Because I’m an established and well known IEP advocate, I get a lot of email. Recently I was cc’d on something that was really cringe-worthy. Basically it was a parent’s response to her IEP team, and I had never met this family.

But, they cc’d me on it. Parents sometimes do that, because I guess they feel if an advocate is included in the communication, more will happen. I get it–they feel desperate and not heard. But it’s not an effective school communication strategy. I’ve heard from other advocates that this happens to them, too.

There is so much to say about communication in the IEP process, I could ramble all day.

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But instead of that, I thought that I would focus on the five (six?) Ws-who, what, when, where, why and how. I thought it would be easiest to bullet point the important parts of IEP and Special Education communication sticking to that framework.

two members of an iep team showing effective communication

In the IEP process, effective communication is everything.

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How to effectively communicate with your school.

Stick to these rules, and I promise that your concerns are more likely to be heard.

  1. Do everything in writing.Phone and in-person conversations are still essential. Just make sure you follow up on everything with an email.
  2. Stay professional.Stick to the facts, not emotions. And don’t assume intent.
  3. Stay focused on the child.Get in the habit of retelling incidents from the viewpoint of your child and their IEP. Instead of “the teacher/aide did not do XYZ…” say “My child did not receive XYZ, which, per his IEP he is to receive during this class.”

Which IEP Team Member should you email?

  • When starting a new school or placement, I personally would ask who they want me to communicate with. Does your child have a team leader or case manager, and does all the communication go through them? Or, should you contact the various teachers and therapists individually? I would not ask to change the communication system without trying theirs first. In other words, if they ask you to only contact the case manager, do that. Now, if the case manager does not pass your messages along, then ask about changing it.
  • Do not discuss your child’s education or IEP with people outside of the IEP team.
  • We all know how awkward it feels when someone hits “reply to all” or includes us in on a salacious email that we don’t really have a vested interest in. Don’t do that to yourself. Only contact the people who need to be contacted.
  • Do not engage in gossip and hearsay in regard to your child’s IEP or special education.
  • I would only go above your child’s teachers’ heads (principal, special ed director) to report issues if you have been instructed to do so. Or if you are not getting a timely response to your inquiries. In other words, work your way up the ladder. Don’t go right for the School Board President with your first complaint. Give the team a chance to get it right.
  • I never recommend that parents contact the media with their IEP concerns. It may backfire and the public may not respond the way you had hoped.
  • If you are a part of a divorced/blended family, make sure it is clear to the team (and documented!) who has the authority to make educational decisions and who should and should not be informed of things. Consult your family attorney about this, as it is not something for the IEP team to decide.

What should you communicate with the IEP team?

  • Keep the discussion on the IEP and the IEP process–evaluations, progress, strategies, etc.
  • Stick to facts, not emotions. Also, do not assume intent. If you are recapping an incident, recap the incident–facts only. Do not add in why you think someone did or said something. Just the facts of what happened and how it affected your child.
  • Stay child focused-keep the focus on what your child is or isn’t doing. Or what they are or are not receiving per their IEP. For example, the phrase “My son says that he is not receiving his reading instruction every day…” will be received much better than “Mrs. Smith is not doing the reading instruction.
  • For important concerns, use the IEP process. Request evaluations formally in writing. Submit written parent concerns prior to the IEP meeting and mark them as such. Use your NOREP/PWN to move the process along.
  • I personally recommend that parents do not hide information from the team-such as diagnoses, medications or unusual behaviors.
An IEP is a federally defined document, since 1975.

When should you communicate with your IEP team?

  • Communicate as often as you need to, without pushing the limits of stalking. View things from their point of view before you communicate something.
  • Ask yourself, do they really need to know this? Is this knowledge essential for the IEP process?
  • I highly recommend you purchase the IEP Planner–it helps you better monitor your child’s IEP year and submit timely communication.
  • No surprises! Don’t surprise the team with big requests like a 1:1 or a placement change at the IEP meeting. That should be submitted in writing as part of Parent Concerns, before the IEP meeting. If it is appropriate for your child and you have the data, there should be no reason to surprise people with a request. It doesn’t increase your chances of getting a yes.
Whether you're turning clocks forward or turning them back, it can disrupt the household.

The Where of IEP Communication

  • Stay professional and respect boundaries. Use designated meetings or office hours. If you run into them at the local pizzeria, that is not the time. Exchange pleasantries and keep the school stuff for school.
  • Email or a designated home-school communication log are appropriate.
  • Social Media is never appropriate to air your grievances, no matter how frustrated you may be.

The Why of IEP Communication

  • Communicate with your team whenever your child’s IEP needs a change-placement, strategies, accommodations, etc.
  • Communicate to your team at least once or twice a year to thank them. They work hard and there are many more good eggs than bad. They truly care about your child. I thank my team at the December holidays and in May for Teacher Appreciation Week.
  • You can communicate with your child’s team and have meetings besides your annual, evaluations besides your 2 or 3-year evals if your child needs attention sooner.
  • You can do “no-meet” IEP changes if you are comfortable meeting with just a select group of team members and they will make the changes and communicate it to the rest of the team.

How to Communicate with your IEP Team

  • I can’t say it enough. GET IT IN WRITING.
  • Everything needs to be in writing. All requests for evaluations or more strategies or to hold a meeting–get it in writing.
  • Follow up on your in-person and phone conversations with an email. “Dear so and so, I just want to make sure that we are on the same page with what we discussed today about my child. We decided….” and list it.
  • If you submit an email reiterating a phone conversation or an in-person conversation, and the person does not dispute it, it stands as truth. This is important should you find yourself in Due Process!
  • Another plug for the IEP Toolkit to help you manage your many thoughts and communication during the IEP process.
  • Did I mention that everything needs to be in writing?
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They still said “no!”

I get this one sometimes. You’ve read all my blog posts, did what I said. You took the time to use my letter templates (below) and crafted a superb parent concerns letter, full of data.

And they still said no.

It happens. Unfortunately, we are in a “Culture of No” in the IEP world right now. It seems no matter what team, what district…the first instinct is always to decline.

All I can say is keep at it. Read your IEP Procedural Safeguards and ask for a PWN. Those are the tools that we have to use, so use ’em if you got ’em.

Good luck!

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