As a special education advocate and a special education attorney, I am frequently asked for advice on how to prepare for an IEP. Preparation is key even if attendance by the Parent includes having an advocate present.
Here is a top 10 list to consider in preparing for your IEP:
1. Notice: Make sure you’ve received ample notice from the school district about who is attending the IEP and make sure you have provided notice about who you are inviting. Also, notify the District of your intention to audio record the IEP meeting at least 24 hours in advance.
2. Preparation of Documents: Prepare a document list in chronological order from earliest year to latest year of all relevant documents in a binder that you will bring. Behind the list, include the documents. These documents should go back at least 3 years in time and include past IEP’s, classwork, notes from teachers and other educators, previous assessments and other relevant information for the IEP team to know. This will help you track progress and make sure the team has all the information necessary. Ask the school district for a copy of any and all relevant documents prior to the IEP team meeting and add this to your list.
3. Prepare Agenda Items: It’s never a good idea to surprise the IEP team with ideas at the meeting itself. Put together a brief list of items you would like the team to review and submit it to the appropriate school district representative in advance of the meeting. This should be done in writing.
4. Advocates: Consider bringing an advocate even if it’s someone like a family member. Often times this person can be seen as less adversarial and can help take the emotion out of the process so that focus is on your child. However, if there has been a stalemate on an issue, consider whether you require a special education attorney or special education advocate.
5. Ask for a draft of the IEP if possible: Often the District’s IEP team members have met prior to the IEP to discuss a draft IEP. It’s often a good idea to ask for a copy of this draft IEP in advance so that you can review it prior to the IEP team meeting and prepare your input.
6. Change your thinking about the IEP: Parents of special education students often feel that the IEP is a venting session. A good IEP is really a listening session. Be prepared to listen to the District’s team members even if you don’t agree. You can always provide your comments to the IEP even after the meeting concludes and have these written comments attached to the IEP document itself.
7. Review: If placement or other services, such as behavior therapy, speech therapy or occupational therapy, are going to be considered at your child’s IEP, you should have an opportunity to talk to the providers and/or review the proposed placement in advance of the IEP meeting. This will give you a much better idea of whether the offers of placement or services are appropriate. This also contributes to your ability as a parent to give informed consent.
8. The Law: It’s always helpful to familiarize yourself with key phrases of the law but don’t come across as a legal bully. The IDEA, the federal law which govern special education and especially the IEP process, is supposed to be accessible to parents but the reality is it is a complex set of laws which is impacted by too many laws, cases, rules and guidance opinions for the lay person to understand.
9. Make sure you prepare questions: Do come with questions which have been prepared.
10. Know Your Child and Respect the Fact that Others Know Your Child Too: It’s critical to know that you may have a viewpoint about your child which is critical to the IEP team. However, teachers and other educators also have something helpful to provide to the IEP team as well as they spend time with your child. Considering their viewpoints doesn’t mean you have to agree.
The above list is not comprehensive and should not be construed as legal advice but it is an important list to consider when preparing for an IEP..