Inside: Can an IEP meeting be held without parents? What does IDEA say about this, and what should you do if the IEP team is meeting without you.

Let’s be honest, not everyone fully understands the IEP process and what it entails. It’s a complicated beast and can make you scream. I’ve addressed issues similar to this in other posts, but a common theme that I encounter with parents is unrealistic expectations.

What do I mean by this? Well, the internet, social media and parents gossiping often spreads incorrect information. Then, because they have “learned” this, the parent has an expectation of the school, as far as something that should be happening.

woman working on computer preparing for an IEP meeting

And, when it doesn’t happen, the parent gets angry or frustrated, and this contributes to often already existing tension among the IEP team.

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Understanding the IEP process and what an individualized education plan is, benefits everyone involved. If you are expecting something to occur that is not going to occur, nor is the school required to do, and it doesn’t happen, it’s important to think about why this did not happen.

The IEP Team had a Meeting without You

One of these common issues is IEP teams meeting without parents. Mind you, for the purposes of this post, I am not talking about your annual IEP meeting. I am talking about formal or informal meeting of staff during the course of the school year, that does not involve parents.

How a parent learns about this varies. Sometimes they are meeting right before an annual meeting and a parent actually sees this meeting taking place. Sometimes it is mentioned to the parent in passing.

Other times a parent is directly told “Hey, we met to discuss CHILD and ……” which tends to be very off putting for some parents.

IDEA and IEP Meetings without Parents

Here is exactly what IDEA says about IEP meetings and parent participation.

(c) Other methods to ensure parent participation. If neither parent can attend an IEP Team meeting, the public agency must use other methods to ensure parent participation, including individual or conference telephone calls, consistent with §300.328 (related to alternative means of meeting participation).

(d) Conducting an IEP Team meeting without a parent in attendance. A meeting may be conducted without a parent in attendance if the public agency is unable to convince the parents that they should attend. In this case, the public agency must keep a record of its attempts to arrange a mutually agreed on time and place, such as—

(1) Detailed records of telephone calls made or attempted and the results of those calls;

(2) Copies of correspondence sent to the parents and any responses received; and

(3) Detailed records of visits made to the parent’s home or place of employment and the results of those visits.

It’s important to note: The above wording only applies to the annual IEP meeting that IDEA requires. This does not apply to staff meetings, formal or informal.

An IEP Meeting without a Parent?

In other words, the IEP team is allowed to meet without you. School districts are required to hold an annual IEP meeting with the parent. They are required to make significant effort to not only notify you of this meeting, but accommodate your schedule.

However, there is nothing in IDEA that requires them to include you in every conversation that occurs about your child–with one, two or all of the other IEP team members.

Look, I get it. The IEP process is frustrating. It can be awful and feel like 12:1 at an IEP meeting.

Think about it–this is their job, their career. Doesn’t it make sense that they would talk about your child more than once a year? I certainly hope so!

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Depending on your specific situation, it may be understandable that you would feel that the IEP team is meeting to strategize against you. However, more often than not, this is not the case.

iep team members at an iep meeting at school

Schools regularly have all kinds of meetings for staff. My son’s IEP team meets monthly to discuss him. I am not present for any of these meetings.

You want your team to be actively engaged in trying to meet your child’s needs!

The school district is only bound to one meeting per year with you (with a few exceptions, like if you request one).

They are not required to invite you or even send you the recap of any other meeting about your child that occurs. It is best practice for school staff to meet and discuss students’ progress, with or without an IEP.

Can I require them to invite me to all IEP meetings?

Honestly, I would file this under “battles I’m not gonna fight” for several reasons.

One is that it’s not required. The second is that once you make this your focus of contention, then the dispute is focused on this issue and not the IEP itself.

Keep your eyes on the IEP and your child making meaningful progress.

My advice would be to develop a good working relationship with your child’s team. Then, ask about these meetings if you know they are occurring.

My relationship with my son’s teacher is solid enough that I absolutely would feel comfortable emailing her and saying, “Hey, have you guys met about K recently? And did you discuss ABC? Because I’m seeing XYZ here at home, wondering if you’re seeing it…..”

Part of successful IEP advocacy is developing collaborative relationships. Approaching a situation with the mindset of “they’re meeting to plot against me!” is not likely to be fruitful.

If you are having meaningful and effective participation as an IEP team member, it’s likely that the team meeting without you would not bother you at all. Reflect and get to the core issue–because if you feel slighted or ganged up on by the team meeting without you, then there’s more to unpack and fix.

Parents and the IEP Team

I’m not saying that this is necessarily a quick fix. Many staff members have an unhealthy mindset and the reverse philosophy–that every parent is out to get them. This is not true either, but I cannot control the thoughts or actions of others.

I can only control what I do and say and think. Parents are guaranteed rights and participation in the IEP process. The best thing you can do is educate yourself on the process and maximize your participation.

Part of that is not just knowing what you are entitled to, but having a full understand of what is not included as part of IDEA or FAPE.

Any other questions, search here on the blog or ask in our chat group.

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