Inside: Learn how to STOP STRESSING out over IEP meetings, and be your child’s best advocate. A Special Education Advocate who has attended hundreds of IEP meetings is sharing her best tips.
This is an ancient post that I have been meaning to update for ages. I see the image show up on Pinterest, and I just cringe because I know that the information that is on this site now is just so much better than it was in 2013.
Nothing gets a mom’s heart racing faster than anticipating an IEP meeting. But we can make all of that stress go away. Proper preparation, knowing that you’ve done all you can, and the right frame of mind can change everything.
All this is what I do for clients who pay me, and my child certainly deserves at least what I give my clients, right? And so does yours!
If you wish to view the slides from this video, they are at the bottom of this post.
Here is the overview of what you need to do to prepare for your IEP meeting.
How to Prepare for an IEP Meeting
Ok, I’m an over-planner. That’s just my personality. That being said, I have walked into work and literally had less than an hour to get to an IEP meeting or Manifestation Hearing. And I had never met the family before.
It happens. In those instances, I would go and listen and ask questions. I guess what I’m saying is-Don’t panic if you haven’t done any of this stuff and your meeting is tomorrow.
It is what it is, and use it as a learning experience for your next IEP meeting.
Several Weeks Before the IEP Meeting
And this is why I am such a huge advocate of my IEP binder. It keeps you organized and on a timeline.
This IEP thing is not for the faint-hearted, it’s a year-long commitment.
- Review what records you have.
- Compile and review the following items:
- Your child’s current IEP
- Progress reports toward annual goals in the IEP
- Related services and accommodations on your child’s current IEP
- Report cards
- Recent work samples
- Performance on district/state assessments
- Results of most recent evaluations
- Communication with teacher/school
- Communication or recommendations from professionals outside of the school
- (i.e. Audiologist, ENT, private therapist)
- If your child is working/transition/job training, letters or reviews from their workplace that are relevant.
Parent Invitation to the IEP Meeting
Some states define a timeline for invitations, while others do not. Check your state’s special education regulations to double-check if you are unsure.
- Reply to the meeting with a simple RSVP email and send in your parent concerns to be discussed.
- Ensure that the date and time work for you and anyone you are inviting to attend.
- Ensure that the time works for your child to attend or prepare a written statement or video from them.
- Prepare your child for the meeting if they are attending. Rehearse.
- Ensure that a reasonable amount of time is scheduled for the meeting. If not, an email with “In the past, our meetings have lasted 2 hours, and as such, I would like to reschedule for a time that allows that.”
- If your child is at IEP transition age, double-check which agencies will be attending.
- Ensure all appropriate school personnel are listed as participants. Contact the school if you feel there are school personnel who should attend and are not listed.
- Ensure that there will be at least one actual LEA at the meeting, especially if you ask for something big.
- You may request alternate means of attendance if you or someone you believe needs to attend cannot attend in person. This may include teleconferencing or video conferencing. Please notify the school in advance so that they can make the necessary arrangements.
If they are asking you to excuse IEP team members:
Your IEP meeting invitation may include a form to sign that would exempt required IEP team members from attending.
Parents have the right to approve or reject the excusals. Your decision is up to you. However, consider
- The team member’s area of the curriculum or related service is not being modified or discussed during the meeting.
- The team member’s area of the curriculum or related service is being discussed, and the team member will submit written input to the parents and the team before the meeting.
If written reports are sufficient for you, you can sign them.
IEP Meetings- Parents’ Rights
You’ll want to do these things a few days before your IEP meeting if you are preparing for an IEP meeting as a parent.
- Read and Review your Procedural Safeguards (these are your parents’ rights)
- Request a draft IEP or reports, but know that only a few states are required to provide a draft IEP.
IEP Meeting Tips
- How often do you have an IEP meeting? IDEA states that this should occur at least annually. But, you may have more than that, depending on the child and situation.
- Who can request an IEP Meeting? Any IEP team member can request an IEP meeting at any time. It has been my experience that the school personnel does not often ask them outside of the annual meeting. That most often happens at the parent’s request.
- How long is an IEP Meeting? As long as it needs to be. Remember that there are no “have tos” when it comes to IEP meetings. If you need more time to discuss, ask for more time or to reconvene. There is no “we have to finish this today.” They may not want to be out of compliance, but that’s no reason to rush through an IEP.
- Should you/Can I record my IEP meeting? If you want to, you can. Just make sure you follow your state’s recording laws. They are all listed in that post I linked.
- How to Avoid IEP Meeting Negativity. Don’t get sucked in. Really, I mean that.
- Who can I bring to my IEP Meeting? Can I uninvite people to the IEP meeting? I have a post here that explains the mandated IEP team members per IDEA. No, you really cannot uninvite people who the school has invited. The exception would be their attorney. If they bring an attorney, you should bring one or reschedule the meeting.
- Should I receive an advance copy of the IEP? Only a few states require an advance copy of the IEP. IDEA does not require this.
