I've been attending IEP (Individualized Education Plan) meetings since 2007. It started with my oldest child, and now my youngest has an IEP for speech therapy. From my first IEP meeting to my most recent, I have definitely learned a lot. I'm by no means an expert, but I wanted to share some tips that might help you as you prepare for your next IEP. Preparation is key.
1. Talk to the teacher, aide, and anyone that works with your child BEFORE the meeting.
Make sure you are on the same page with those that associate with your child. You want to prevent as many surprises as possible.
2. Know what kind of IEP meeting it is -- triennial, goal setting, amendment, etc.
This might sound silly, but make sure you know why you are going! There are different kinds of IEPs. You have to know what is being discussed so you can prepare properly. Read the form sent home to you carefully. Call the school if you are unsure.
3. Notify the team ahead of time if you plan to record the meeting.
You must give 24 hours notice, in writing, if you plan to record. By law you are allowed to do this. I've done it before, and it can feel a little intimidating, but you never know what might be said, and often, you need to review every word.
4. Go over your child's most recent IEP and goals.
Pull out the most recent IEP. Read the teacher's notes on each goal. See if progress has been made, or hasn't. Make sure you know what the current goals are and if he/she is reaching them.
5. Know who's coming to the meeting.
Another simple one, but important, too. The form sent home should say who will be attending. Call if you want to know for sure. You really need to know who will be there so you can be ready for possible confrontations or situations that might arise. Knowing that the special education director for the school district is coming really changes how you prepare.
6. Know your child's current levels in school.
What grade level is your child reading at? Where is he/she in math? How about spelling? Physical education? Is he/she progressing, or digressing? These things are important to know before you go to a meeting so you can help make appropriate goals and revisions. Don't leave it up to the team.
7. If time, read through ALL of your child's IEPs and reports before the meeting.
This might seem like a daunting task, but sometimes it's good to go over everything in your child's file. (And if that's hard to do, start by organizing the files chronologically). You will begin to see the "whole picture" of your child. Your IEP team does not do this--only you can. It can help you to really see the growth, or lack of growth, of your child over the years and find gaps that need to be filled.
8. Have some goals in mind for your child.
Come with a list of goals yourself -- don't just rely on the team. This is your child, and you can add valuable insight. Don't be afraid to disagree with a goal that's been made. You are the parent, and you have the final say.
9. Read up on the special education laws.
Part of your job as a parent of a child with an IEP is to know the laws related to special education. Not every teacher or principal or specialist will know all the laws, so it's important that you are knowledgeable. You need to make sure they are following them, and be brave enough to say so.
10. Know what your child needs for services.
Is your child getting all the needed services to succeed? Have you asked for services, or just gone along with what your team says? Talking to the teacher or aide beforehand can be a good help for this one. Know what services are available and be bold enough to ask.
11. Bring an advocate or lawyer if needed.
I hate to say it, but this one is a given. If you are going into a meeting where you are requesting new services that would require a large amount of money from the district, talk to an advocate for advice. Every school district should have local agencies that help with this. I've been able to talk with many experts over the years for free. Do your research, and bring someone if you know this meeting can't be tackled alone.
12. Get your paperwork organized.
Going to IEPs and medical doctors means you have lots of paperwork. Getting organized before the meeting will really help clear your mind and give you a positive, fresh outlook. (I'm still working on this myself -- I will get there!)
13. Bring any current medical reports that will help your school make goals.
If your child has seen a specialist or doctor since the last meeting, and this information can help your team make better goals, bring the notes from the visit. There is nothing more valid than a piece of paper signed by a medical doctor.
14. If you have other children, consider getting a babysitter for the meeting.
These meetings are no joke. The times I've brought my youngest to a meeting, it did not go well. I was too distracted, and it distracted the team, and I felt like I was doing a disservice. This one is really a personal choice, but the meetings go so much better when you can focus. They are already stressful enough!
15. Read a good book to get you prepared.
There are lots of resources out there to help you prepare. A great website is Wright's Law. There are support groups. There could be other parents in your area that you can talk to. There are countless books available, so read what you can.
16. Dress for success -- you are representing your child.
Look the part -- this is a meeting with educated professionals. Wear nice pants (or jeans) with a nice shirt. No grubbies or yoga pants. This is for your child -- you are his/her representative.
17. Bring tissues and (for the moms) wear waterproof mascara.
At these meetings, you mainly go over your child's current levels and progress, or lack thereof. It's tough to swallow. I'm notorious for crying at every meeting. There's usually a box of tissues on the table, but just in case, bring your own. And unless you like mascara running down your face in front of the team, wear waterproof, or none at all. And don't be afraid to cry -- it's okay.
18. Make sure you are confident -- you have the final say.
My final tip would be go in there with an air of confidence. You are the parent--you are in charge. Your team can make suggestions, but in the end, you have to approve them. If you don't sign, it doesn't happen. And don't sign that IEP if you don't agree with everything! Take it home and tell them you will review it and bring it back.
I know IEPs in general seem very overwhelming and intimidating -- believe me, I wish I didn't have to go through all of it! But they are a necessary part of your child's educational plan now, and as parents, our job is to help our children prepare for the future. So be ready for those IEPs, and remember that your child's greatest advocate is YOU!