Parents have you ever wondered what an IEP meeting is and what you could do to avoid pitfalls that many parents make because they don’t understand the IEP or that it might be your first IEP meeting. Well I know that I would want to make sure to avoid the pitfalls and make sure that I am making the right/best decisions for my child. First of all I know that an IEP meeting can be overwhelming for parents especially if it is their very first one. First many parents may find it difficult to follow what the educators are saying and talking about, and they may not even know what their role is in the process. If you don’t know what your role is to be you might feel that the educators of the IEP team will/would make the best possible decisions for your child/childrens education. It might become clear months later that the decisions agreed on in the IEP meeting was not the best for your child’s education. I would like to share with you 10 common mistakes that parents make during an IEP meeting, and some suggestions on how to avoid them.
- Believing the professionals are the only experts. First off it can be very intimidating to sit at a table with several educators and professionals. Educators and professionals do bring a great deal of knowledge/experience to the table. Remember you as a parent have a great deal of knowledge and experience regarding your child. You are experts in your own right by providing historical information and the big picture from year to year. You know what works and does not work with your child and that is and can be a great asset to the IEP team. Remember to follow your hunches because if it does not work out your hunch might be correct in the first place.
- Not making request in writing. Any request that you make needs to be in writing. This includes requests for IEP meetings, assessments, correspondence, related services, etc. Written requests are important because they initiate timelines that the school district must follow in response to your request. When you write a letter be sure to send it certified mail. When you have a discussion by phone with a school official, write a letter that briefly outlines what you talked about. Documenting your conversations helps prevent miscommunication.
Documenting requests for the IEP committee clarifies to the committee what you are requesting and allows you to use your own words instead of the note taker paraphrasing it. Parents type exactly what you think your child needs and list why you think it is educationally necessary. Then have the IEP committee record the written request as part of the IEP minutes. The IEP committee has one of two choices: the committee can accept or deny the request. If the committee denies the request, then they must follow the procedural safeguards in IDEA and provide written notice of why they are denying your request. This method makes it difficult for an IEP committee to tell you “no” without thinking through the options. If the request is not written down, the school district is not obligated to provide the service. Make sure you write it down.
- Not being familiar with prior notice of the procedural safeguards. This particular section gives you some leverage during the IEP meetings. Whenever you make a request for your child in the IEP meeting, the IEP committee is required under the Prior Notice to provide you with written notice with a reasonable period of time. By making all requests in writing and by requiring the IEP team to provide Prior Notice, you are making the team accountable for its decisions.
- Requesting a related service instead of an assessment that supports the need for a related service. Some of the services that might be called on in and IEP meeting by the parents are: speech, occupational therapy, physical therapy, etc. to name a few. Frequently the IEP committee will respond by stating that your student does not need theses services. Do not request the service but request the assessment that supports the need for the related service. For example, instead of requesting speech for your child request a speech assessment.
Only a certified or licensed professional is qualified to determine if a child needs or does not need a particular related service. Again list the reasons why you think an assessment is educationally necessary for your child and submit your request to the IEP committee as part of the IEP minutes.
- Accepting assessment results that do not recommend the services you think your child needs. Sometimes you might receive assessment results that do not accurately describe your child and/or do not recommend the amount and duration of services that you think your child needs. The Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE) states that parents of a child with a disability have the right to obtain an independent evaluation at public expense if they disagree with the results of the school’s assessment. Request the IEE in writing and the school will have one of two choices: they may either provide the IEE in a reasonable period of time or they may take you to a due process hearing. When an IEE is agreed upon, you and school must come to an agreement as to who is qualified to assess the student. Remember the examiner for an IEE cannot be employed by the school district.
- Allowing the assessment information to be resented for the first time of the IEP meeting. Your are entitled to have the assessment information explained to you before the IEP meeting. Have the person who administered the assessment give you a copy of the report and meet with them to explain the report several days before the IEP meeting. This gives you time to think through the information before making decisions for your child.
- Accepting goals and objectives that are not measurable. Without measurable goals and objectives, it is difficult to determine if your child has had a successful school year or not. Remember all goals and objectives should come from an assessments data. The assessment has four different components:
A. Formal assessment (WIAT, Woodcock-Johnson, Brigance)
B. Informal assessment (classroom work)
C. Teacher/parent observation
After the information has been collected about your child it is compiled into an assessment report. Recommendations on how to work with your child are listed toward the end of the report. If you receive an assessment report that does not give recommendations for potential goals and objectives then the assessment is not complete. After the assessment has been completed, the IEP committee needs to determine your child’s present level of performance and state what your child is currently able to do. The committee then develops the IEP goals and objectives. The goals state what the student is expected to accomplish by the end of the year. Objectives break the goals down into increments. A method of determining if your child’s goals and objectives are measurable is to ask someone who is not on your IEP team to read them. Then ask “Hypothetically, if you were to go into the classroom, would you be able to see my child working on these goals and objectives?” If someone outside of your IEP team cannot answer yes, then your child’s goals and objectives are not measurable.
8. Allowing placement decisions to be made before IEP goals and objectives are written. Many times after assessment is discussed, the IEP committee will determine the child’s placement. Goals and objectives are always written before placement is discussed. To ensure that the child is placed in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE), the IEP committee must determine: Which of these goals and objectives can best be met in the general classroom? You should know that with any remaining goals and objectives that cannot be met in the general classroom, the committee determines: Which of these goals and objectives can be best met in the general classroom with modifications and support? This line of questioning continues until all placement options have been decided upon for all the goals and objectives. The committee must always start with the LRE and then work toward a more restrictive environment only as necessary. Parents remember that IDEA is very clear that the IEP committee must always consider the general education classroom as the first option for students with disabilities.
9. Allowing your child’s IEP meeting to be rushed so that the school staff can begin the next child’s IEP meeting. This practice is common at the end of the school year when educators are frantically trying to have IEP meetings for all the students who receive special education services. IEP meetings may be held one right after another. There might not be a problem with this as long as the members of the IEP team feel that all issues have been adequately discussed this includes you parents as well. Many times, however, parents feel rushed. It is important that all issues are adequately addressed before ending the IEP meeting. When the educators have not planned adequate time to address all relevant issues, request that the IEP team meet again at a more convenient time to further discuss your child’s education.
10. Not asking a lot of questions. Remember that it is very important for you to ask questions and lots of them. Educators use many terms specific to special education. You may become confused when these terms are used during the IEP meeting. This can add to the frustration that many parents may already be feeling when they do not understand what is being said. It is important to ask what the terms mean if you do not know. Informed decisions cannot be made when you do not understand what is being discussed.
Now I am not laying all these pitfalls on just you the parents but it also has to be the teachers responsibility as well. As a future educator it is my responsibility to make sure that my parents are informed of the things that they do not understand. If a parent comes to me and tells me that they need more time for the IEP meeting I will do my best to inform the other team members that the parents are requesting more time and that we might need to reschedule the meeting. I will make sure that this is acceptable for the parents as well. I also have to remember that parents are not the only ones who make mistakes but the IEP team can make a mistake too. Remember it takes a TEAM to help children succeed and working with parents can help us understand their child as they are the ones that know more about their child then we do.