Parents of children with an educational disability play an important role in the individualized education program, or IEP, that will be created to meet the child’s unique needs. Most schools have special educators whose job is to facilitate the IEP proceedings, but there are specific things parents can do to ensure the process goes smoothly.
Before the Meeting
Prior to attending an IEP meeting, parents may prepare themselves with the following:
- Document communication: Parents may want to keep documentation of their communications with school personnel. While this is sound advice, it can be counterproductive to the relationship between teachers, clinicians, and parents with a sense of distrust. You should make an effort to communicate in person with the parents, as emails lack vocal context and are often subject to misinterpretation. Ensure that all emails and texts are professional. When disagreements crop up, a good rule of thumb is to limit correspondence to one per day.
- Watch the calendar: The IEP process is built on deadlines. Parents will be advocates for their children so that there is plenty of time to give him or her the appropriate amount of attention.
- Give a draft in advance: The IEP meeting will present the parents with a great deal of data, and it may be an emotional experience as well. You should prepare the parents with as much information as possible ahead of time. Send the draft IEP document ahead of the meeting so they have time to read through it at their leisure.
During the Meeting
You will be one of several individuals in the IEP meeting to discuss the child’s needs and create an individualized plan. Remember that parents are the experts on their child, and they should take responsibility for the following:
- Focus on present levels of performance (PLP): It is tempting to rush through this part of the IEP meeting, but it contains potentially critical information. Ensure that adequate attention is paid to the child’s strengths and challenges when addressing PLP.
- Insist on appropriate evaluations: The parents may request information about all evaluation options, and advocate for those that make the most sense for their child’s needs.
- Create appropriate goals: School personnel are trained to create small, measurable, and achievable goals. While it’s good to be able to achieve a goal, parents may also want their child to be challenged, so don’t be afraid to think big. Emphasize goals that they can best support at home.
- Ensure the IEP is individualized: The whole point of an IEP is that it’s tailored to the child. Ensure the included goals and accommodations are specific to his or her needs. By doing so, you can make sure that your child’s educational plan is personalized. And ensure that if you feel the IEP is not meeting your child’s needs, can you contest an IEP decision? By doing so, you can make sure that your child’s educational plan is personalized. And ensure that if you feel the IEP is not meeting your child’s needs, can you contest an IEP decision?
Throughout the Process
The IEP is a plan that will support a child for the long term. Parents may not want to rush the process and they may ask for outside intervention if things are not going well or if the team does not seem to respond to their requests.