Last Updated on August 24, 2022 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 future services and supports for a special needs student. To ensure success, parents should bring documents and other items which show the student’s needs. This is particularly true if prior to the IEP, team members disagreed with the parent’s requests.
IEP Meetings Are Far More Important Than They Seem
IEP meetings are so much more critical for students then they appear. They are where student’s educational futures are determined, where schools become obligated to provide tens of thousands of dollars of student services, and where the school’s future commitments are formalized into a legally binding written plan (IEP plan).
Due to the “feeling” of IEP meetings, where everyone is almost fluffy, light and bffs (best friends forever), parents may underestimate the significance of IEP meetings. Parents may also overestimate the support of the IEP team or wrongly believe that school team members will actually put everything a student needs into the IEP document.
If a student IEP meeting goes poorly, and services, accommodations, and goals are written badly, the student’s future may similarly go bad.
If an IEP plan is written well, and tailored appropriately to the individual student, future educational success is more likely to occur.
Parents should not take IEP meetings lightly or presume anything due to the important spot they 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, they 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 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.
The better the proof of a student need presented to the IEP team, the more likely the IEP plan will include services to support the demonstrated student need.
What Kind of Documents Can Help Parents Get IEP Services
Some documents which can help communicate a student’s needs to a student IEP team include:
- Assessment reports from outside or school-assigned assessors about what the student requires in school
- Student report cards, tests, assignments, projects or other classwork
- Comments on student work, projects and tests
- 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 or issues in school
- Documents or anything showing school staff’s own words supporting a student service or accommodation is lacking
- Suspension and discipline documents
- Attorney letter(s) outlining support
- Anything else that proves the student’s needs
What to Do About Verbal Comments?
Often teachers or school staff will make comments that could help prove a student’s school requirements. Most parents just repeat these comments verbally at an IEP meeting. This may not be enough. 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 in an email. For example, what if a teacher says that “Student X really struggled today to complete his test in class and was looking out the window,” to the parent? How does the parent prove the teacher said this later? Parents can email the teacher and repeat 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 student data. Later, the parent can print the email out and hand it out at the IEP meeting to prove this was said by the teacher. This may 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. However, money concerns, pressure from administrators, and other agreements exist, which may discourage staff from providing all necessary services. 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 is to prevent this denial by the IEP team.
Yes, things may go smoothly, but often they don’t. As such, parents should prepare for every IEP meeting properly and ensure that if there is a service, support or accommodation that is critical, they have the proof to back the student’s needs up.
Michelle Ball is an education lawyer helping parents and students across California. From her attorney office in Sacramento, she reaches students in Santa Barbara, Rio Vista, Turlock, Orangevale, Shingle Springs and other California locations.