How Parents Can Make Sure Their Child's IEP Meeting Is a Success
Moms and Dads Are Key to a Successful IEP Meeting
Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.
When I was a young teacher working at an inner-city school, my principal would write that same quote on top of the faculty newsletter each week without fail. I'd wonder: Why the same one again and again? Is she just too lazy to find another? It wasn't until years later, when I had a child of my own with autism, that I understood how profound those words were and how they're key to all we do as educators and as parents.
I attended many IEP meetings over the years—some as a teacher and some as a mother—where the fundamental element of compassion was lacking. Those meetings were unproductive: alienating parents and frustrating teachers. They made me wonder: How can we improve IEP meetings so students get the special education services they need, moms and dads become involved in the process, and classroom teachers aren't overburdened? With that in mind, I came up with these five basic elements that parents should insist upon for optimal success:
- That the pace of the IEP meeting be unhurried.
- That they're permitted to bring an advocate of their own choosing.
- That the case manager be familiar with their child.
- That everyone present acknowledges the student as a whole person who possesses many positive qualities.
- That responsibilities are given to each person present, not just the classroom teacher.
What Is an IEP and What Is an IEP Meeting?
Each student who receives special education services has an IEP or individualized education plan. It's a legal document that spells out the child's unique learning needs and what services and modifications will be given to meet those needs. Services may include one-on-one tutoring, small group instruction, occupational therapy, speech therapy, and assistive technology.
Modifications may include fewer assignments, a quiet room for test-taking, and a partner to help during P.E. class. The IEP team conducts a meeting with the parents to draft the document and to get everyone's signature on it. This team may include a case manager, the school psychologist, speech and occupational therapists, the special education instructor, the classroom teacher, and a note-taker.
5 Basic Elements Parents Should Insist Upon at an IEP Meeting
1. That The Pace of the IEP Meeting Is Unhurried
Case managers conduct IEP meetings and, therefore, set the tone. Unfortunately, some of them rush through the procedures and punctuate their speech with jargon unfamiliar to most parents: inclusion, least restrictive environment, direct instruction, accommodations, resource room and modifications. Needless to say, it can leave moms and dads feeling frustrated, bewildered, and excluded from the process. They may clam up when they should do just the opposite.
To get the most out of an IEP meeting, parents need to speak up, ask questions, seek clarifications, and learn all they can. An IEP meeting is a rare opportunity when everyone involved with the student is gathered on their behalf. It shouldn't be squandered just because parents feel intimidated by those in charge. After all, nobody at the table knows their child better than they do and nobody wants more for their child than they do (no matter how well-intentioned).
2. That They're Permitted to Bring an Advocate of Their Own Choosing
It's highly recommended that moms and dads bring an advocate of their own choosing to the meeting. This person could be another parent, a friend, a family member, a neighbor, a retired educator, or any caring person who's had experience with IEP's. This individual can play a crucial role for parents, explaining their legal rights and clarifying the services that their child will receive.
Many moms and dads are more relaxed when they have an advocate with them during the meeting. Reassured by a familiar face, they're more likely to ask questions and give input. Not surprisingly, some parents become emotional during the procedures, and an advocate can offer comfort when they need it most.
3. That The Case Manager Is Familiar With Their Child
Parents should insist that the case manager conducting the IEP meeting be someone who's familiar with their child (preferably someone who sees them on a regular basis). When my son received early intervention services, for example, his case manager was the speech therapist who worked with him each week. She had built a strong relationship with both him and me, and we knew her as a hard-working, knowledgeable, and caring professional. Therefore, when leading the IEP meeting and making recommendations, she had my trust.
Conversely, at the most recent IEP meeting I attended as a teacher, the case manager didn't know the student, his parents, or me. She was there in the role of bureaucrat, striving to keep services limited and costs low. Because his mom and dad were ill-prepared, didn't speak up, and hadn't brought an advocate, their son received minimal help.
The case manager talked the parents into accepting "full inclusion" for their son. This meant he would spend the whole day in the regular classroom and wouldn't be pulled out for one-on-one tutoring and small group instruction. In other words, his mom and dad signed away the special services he desperately needed to make progress.
4. That Everyone Present Sees The Student as a Whole Person With Many Positive Qualities
Moms and dads should make certain that the IEP meeting starts on a positive note. In many instances, the case manager begins by detailing the student's deficiencies: poor articulation, low test scores, lack of social skills, illegible handwriting, poor grades, unruly behavior, and so on. Parents, hearing all these negatives about the child they love, tend to shut down and clam up. They stop listening, stop trusting, and stop being part of the process.
IEP meetings that begin with each person saying something positive about the student are far more effective.The best one I ever attended began that way, and it changed forever how I believe these meetings should be conducted. At that get-together, each team member said something wonderful about the boy: how polite he was, how responsible he was about homework, how kind he was to classmates.
I sat and watched his parents' reactions as they listened to these glowing remarks about their son. They smiled with recognition at each one, pleased to know others saw what they saw in their child. Their bodies relaxed and their facial expressions became animated as they began to truly believe that we were gathered for the good of their youngster.
When it was his mother's turn to speak, she felt safe, supported, and ready to open up about her son. She cried as she told us about her infertility struggles. When she finally gave birth at the age of 42 after years of trying, she considered her son a miracle baby.
This IEP meeting transcended the signing of a legal document. We reached a higher plane of understanding, trust, and cooperation. By starting on a bright note, we set a positive tone for the entire meeting and turned a bureaucratic process into a human experience.
If only all IEPs were as unhurried as this one!
5. That Responsibilities Are Given to Each Person Present, Not Just the Teacher
Parents should never leave the IEP meeting without being assigned specific responsibilities to help their child. In too many instances, everyone exits unencumbered except the poor overburdened classroom teacher. The case manager should make certain this doesn't happen but, if she fails to do so, moms and dads should speak up and make sure each team member leaves with an assignment.
During a productive IEP meeting, team members bring up their concerns about the student: she doesn't turn in homework... her handwriting is illegible... she's reading below grade level. The note-taker writes these concerns on the chalkboard or white-board. At the end of the meeting, the case manager determines who's responsible for each one.
The parents, for instance, might be assigned the task of checking their daughter's homework each night to make sure it's completed and ready for class. The occupational therapist might be assigned the task of improving the girl's illegible handwriting by working with her on proper pencil grip. The special education instructor might work one-on-one with the girl in the resource room for 45 minutes per week until her reading reaches grade level. When everyone has a task, they're more invested in the process and the child's progress is morely to be swift and significant.
IEP Experiences: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
What was your experience at an IEP meeting?
As the mom of a son with autism, I highly recommend that parents read this book before their IEP meeting.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2015 McKenna Meyers