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Parents: 9 Tips for Meaningful IEP Meeting Participation

Parents of students with disabilities often wonder what their role is in the IEP meeting. Here are some tips for what you can do before, during, and after an IEP meeting to ensure you have the best, most meaningful involvement.

Before the Meeting

  • Build a positive relationship with at least one IEP team member. Ideally, this should be your child’s special education teacher or case manager, as they are or will be your contact person while your child receives special education services. If your child is being placed in special education for the first time, however, you might not know the special education teacher very well yet. Often, the school psychologist is the person who facilitates the evaluation process so he or she may be the person with whom you have the most contact, initially.
  • Think about your questions and put your thoughts on paper. Sometimes, it is hard to think of questions during the IEP meeting. Many parents have found it helpful to think about questions beforehand and to write them down. Bring them with you to the IEP meeting to refer to as the meeting progresses. You might find that some of your questions will be answered as information is shared with you, but feel free to ask questions throughout the IEP meeting as they come up.
  • Gather copies of reports. If your child has been evaluated by an outside agency or a physician and you believe the information is relevant to the IEP meeting, make a copy to bring with you. Better yet, feel free to provide a copy to the case manager, school psychologist, or process facilitator before the meeting. Often, it is helpful to the team to review the information beforehand. Additionally, fee free to request a draft of the evaluation report and/or IEP before the meeting. Parents find this very helpful to review the information ahead of time and helps to formulate questions to bring up at the meeting. It also helps the meeting to run more efficiently.

During the Meeting

  • Ask questions! As mentioned above, bring your questions and/or concerns with you. Make sure your questions are heard but also stay focused on the concerns. Sometimes, it is easy to get off topic as concerns are shared at the IEP meeting but it is important to stay focused on the purpose of the meeting. Many teams use what is called a “parking lot”, which can be a sticky note or a document that is used to jot down questions or concerns that arise during the meeting but aren’t necessarily on topic at that moment. It helps the team to stay focused on the agenda but also reminds the team to revisit them before everyone leaves.
  • Bring a trusted person with you. Sometimes, it is helpful to bring someone else with you to help you remember details or remember to ask questions. This can be your spouse, a friend, or anyone with whom you feel comfortable including in your child’s IEP meeting. They don’t necessarily need to do anything but listen–we all could use a second pair of ears at times.
  • Commit to professionalism and respect. Treat one another like the experts you are. Sometimes, there will be disagreements between you and other team members. As a parent, you are the expert on your child, but also recognize that your child’s special education teacher has an advanced degree in special education. He or she may not know your child the way you do, but he or she does know your child. Commit to listening to him or her and trust that he or she is offering good advice. In rare instances, you might have problems you cannot resolve. In this case, don’t hesitate to discuss them with the administrator about how to resolve them.
  • Involve your child in the IEP meeting, when appropriate. Your child will begin being invited to their IEP meetings when they turn 14 during the IEP year. However, I believe it is important for the student to be involved as early as possible. There might be times when you would prefer to have discussions with the team without your child present and that’s okay. In these cases, I would encourage you to do so and then have your child come in for a summary of his or her plan. This can occur as early as elementary and is vital in helping your child understand the process so that he or she isn’t surprised at age 14 when he or she is expected to attend.

After the Meeting

  • If in doubt, talk about it! Often, parents might have unanswered questions at the end of the IEP meeting, but don’t feel comfortable enough to get clarification. You need to feel good about the plan that will be in place for your child and if you need more time to feel good about it, then don’t hesitate to speak up. In fact, if you would like more time to read over the proposed IEP, you have the right to request time to look it over before you sign it.
  • Keep collaborating! Once your child’s IEP is written, it may be the end of an annual process but continued collaboration throughout the school year is essential to your child’s success and your peace of mind. As you learn new things about your child that are relevant to his or her success in school, share them with the team. Anecdotes are also welcomed and enjoyed!

I hope you have found these tips helpful! If you have further questions or would like more information about other topics, please don’t hesitate to send me a message. Thanks for reading and here’s to a successful IEP meeting!

RESOURCES: “Tips for a Successful IEP Meeting”, http://www.greatschools.org ; “The Collaborative IEP: How parents and teachers can work together”, http://www.specialeducationguide.com

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