Inside: There are 5 times during the IEP process that are conducive to ‘extra’ parent participation. Learn what they are and how to use them to be a better advocate for your child.

As a result of having this website, I have come into contact with thousands of IEP parents. And, at least once a month, I answer this question. The question of “Should I be emailing the IEP team….” and 90% of the time, the answer is YES.

I do not pay attention to the IEP process just once a year and hope for the best. I’m not trying to shame anyone, but when you contact me and say, “My IEP meeting is in an hour, can you tell me…..” I know that you are not prepared.

iep scattered on a desk

The IEP Process

Is my IEP process easier than yours? No, not at all. But, because I devote so much time to it throughout the year, it appears that way. You get what you give.

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I always say this when parents ask why they need to take my IEP advocacy training–“The IEP Process never gets easier. YOU get better.

So, if you give it no time throughout the year and ask an afterthought question on your way out the door…..what type of result do you expect? Extensive and consistent parent participation is essential to the IEP process.

iep process flow chart

Just because I have more training on the IEP than many parents does not mean that I don’t think that it’s overwhelming or time-consuming. Of course I do! I often say, “I wish this was a knowledge base I didn’t have to have.”

But I also have resigned myself to suck it up and do my best for my son. The IEP process is overwhelming.

The main component of the IEP process is the data and documentation. Your IEP, the evaluation reports, PWNs…all that stuff. What is said amongst team members is much less relevant, though that is what we stress out about the most.

Teaching data collection, how to gather IEP data, interpreting IEP data, organizing…these are all the main components of my online IEP advocacy training. It’s that important–that I created an entire curriculum to teach this.

But, if nothing else, you MUST be communicating with your IEP team during these five situations. It doesn’t necessarily mean an email. But you should be filling out a form or something! Something in writing!

5 Main Parts of the IEP Process

What if I told you you could narrow it down to 5 main things? Would that make it easier? What if, like for our kids, sometimes, we could chunk it down?

I know that part of this problem is that parents do not feel listened to. And when that repeatedly happens, you feel beaten down and have a “why bother?” attitude.

And I get that, too. That is why I spend so much time helping parents understand the process. So that parents can use the process and use language that the district is more likely to respond to.

There are five components built into the IEP process that invite parent participation. Yes, you should be participating throughout, but parent participation does not begin and end with the IEP meeting. Other parts are just craving your attention.

I’ve created a flow chart to explain how it works. I have it embedded as a PDF because that way, you can click the boxes, and it will take you to the blog post explaining that part of the IEP process.

Being aware of these components and participating to the maximum extent allowed will make the overall process easier on yourself. You are more likely to be heard and listened to. So here they are–the five components of the IEP process that parents must participate in.

5 Things Every Parent must do in the IEP Process.

Initial/Re Evaluations: This one doesn’t happen as often as the other parts, but it is very important. An initial evaluation happens when your child is first evaluated for Special Education services. So, what does the participation look like?

Easy. A letter. The district is required to evaluate in every area of suspected disability. So, if they do not suspect a disability in an area, it is your responsibility and opportunity to bring it to their attention. Describe it. Define it for them. In your letter, tell them specifically what you are seeing.

Your child is re-evaluated every two or three years depending on your state. Even if it is a re-evaluation, they are required to evaluate every area of suspected disability. So, this is the time to bring up new issues if you have not already done so.

This is also the time to submit in writing that you do not wish for the re-evaluation to be a “review of records.” You may not suspect any new diagnoses. But if the child is older, you may want assessments that pertain to possible vocational training.

Reevaluation or Evaluation report: You should have provided data to your team during the evaluation process. Either you participated in a formal assessment (such as filling out the parent portion of a Vineland), or you provided concerns in writing or both. When the evaluation process is complete, it is compiled into a report.

There are parts where the team can state that they agree or disagree with the report. If you do not receive that, ask for a PWN stating the results and/or eligibility, and you can have your say that way.

Parent Concerns letter: I can’t browbeat parents enough about this! I’ve said it over and over and over: this is the most important part. The Present Levels section of the IEP is what drives later portions of the IEP, and parents MUST submit their parent concerns to be included in that section.

Don’t wait to be asked for it; if your IEP meeting is coming up, submit it. If it is not included, make a note of it on the PWN. Get yourself the IEP organizer so that you are current and have an ongoing list of concerns and a method for collecting your own data.

After the IEP meeting letter: I know that feeling of relief. You come home from the IEP meeting, kick your shoes off, and relax. Whew! Made it another year!

All you have to do now is wait for that final copy to arrive, and you are done for another year, right? NO! WRONG!

First, you should have been taking notes or have someone take notes for you at the meeting. If you had a notetaker, you ask for a copy of those notes IMMEDIATELY after the meeting.

If you did neither, you have to start writing when you get home. So whether it’s a pad and pen or on the computer, you must start documenting everything discussed and agreed upon. I can’t even tell you the number of phone calls and emails I get from parents saying, “I don’t get it; the final IEP I got is very different from what we discussed in the meeting.” It happens!

So, you immediately, within 24 hours, write a letter. Send it to your child’s IEP team leader. “Dear so-and-so, a lot of information was tossed around today, so I just want to make sure that I am clear on what was discussed today.” And then do a bulleted list. All of it! If they do not refute it, it stands as truth (in the eyes of the law, should you find yourself in Due Process).

Parent Letter of Attachment: In PA, we get a form called a NOREP at the end of the process (after all evaluations and meetings). Most states call this the PWN. In Pennsylvania, it is essential that you sign it because if you do not, it automatically goes into effect in 10 days if you do not. Check your state regs for the specifics on this. Even if you agree, you must sign it.

If you disagree with some parts, YOU WRITE IT ON THE FORM. You can put what you want on the form; ours has a big empty space at the bottom. Or, write on the back. My point is, even though it’s a Parent Letter of Attachment, don’t submit any attachments! Attachments get “lost,” but NOREP/PWNs rarely do.

Hopefully, this simplifies it for you. You need to pay particular attention to these five parts of the process and provide a written response or comment.

I hope this gets you on the track to better advocacy!

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