Last Updated on August 28, 2023 by Michelle Ball
By Michelle Ball, Sacramento California Expulsion, Special Education, sports/CIF, College, Education and School Attorney/Lawyer for Students since 1995
IEP (Individualized Education Program) meetings are critical to ensure good services and supports for a special needs student. To ensure success, parents should bring supportive documents, reports, and other items, which show the student’s needs and how they can be met. This is even more important if prior to the IEP, team members disagree with a parent’s requests.
IEP Meetings Are Far More Important Than They Seem
IEP meetings are so much more critical for special needs students than they initially appear. They are where student educational futures are determined, where schools become legally obligated to provide tens of thousands of dollars of student services, and where a school’s future commitments are formalized into a legally binding written plan (IEP plan).
Due to the lighthearted “feeling” at many IEP meetings, parents may underestimate the significance of IEP meetings. Parents may also overestimate the support of the IEP team, wrongly believing that school team members will actually put everything a student needs into an IEP document.
If a student IEP meeting goes poorly, and services, accommodations, and goals are written badly, the student’s future may also go badly.
If an IEP plan is written well, and tailored appropriately to the individual student, the student is more likely to have future educational success.
Parents should not take IEP meetings lightly or presume anything, due to the critical spot IEP meetings hold in a special education student’s life.
Good Parent Proof Means Better Student Services
Sometimes IEP teams agree with what parents want. Many other times, IEP teams don’t.
To make sure the IEP team agrees with parent requests for a student, it is important that parents present documents at the IEP meeting which clearly show the student’s needs.
It is much more convincing for the IEP team to see that a student’s teacher said in an email: “He is failing to interact with his peers appropriately,” then for a parent to just say this verbally with no proof.
If a parent has a letter from an outside therapist or speech therapist, making additional recommendations, the IEP team will likely be more convinced than if a parent just says it without backup.
The better proof of a student’s needs presented to the IEP team, the more likely the IEP plan will include services to support the demonstrated student needs.
What Kind of Documents Can Help Parents Get IEP Services?
Some documents which can help communicate a student’s needs to a school IEP team may include:
- Reports from outside assessors or professionals about what the student requires in school
- Assessment reports from school or school district assessors, past and present
- Student report cards, tests, assignments, projects or other classwork
- Comments on student work, projects and tests from teachers or other school officials
- Emails and letters from teachers, school staff, assessors and service providers
- Communications from the student on their own issues occurring, perhaps sent via text or email to a parent or teacher
- Updates on IEP goal progress
- School or other updates on student incidents, discipline, bullying, or troubles in school
- Documents or anything showing school staff’s own words demonstrating a student service or accommodation is needed
- Suspension and discipline documents
- Medical records which are relevant
- Attorney letter(s) outlining support and legal arguments
- Anything else that proves the student’s needs
All of these items can help prove a student’s needs, and support that additional school accommodations, supports, or services are needed by the student
What to Do to Prove Verbal Comments?
Often teachers or school staff will make comments that could help prove a student’s school requirements but not put them in writing. Most parents just repeat these comments verbally at an IEP meeting. This may not be enough. Unfortunately, the staff member who said the comment may conveniently forget they said it or say the parent remembered it wrong.
Parents can remedy this by following up on any relevant school staff comments to confirm them in an email. For example, what if a teacher says that “Student X really struggled today to complete his test in class. He was looking out the window daydreaming,” to the parent? How does the parent prove the teacher said this later? Parents can email the teacher later that day, repeating what was said and how glad they were for the feedback.
Then, the teacher has a chance to deny they said the comment, or even to verify it, and provide more information on the student’s situation. The parent can bring a copy of the email and distribute it at the IEP meeting to prove this was said by the teacher, supporting a need for an additional accommodation. These comments are very valuable, and if documents well, can be used to support additional services, supports and accommodations for the student.
Shouldn’t the School Know This Already? Why Should a Parent Have to Prove a Need?
School staff should know they are required to provide certain things to IEP students. They should observe and report items a student struggles with. However, unfortunately, they don’t always do this.
Reporting a student need means more work for a teacher. Pressure from administrators also may discourage school staff from reporting needs or issues. It is astounding when a parent wakes up to realize the IEP team may not be operating in the best interests of the student, and may have different motives.
Although a student’s school requirements may seem clear to the parent, the team may still deny student necessities, or even backpedal on their own statements. The purpose of bringing written or other proof to an IEP meeting is to prevent this later denial of need by the IEP team.
Parents should prepare for every IEP meeting properly and ensure that if there is a school service, support or accommodation that is critical for a student, they have the proof to back it up.
Michelle Ball is an education lawyer helping parents and students across California. From her Sacramento attorney office, Michelle reaches students in Santa Barbara, Rio Vista, Turlock, Orangevale, Shingle Springs and other California locations.
Originally published April 29, 2011