My Facebook group. Right now I think it has over 25,000 members and we add dozens each day. And still at least once or twice a week, a new member pops in with “So relieved to have found you! Tell me, my first IEP meeting is tomorrow. What to I need to know?”
Or some variation thereof.
Sometimes, advocates know too much. I’m not trying to be pretentious, I’ve just attended more IEP meetings than I can count. At times, I overwhelm parents with too much information.
That’s not helpful. I get it. So, in the essence of trying to be helpful, I am doing this post.
I’ve thought about “if I only had a few hours to tell you a few things, what is helpful?”
First IEP meeting-DOs and DON’Ts
These tips on your first IEP meeting are a compilation of talking with advocates and the group admins. They are based on trends we see and what you can realistically do as a parent, if your IEP meeting is less than 24 hours away.
DO this at your first IEP meeting
- Dress appropriately. In that post, you’ll find suggestions on what to wear to an IEP meeting.
- Treat it as a business meeting. First and foremost, this is a business meeting. Your goal is to get your child’s needs met. You’re not there to make friends or pass out donuts or gain allies in a battle for services. You are there as an equal member of the IEP team. You are an expert. Nobody knows this child better than you do.
- Be solution oriented. Come to the table with suggestions on what you think will work to address your child’s needs.
- Accept that “you don’t know what you don’t know.” I’ve been attending IEP meetings for over a decade, I still learn several new things every week. Don’t use think of this as stress, use it as a strength. There is a lot about IEPs that we don’t know, and that’s fine. We can learn. We will learn. You will NOT learn it all today or tomorrow, so don’t even try. Stay away from websites like Wrightslaw because you’ll be overwhelmed.
- Go with your gut. Remember that many school personnel are not well versed in IDEA or state regs. School teams learn at conferences and in-services and by word of mouth. They may be right. But sometimes they are misinformed. If it doesn’t feel right, just table it: “I’d like to think about that for a few days before making a decision. Let me get back to you.” Boom. Done.
- Step out of your comfort zone. For some parents, this might be speaking up and challenging the opinion of a well-degreed administrator. For others, it might be sitting calmly at the table rather than jumping across it and throat-punching someone. Know your strengths and your weaknesses. Rehearse in the car. Rehearse in the shower. But do what you need to do to advocate and remain professional.
- If at all possible, bring someone to take notes. You want to be able to focus on the conversation. If you have to do it yourself, so be it.
- Pat yourself on the back. You are ahead of the curve. I cannot even tell you how many parents don’t seek help until it’s practically too late to do anything. Some actually contact me in the spring of their child’s senior year! You are seeking out assistance now. There is strength in numbers and you will find tremendous support in the group and on the blog.
- Do read your procedural safeguards. Not at the meeting, of course. But at some point, read them. At least scan them online beforehand and know that there are well defined procedures to handle disputes. Now is not the time to worry about “well what are my rights?” because there are too many to list. If you follow your gut and these guidelines, it will be hard for your rights to be violated.
- Make a plan to be better prepared next time. There are 5 essential parts of the IEP process that every parent needs to participate in. Learn them, do them. You won’t have time today, but you can plan ahead.
DON’T do this at your first IEP meeting
- Allow yourself to be pushed into anything. See number 6 above. If it doesn’t feel right, don’t agree to it today.
- Don’t allow yourself to become overwhelmed in the 11th hour. Nothing has to be decided upon today. The IEP meeting is merely one step in the IEP process. It is by no means the be all, end all of the IEP. If you need to, step away from the computer. You can start reading one article which leads to another and another and it can be overwhelming. Go, listen, take notes…and then follow up.
- Try to be too casual or chummy with the team. We all want to like and respect our team, but this is not a social gathering. This is a business meeting. Everyone around the table, except you, is being paid to be there. Treat it like you are at work too.
- Don’t sign anything except the attendance sheet, the IEP meeting invitation (if you have not previously done so), and the sheet stating that you received procedural safeguards. Nothing else HAS TO be signed today. Nothing. No matter what they tell you.
- Absolutely positively do not let them just read you an IEP and hand it over to you at the end to sign. No way! That is directive, not collaborative. Table it, and come to the Facebook group for advice.
- Don’t make threats or accept threats. I’ve heard it all. I’ve heard parents threaten to call lawyers, threaten to file OCR complaints, call well connected relatives…none of it matters. Stay child focused. What does your child need? Sure, you can always file state complaints or OCR complaints if that is the right course of action. You just don’t threaten them with it as it makes you look unprofessional, like you don’t have the data to make your case and it will ruin your credibility if you cannot or do not follow through. Accept threats: The most common one I hear, “Well, we cannot implement the services in this IEP until you sign this.” And they’re right. But so what? Will a few days or weeks truly affect your child’s outcome? In the big picture, probably not.
- Don’t accept crappy parts of the IEP just to get the good parts. Again, see the item above. Look at the big picture. Delaying services for a few days or a few weeks likely isn’t going to make a huge difference. And, speak with a local advocate–you can do a partial acceptance of a proposed IEP. But you want to make sure that you word your PWN correctly, so get advice first.
- Bring in a note taker and an advocate or moral support if you need it, but that’s it. Do NOT bring in a whole posse of people who are not necessary. You will be outnumbered. That’s ok. I’ve never once not been outnumbered at an IEP meeting, nature of the event. But I’ve seen parents try to combat this by bringing in droves of relatives and it just looks ridiculous. It’s also distracting.
- Don’t allow yourself to be rushed. IDEA does not define the length of an IEP meeting. I’d say 90 minutes to 3 hours is probably average. If it’s not enough time, you meeting again. See number 1 above again–there is nothing that absolutely has to be decided upon today.
- Don’t forget to follow up. This one should be the first one, the last one and every one in between. After EVERY IEP MEETING, you need to do a follow up letter. See below. No ifs, ands or buts about it. Do it. I don’t care if you’re tired. It has to be done.
Lastly, deep breaths. Have faith. One step at a time. This blog and the accompanying Facebook group (link in first sentence) will get you where you need to go. Just not today. The IEP process is slow by design. Be patient.
You got this, really you do. Now go crush it!
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