While obtaining special needs and related services for your disabled child under the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA), is a vital first step in the advocacy process, your role does not end there. Advocating for your special child will require that you prepare for and attend Independent Education Plan (IEP) meetings.
You will participate in the crafting of the all-important Individualized Education Program document. At times, you may disagree with the school system’s proposed IEP plan. When disagreements arise, the best advocates will intelligently argue their points of contention with the IEP team and engage in effective negotiation.
Stern Law, PLLC wants to empower all parents to tackle the education system and advocate efficiently on behalf of their disabled child. Success is attained through education, and all children should receive an education that will prepare them for the future. Stern Law, PLLC believes the parents of special needs children can help their children obtain an exemplary education through involvement, research, and advocacy. The following information is intended to further educate parents on the laws surrounding special education law so that they may competently champion their child’s cause.
The basics of IEP meetings
IEP meetings must be held at least once a year, but you as a parent have the right to request a meeting at any time during the year. IEP team members or other involved parties can request meetings. During meetings, the IEP team, consisting of at least a parent, special educator, general educator, and a representative from the school system, will develop your child’s yearly IEP. As discussed more fully on our page entitled “Educational Advocacy: Understanding the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA),” the IEP is a written document that describes the disabled child’s needs and abilities. It sets out the services which the disabled child will receive, and represents a legally binding contract with the school system.
The following are some important basics to know concerning IEP meetings:
- Notice. The school must provide you with notice of the meeting. Ideally, you will be provided with at least ten days' notice. The notice should inform you of the purpose of the meeting, the location and who will attend;
- Attendance at IEP meetings. You should review the list of individuals who will attend the IEP meeting. If you feel someone essential is missing from the list, call the school system to request they attend. Further, if you would like to bring any additional party, whether for your support or because they have knowledge concerning your child, notify the school of your intentions. If you cannot attend the meeting on the date scheduled, request that it be rescheduled. If for some reason rescheduling is not an option, look for other ways you can participate, such as over the phone. All IEP team members must attend meetings, but at times emergencies will arise. When a teacher or school system representative provides notice that they cannot attend, you then have a choice to make. You could request the meeting be rescheduled if you feel the presence of the IEP team member is vital. Otherwise, team members can be excused if both the parent and school agree in writing.
Before the IEP meeting: How to prepare
A parent’s role in the IEP is critical. An IEP allows you to use your very personal knowledge of your child to help build the most appropriate educational plan. No one else knows your child like you do. Your input is both welcomed and necessary. Therefore, take all reasonable steps towards involvement in the IEP and prepare for meetings well in advance.
The following is a list of tips to help you prepare for IEP meetings:
- Review the current IEP. Look to see whether the IEP has worked well. Go though each goal and objective, and determine whether they have been accomplished or still need more work. Make a list of pros and cons of the program.
- Write a strengths/needs list for your child. Consider what your child can do, likes to do, and needs to be able to do.
- Make a list of questions that will help you in writing the IEP. Generate relevant questions such as:
- What programs have worked? Why;
- Have any major changes occurred since creation of the last IEP, including medication changes, treatments, operations, etc?;
- What related services are necessary for your child to benefit from special education, such as speech therapy, transportation, or physical therapy;
- What academic goals are realistic for your child;
- Does your child need some social, behavioral, or self-help goals.
- Decide if you need more information. Consider what information you have been provided to determine if anything is missing, such as progress reports or testing results;
- Do not limit yourself to current programs. Meet with other teachers and staff to find out what they believe some appropriate programs or services are for your child. If there is some program or service you believe would benefit your child that he or she is not receiving, propose it;
- Make a prioritized list of goals or objectives you would like your child to achieve—consider the skills you would like your child to learn and behaviors to improve upon.
During the IEP meeting
During the IEP meeting, begin with a review of the current IEP. Look at what goals have been met and which need to be continued. The team will then begin drafting the new IEP. The finalized IEP is to be written at the meeting by the whole team. Goals should be written so that they are easily understood and performance can be measured. Make sure all related services that your child will receive are listed on the IEP.
Do not sign the IEP if it is not finished. If it is finished, but you disagree, you may sign to show your participation, but ask that your disagreement be noted. More steps towards resolving disagreements will be addressed below. Request a copy of all pages of the IEP and the meeting minutes.
Ensuring your special child receives an appropriate education with the necessary services and assistance is not an easy task. At Stern Law, PLLC, we understand how confusing, time consuming, and at times maddening the education advocacy process can be. Stern Law, PLLC wants you to have the necessary resources at your disposal to be the best advocate you can be. For more information on educational advocacy, call Stern Law, PLLC today at (800)462-5772.