- How to Not Cry at your IEP Meeting. It happens; we’ve all been there. But if you don’t want it to happen, read the tips in that post.
- What is an IEP Meeting? What happens? How an IEP meeting runs, varies from district to district. It all depends on how much participation and collaboration there is before the IEP meeting. The IEP meeting may be the time when the team develops the IEP. Or, it might just be finalizing details because IEP development has occurred over emails and mini-meetings prior to this one. What an IEP meeting is NOT: A time for someone to read an IEP to you and hand it over for you to sign.
- Should I bring my child to the IEP meeting? I firmly believe that the child should participate at the earliest age possible, to the maximum extent possible. But what that looks like for each child will vary. Read ideas and tips in that post.
- Can I request an Emergency IEP Meeting? Only a couple of states have defined an emergency IEP meeting. For the most part, as long as they respond to your meeting request in a “reasonable” amount of time, that is sufficient. All you can do is appeal to them with your reasons for urgency.
- I don’t want my ex-husband’s new girlfriend at the IEP meeting. I get it. But know this–if the IEP teams sense discord among family members, they may use it against you. I’ve seen it happen. The most important takeaway is this: This is not an IEP matter. This is a family law/custody matter. As such, you should take it up with the family attorney you used for the divorce or custody arrangements. Do not expect the IEP team to handle this. If the other parent invited her and it does not go against any custody agreements, there is not much you can do. Spend your energy trying to rise above it instead of blocking it.
- Does it matter what I wear to the IEP meeting? I think it does. Just like you would want to present yourself well at a business meeting or job interview, you want to here too.
- How do I know what to focus on during the meeting? I have created a one-sheet that lists the 6 principles of Special Education and is an overview of your IEP meeting concerns. That is a good starting point. I have also heard from our chat group members that when they brought in their IEP Organizer all ready to go, the team was impressed with their preparation.
- What should I bring to an IEP meeting? I have an IEP Meeting checklist on this site which lists what to bring. If you haven’t done all those items, don’t stress over it now. Just do better next time.
- Is there anything I can do if IEP Team Members leave early? There are a couple of options, though, for most of them, it requires stepping out of your comfort zone. One is that you can ask to adjourn the meeting until everyone can meet for the entire time. The other is that you can get the attendance sheet, and next to that person’s name, note what time they left. Not many people are comfortable doing something like that. Or, just make a note of it yourself. What you really need to gauge is what impact this will have on the meeting, and whether or not it is worthwhile to make a fuss.
- Who runs an IEP meeting? This will vary from school to school, as to who they designate to run the meeting. Just make sure that it is collaborative and that as a parent, it is not just being read to you with little regard to your input. The best idea ever: When a child is old enough and has the self-advocacy skills to run their own IEP meetings. Make that your goal!
- Why are IEP Meetings so stressful? They don’t have to be. Learn the process. Be prepared. You still may hear “No!” but at least you’ll know you aren’t being gaslighted. Read that post that I linked–and you’ll learn a little secret on how not to stress at IEP meetings.
- Who is the LEA at an IEP meeting? LEA stands for Local Education Agency. This is someone that the school district picks to represent the School District at the meeting. It varies. In some districts it is the principal or assistant principal, in others, it is a Special Ed supervisor. Important to Note: If you ask for something and are told, “I don’t have the authority to make that decision, we’ll have to get back to you.” The LEA must have the authority to make these decisions or there wasn’t an LEA at the meeting. That may mean that the school district is out of compliance with the IEP meeting date. The exception, I’m told, is NYC which never has an LEA at IEP meetings (but I have yet to figure out how this is ok!).
- I want a school staff person to attend the IEP meeting and the school said they won’t be there. This happens often, particularly when it comes to Paras and Aides. The school can do this, as long as they give you access to the information that the person has that is relevant to the meeting. To my knowledge, this concept has not been challenged in court. So that is where my focus would be: getting to the information that you think they have that is relevant to the meeting or IEP. And, you never want to put someone in an awkward spot with their employer.
- The school said, “We can only meet at XY or Z times and won’t accommodate my work schedule.” Nope, nope, nope, nope. Doug v Hawaii is one of the few law cases that I recommend parents use in working with their school. And that decision is very clear on this issue.
Rehearse for the IEP Meeting
I always recommend that parents rehearse portions of what they are going to say in their head. Particularly if you get nervous at the meetings or this is out of your comfort zone for you, it can help.
I put the article there about gaslighting more as an FYI, just so that you are aware that it can happen. Don’t let it rattle you. If you learn about the issues, you can better prepare your part of the discussion and not be caught off guard without a response.
IEP Meeting Checklist
Here is the checklist. (yes, I wanted you to read the tips before getting to it!)
Yes, you can breathe a sigh of relief when the meeting is over. But you are not done! There are still more letters/emails to write and ask for a PWN. Then, even if you agree with the team, you need to be aware of what to do if it is not being followed.
Slides from the video above: