IEP Meeting is Tomorrow

This was in an email I opened this morning: “Hi! I have my IEP meeting later today; please send me any advice you think might be helpful. Thanks.”

Now, this is not an unusual email. Actually, several times a week, either via email or in our Forums, there is something to the tune of “My IEP meeting is later/tomorrow/in an hour; what advice do you have? What should I ask for? Do you have a list of accommodations that I can get?

Deep breaths, deep breaths. (me, not you)

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stressed mom at first iep meeting

When you need last-minute IEP advice….likely a Special Education Advocate is the worst person to ask.

Yesterday I talked about IEPs for 2 hours straight. Seriously. And then I was a little miffed when our facilitator insisted it was time to stop. (I know you read this, Jane, so I’m mostly kidding!)

But I was thinking, “Wait, what? I’m just getting warmed up!”

I could talk about IEPs and special education strategies all day long. And I have. There are probably only a few thousand people, at most, in this country who know as much about IEPs and the IEP process as I do. That said, I am probably the worst person to ask for help at the last minute.

I sometimes get as many as a dozen emails a day. I have a disclaimer on my site that I cannot guarantee personal assistance. In fact, I don’t read them all thoroughly. I honestly do not have the time.

It could be a full-time (yet non-paying) job to answer the email I receive. I could get sucked into free full-time consulting if I allowed it.

Recently I received this: “Whatta bitch, that’s what your website says! IEP advice!”

Yes,  yes, it does. And that’s what I do. I put it here so that the information can be available to the masses. Before I get into why I am the worst person to contact at the last minute, I want to give you some helpful information.

These tips on your first IEP meeting are a compilation of talking with advocates and the group admins. They are based on trends and what you can do as a parent if your IEP meeting is less than 24 hours away.

DO this at your first IEP meeting.

  1. Dress appropriately. In that post, you’ll find suggestions on what to wear to an IEP meeting.
  2. 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, 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.
  3. Be solution oriented. Come to the table with suggestions on what you think will work to address your child’s needs.
  4. Accept that “you don’t know what you don’t know.” I’ve attended IEP meetings for over a decade; I still learn new things weekly. Don’t 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 try. Stay away from websites like Wrightslaw because you’ll be overwhelmed.
  5. Go with your gut. Remember that many school personnel is 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. Pat yourself on the back. You are ahead of the curve. I cannot tell you how many parents don’t seek help until it’s practically too late to do anything. Some contact me in the spring of their child’s senior year! You are seeking assistance now. There is strength in numbers, and you will find tremendous support in the group and on the blog.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.

  1. Allow yourself to be pushed into anything. See number 6 above. If it doesn’t feel right, don’t agree to it today.
  2. 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, which can be overwhelming. Go, listen, take notes, and then follow up.
  3. Try to be too casual or friendly 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Absolutely positively, do not let them just read you an IEP and hand it to you at the end to sign. No way! That is directive, not collaborative. Table it, and come to the Forums for advice.
  6. Don’t make threats or accept threats. I’ve heard it all. I’ve heard parents threaten to call lawyers, file OCR complaints, or call well-connected relatives. None of it matters. Stay child-focused. What does your child need? You can file state or OCR complaints if that is the right course of action. You 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 is, “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 indeed affect your child’s outcome? In the big picture, probably not.
  7. Don’t accept crappy parts of the IEP to get the good parts. Again, see the item above. Look at the big picture. Delaying services for a few days or weeks likely isn’t make a huge difference. And, speak with a local advocate–you can do a partial acceptance of a proposed IEP. But you want to ensure you word your PWN correctly, so get advice first.
  8. 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 once not been outnumbered at an IEP meeting, the 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.
  9. 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- nothing has to be decided upon today.
  10. Don’t forget to follow up. This one should be the first one, the last one, and everyone 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.

The best last-minute IEP advice from a Special Education Advocate

Is no advice at all.

As a professional special education advocate, I cannot help you. If I get started with you one hour or one day before your meeting, I will completely overwhelm you. This blog is 12 years old and has almost 700 posts on here. Most are about IEPs.

So where would you like me to begin? Evaluations? Present levels? Progress monitoring? Goal development? SDI suggestions? Placement suggestions? Behavior plan suggestions? Apps? Books? ESY eligibility? AAC/AT?

Do you see my point? I would send you into the meeting completely overwhelmed and probably make things worse.

The most significant piece of advice I have for you is that the IEP process (and it’s a process, not just a meeting) is ongoing. It’s 365 days a year. Do you want your IEP team only preparing for this meeting one hour before it starts? Then why are you?

  • If you want the team to do progress monitoring throughout the year, you need to be doing the same.
  • Want the team to be re-evaluating (in the broad sense, not actual re-evals) all the time? Then you need to be doing the same.
  • You must come to the meeting prepared if you expect the team to do the same.

And that cannot be done an hour or even a day before a meeting. It just can’t.

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Making the best of a bad situation

When I worked for an agency and had little choice about the clients I could or would take, we often got last-minute calls.

I have been at workshops or meetings with my boss, and she’d say, “Can you be at XYZ Elementary today at 11 for an IEP meeting?”

So you know what we did in those situations? Listened. I went to those meetings, often meeting the child and parent just a few minutes before to get a quick rundown.

I didn’t get to see IEPs or RRs or anything beforehand. So I went, sat, and listened. Offered the best I could, as I am a fast thinker and problem solver. But mostly, I listened to what the team had to say, then left.

Then, I did everything with the parent that needed to be done—reading the IEP, reading the evals, and doing the meeting recap letter.

This all needs to be done all the time, year-round. This is about so much more than just one meeting.

So if you need last-minute assistance and you cannot reschedule the meeting, that’s my advice to you. Go, sit, listen, and offer what you can.

Don’t sign anything, and go home and regroup. You’ll likely have to call another meeting if your child’s IEP is inadequate.

Hopefully, this is a situation you will only allow once. Next time you’ll be prepared.

I can get you there. I can get you to the point that you do not dread IEP meetings and resist thinking about them until the last minute. Really, I can.

But you’re going to have to put in the effort. You’ll have to commit to at least looking at your child’s IEP, their goals, their progress…at the very minimum, you need to read this stuff quarterly. Minimum.

My suggestion is monthly. You need to be corresponding, in writing, with your team at these 5 specific times throughout the IEP process.

This is excellent last-minute advice if you genuinely are unprepared for your meeting.

Please don’t be offended. I know this sounds harsh. It is. This is your wake-up call.

Postpone it if you have to. But my advice is to go and listen. Take your full time to read and digest the IEP.

When you know better, you do better. Now you know better. This is about so much more than one meeting, and it deserves more of your time and attention.

These are the cards we were dealt. How we play them is up to us.

Author’s note: This post was originally written several years ago but was recently updated. Again, please do not be offended by this post. I have heard from at least a dozen special education advocates who have said, “Omigosh, thank you. So often, I want to say this to friends who ask for advice.”

If you self-identify in this post, you don’t need to send me a nastygram stating, “Hmph, you’re supposed to be helping people.” Right. I do. All day, every day. That’s kinda the point.

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