Last Updated on March 18, 2021 by Michelle Ball
By Michelle Ball, California Education Attorney for Students since 1995
When parents first get involved in special education, and even over time, the whole process can seem incredibly intimidating. With a little understanding and preparation, parents can handle their child’s special education IEP (Individualized Education Program) team meetings better and can improve their child’s education.
INTIMIDATION BY NUMBERS PLUS INVALIDATION OF PARENT INPUT
When parents walk into an IEP meeting for the first time, it can be scary and confusing. There is an US versus THEM sort of feeling. Parents are met by a whole group of school and district personnel who far outnumber the parents, and who have various impressive credentials, training, and experience. On the other hand, they are just… parents.
Parents as “parents” are actually a group which I have found to be lessened and invalidated as far as their input. In reality parent input is VERY valuable and VERY important. Yet, parents tend to be treated as the last man on the totem pole when it comes to special education decisions for their child. This negative viewpoint toward parent opinion tends to be reflected by the “team” at the IEP meeting as the OTHER group (school group) seems to dominate the special education meeting, consulting the parents only for general information on the student. Parents, for good reason, tend to feel that the “team” (less the parent) makes all the decisions.
IGNORANCE OF WHAT IS BEING DISCUSSED
Parents can also be confused by the entire IEP discussion. Just what are they talking about when they mention “related services?” What are accommodations? What does speech therapy cover? What is a Special Day Class? Why doesn’t he qualify for special education? What is a 504? These are all huge questions, but parents should prepare well in advance of any IEP meeting to learn what special education is and what it is all about.
PREPARATION TO ALLEVIATE THE FEAR
Here are some steps you can take to lessen the discomfort:
1) Request all assessments/reports which will be reviewed IN ADVANCE of the IEP meeting. Usually, unless a parent requests these be provided pre-meeting, they will not be provided until the IEP meeting.
2) Review all assessments BEFORE the IEP meeting, and write down any questions, corrections, and/or objections.
3) Make a list of issues your child is having at school such as: cannot complete work, does not turn in homework, fails all tests, does not write down assignments, cannot read, behavior issues, etc.
4) Add to this list your requests, such as resource class support in English, handwriting help, weekly emailed list of upcoming assignments, extended time on tests, paraprofessional (aide), etc.
5) Provide this list in advance of the meeting to the individual who is in charge of the IEP meeting. Then, you can go over your list at the meeting and see what they say.
6) Provide notice you will record the meeting at least 24 hours in advance.
7) Don’t go alone. Both parents should attend, with any family members who may be helpful, and any outside providers (e.g. tutors) you might have to provide information. You can also bring an attorney if you so desire with advanced notice.
8) Bring reports from outside sources, if you have them, such as an outside psychological report, eye exam report, etc.
8) Don’t bring the student to the IEP meeting. Often the “team” wants the child to attend. Unless they are approaching adulthood, don’t have them attend.
10) Take the IEP document home to read it over at your leisure prior to signing.
11) Don’t forget your POWER to decide. You have the power to reject anything the IEP says. You do not have to sign the IEP. You can accept part, but not all of the IEP.
Education Attorney for Students
LAW OFFICE OF MICHELLE BALL
717 K Street, Suite 228
Sacramento, CA 95814
Please see my disclaimer. This is legal information, not legal advice and no attorney-client relationship is formed by this posting. This blog may not be reproduced without permission from the author and proper attribution of authorship. This blog may not reflect the current state of the law.