Last Updated on July 26, 2022 by Michelle Ball
By Michelle Ball, California Education Attorney for Students since 1995
Special education is intimidating for new parents and experienced ones. With a little additional knowledge and preparation, parents can handle a student special education IEP (Individualized Education Program) meeting better and can improve the student’s education.
Prevent Parent Intimidation by IEP Team
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 or district personnel who far outnumber the parents, and who have various impressive school credentials, training, and experience which a parent may not have.
On the other hand, they are just… parents.
Parents as “parents” tend to be dismissed, lessened and invalidated often at IEP meetings when providing input. Parent input on student issues and needs may be swept aside due to lack of a parent degree.
However, 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 a student.
This negative viewpoint toward parent opinion tends to be reflected by the “team” at the IEP meeting which will dominate the special education meeting and decisions regarding goals, services and placement. Parents are consulted, but only for general information on the student. As such, parents, for good reason, tend to feel that the student “team” (not the parent) has all the power to make all the student decisions.
Parents May Be Made to Feel Ignorant of IEP Discussions
Parents can also be confused by the entire IEP discussion as frequently IEP teams may not ensure parent understanding of terms and items being discussed.
Just what is the IEP team talking about when they mention “related services?” What are accommodations? What does speech therapy cover? What is a Special Day Class? Why doesn’t the student qualify for more special education? What is a 504?
These are all huge questions, and as the team may not explain everything, parents should prepare well in advance of any student IEP meeting to learn what special education is and what it is all about.
Parent Preparation Can Lessen Confusion at IEP Meetings
Here are some steps parents can take to lessen the discomfort:
1) Request copies of all student 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 student assessments BEFORE the IEP meeting, and write down any questions, corrections, and/or objections.
3) Make a list of issues the student is having at school such as: student cannot complete work, does not turn in homework, fails all tests, does not write down assignments, cannot read, has behavior issues, etc.
4) Write a list of requests and student needs for the student’s IEP team, such as resource class support in English, handwriting help with a speech therapist, weekly emailed list of upcoming assignments, extended time on tests, paraprofessional (aide), etc.
5) Provide the student needs list in advance of the IEP meeting to the coordinator of the IEP meeting. Then, a parent can go over their list at the IEP meeting and see what the IEP team says.
6) Provide notice you will record the meeting at least 24 hours in advance.
7) Don’t go to an IEP alone alone. Both parents should attend the student’s IEP, with any family members who may be helpful, and any outside providers (e.g. tutors) who may need to provide information. Parents can also bring an attorney, with advanced notice.
8) Bring reports from outside sources, such as an outside psychological report, eye exam report, etc. if they exist.
8) Don’t bring the student to the IEP meeting unless they are seventeen. Often the “team” wants the student to attend. Unless they are approaching adulthood, it is often rough on a student to hear all their alleged issues. Don’t have them attend.
10) Take a copy of the proposed student IEP Plan home to read it over prior to signing.
11) Don’t forget the parent has the POWER to decide. Parents have the power to reject anything the IEP says. Parents do not have to sign any proposed IEP and can accept part, but not all of the IEP.
Special needs attorney Michelle Ball has been a lawyer for students since the mid 1990s and helps with IEPs, 504s, getting IEPs enforced, and many other special education problems. Located in Sacramento, Michelle assists parents throughout California from Bodega Bay to South Lake Tahoe, Long Beach to San Jose, and many other locations.