Last Updated on August 28, 2023 by Michelle Ball
By Michelle Ball, California Education Attorney for Students since 1995
Special education can be very intimidating to all types of parents. This scariness can cause parents to be quiet at IEP (Individualized Education Program) meetings, or to just agree with whatever the IEP team proposes. However, parents need to speak up, as their input is critical for the special education student’s success.
Don’t Be Intimidated by the IEP Team
When parents walk into an IEP meeting for the first time, or maybe any time, it can be daunting. There is an US versus THEM sort of feeling which permeates the room.
Parents are met by a group of school or district personnel who can seem quite authoritative. There also are many more school or district personnel in an IEP meeting than parents (sometimes 6 or 8 of them to 1-2 parents).
IEP team members also have various impressive school credentials, training, and experience, which a parent may not have.
Predictably, parents may feel small, as if: “we are just….parents, (sigh) with not much to contribute.” This is despite the fact that the parents know a lot more about the student than the IEP team does.
Don’t be intimidated.
Parents Know More About the Special Education Student
Regardless of this feeling at an IEP meeting, parents need to recognize that they are very knowledgeable about the student. They are also the ones who really care about the student’s future.
Parents are critical to the student’s success.
Sadly, parents due to their status as “only parents,” tend to be somewhat dismissed at IEP meetings. When a parent provides input on services or supports, as they are not “experts,” their suggestions may be ignored.
Yet, staff credentials and tests are not the only thing that matter for the IEP student’s success.
Parent input and knowledge are critical for a well-crafted IEP plan. Parents know the student’s triggers, their fears and struggles. They know how the student manifests their needs, in so many ways, which the IEP team does not. School assessments don’t usually reveal the intricate details of the student’s day to day life, but a parent can.
Parents need to tell the IEP team these details so they can be addressed in the IEP plan.
Parent Input Is Critical to Building an IEP Plan
Parents must help the IEP team understand what the student needs, and should not withhold their input. Instead of simply nodding their head “yes” to whatever the IEP team says, parents need to speak up.
Why? Here are some examples of why parent knowledge should be shared:
–A disabled student is manifesting their distress by saying they will harm others or themselves. Their medical practitioners have validated these are not true threats. The recommended solution is the student should take a supervised walk. The parent fails to tell the IEP team so they can develop an appropriate accommodation, thinking she will handle it after school. Later, when the student makes a statement, they don’t get a walk, they end up at the hospital on an emergency removal. The parent ends up with a large bill and a stressed out student.
–The parent is aware that a student exhibiting certain mannerisms means they don’t understand what is happening in the class. Withholding this from the IEP team means no one ever notices and the student continues to be confused, silently. If the IEP team were told, they could implement an accommodation to ensure teachers check in with the student within a short time frame of exhibiting the behavior.
–A parent knows that the student refuses to eat at home. The student will eat at school, but won’t get breakfast unless someone helps them due to their Anxiety. If the IEP team does not know this, they cannot set up an intervention to assist the student at breakfast and lunch. Without food daily, the student’s understanding in class and emotional state may suffer.
Prepare to Speak Up At the IEP Meeting!
Parents are important to IEP meetings and plans. They need to speak up.
If fear of the IEP meeting still remains, a parent can bolster their confidence with some preparation:
- Educate yourself: Find articles on special education, who is on the IEP team, and parent rights. The more a parent knows, the more confident they will be at an IEP meeting.
- Increase Numbers: It is best for both parents to attend the IEP meeting. Others knowledgeable about the student can also be invited, as needed.
- Prepare: Questions for the IEP team should be written down in advance, so they will be brought up and not forgotten.
- Bring Suggestions: Parents may bring their own suggested accommodations, goals, and ideas on what services will work best. Parents don’t just need to accept what the team says should happen, and can work collaboratively to develop solutions at the IEP meeting.
- Bring Paperwork: Parents can also bring a variety of documentation to prove the students needs.
- Record: Always record (after providing at least 24 hour notice) the IEP meeting, so even more understanding can be gained later, as past IEP meetings can be reviewed.
Taking these steps can help a parent begin to feel they are a contributing member of an IEP team.
Parents communicating and understanding more can ultimately result in a better IEP plan for a special needs student.
Student attorney Michelle Ball helps parents with special education, IEPs, 504s and many other school problems. Located in Sacramento, California, Michelle assists parents throughout the state, from Bodega Bay to Lincoln to South Lake Tahoe, Long Beach to San Jose, and many other locations.
Originally published March 8, 2011