Welcome to the Letter P! As part of the ABCs of IEPs, my plan is to go through the alphabet once, then I will add in other essays as time permits, and will certainly duplicate letters. One of those letters is the Letter P, for sure! I first thought that I would talk about Pragmatics. Then I thought, “No, Progress Monitoring is more important.” Then, after considering Procedural Safeguards…I landed on Parent Participation in the IEP process. I will go back and do the others though. But for now, since Parent Participation is so important to the IEP process and education, I thought I would write about it.
What is Parent Participation in the IEP process?
I find that most parents are not fully aware of their rights in the process. And some over-emphasize their rights. Parent participation in the IEP process is guaranteed by IDEA. In 2003, it was further defined by case law: 6th Cir 2003 N.L. v Knox County Schools 315 F.3d 688, 693 a parent has meaningfully participated in the development of an IEP when she is informed of her child’s problems, attends the IEP meeting, expresses her disagreement with the teams IEP conclusions, and requests revisions n the IEP.
But, being an equal member of the IEP team does not mean you have full authority of final say. Please make sure that you actually read the Procedural Safeguards that are given to you at each meeting. Your rights as well as where to go for assistance, are outlined there.
Tips for meaningful parent participation in the IEP process
One of the biggest complaints I hear from parents is that they do not feel listened to. While I don’t have any hard data, I think the rule of thirds probably applies here. One third of schools will appreciate you and value you as an IEP team member. One third of school teams will always be belligerent and it will always be an uphill battle. And then there’s the middle third–who may not be readily helpful and accepting, but you use professional techniques and language, you win them over. So here are some techniques you can use to make sure that you are effectively communicating with your child’s IEP team to be an equal member.
- Speak up. If they do not readily ask for your input and opinions, give it. You have the Parental Concerns portion of the IEP and the meetings and other venues…use them!
- Remain child focused. Stay focused on your child, their skills and abilities, and what they are or are not receiving. Before you make requests, turn your language around. For example, instead of saying, “You did not pull Jacob out for his spelling test” say “Per his IEP, Jacob is to be pulled out for his spelling tests. He is reporting that this is not happening.” Same problem, but you’re not finger pointing and being accusatory. Make sense?
- Use the tools available to you. Read your Procedural Safeguards. Use the Parental Concerns portion of the IEP.
- Do unto others… If you expect your team to be professional and knowledgeable, you should be too. Be on time for meetings. Devote time to reading the documents ahead of time. Come prepared, just as you expect them too.
- Know your role. You are there to help them understand your child better, not tell them how to do your job. That is your job as part of the IEP team. You may have to actually say this out loud to team members who take offense or are insulted. But keep this one in mind as well as #2, since they go together, and you will be more successful in getting through to them.
- Devote time to it. How would you feel if your child’s team members only looked at your child’s IEP once or twice a year? Yes, I realize that this is their job…well, but it’s your job too. We have to devote time to this.
- Gather data. They only see your child a few hours a day. Come up with an organizing system to quickly and effectively gather data at home. This will help make your job easier (as far as showing areas of need), help get your child’s needs met and will also let your team know that you are a serious, engaged partner in this process….not just a complainer, which is often our reputation.
- Be solution oriented. Have ideas handy. Schools are understaffed and team members have giant caseloads. You can think “that’s the school board’s budget problem, not mine” but that is not team thinking. Team thinkers have solutions. So recognize this, and think of ways you can get your child’s needs met, but not give someone a ton of work to do. For example, a yes/no checklist instead of a monthly report and so on. Right now, I would bet my bank account that many, many IEP teams see parents as “someone who is going to come in here and ask us for a bunch of stuff we don’t have the resources to do.” Turn that around so that they look forward to you coming in–because they know that you also will have solutions. They will know that you are a resource too, not just someone asking for things.
- Don’t make threats. Out of all the OCR complaints and professional conduct complaints I have helped families write and file, we never once announced it in a meeting. So don’t do the “I’m just going to file for due process!” or other similar threats. If it comes to that, so be it. I just never think that threatening behavior is a good idea.
- Be a team player. We’ve all been on other teams before. We know the values of team behavior-shared values, mutual trust, similar vision, skills, and rewards. Open communication, shared goals…we all know what a good team looks like, so no matter what, take the high road and be that awesome team player.
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