. An advocate once told me, “if they are making it easy, you aren’t spending the time and effort you need to challenge the child.” The discussions aren’t easy, and deciding on a plan is hard, but that doesn’t mean the IEP Team collaboration also has to be difficult.
Although things may feel out of control, the parent often sets the tone. Let that sink in before you resist. You can’t change everything, but it is really hard not to listen to a parent who is genuinely trying to make it all work.
Now, let me stop here and say my tone is direct (very direct and blunt) which isn’t always a good tone for a meeting. When it comes to the law I know, I can talk all day. Start talking about my child, and my brain becomes mush, my heart melts, and my logic/processing goes out the window. My husband has witnessed this firsthand and says it isn’t pretty.
I tell you this to say, we ALL have to have a plan and then we have to prepare ourselves to move forward. This same advice goes to parents dealing with children discipline issues. Sit down and talk to friends and family about the issues before the meeting. Talk to an advocate. Think about priorities. Decide on how you want to move through the issues, how they build on each other, and how they affect the other. Write down cheat words or ideas. Or, if you are like me, write SMILE MORE AND APPRECIATE OTHERS on the palm of your hand. Your preparations and spirit will help. If it doesn’t help the IEP Team, you at least have created a record for your child that shows a good faith effort to make it all work and work well for your child.
For more information, contact our team at email@example.com.
GJK is experienced in special education law and works with clients to navigate its unique challenges.