In the first quarter of 2020, we had no idea how much our lives were going to change. Not just for the next couple of years, but forever in some instances. I mean, will you ever eat birthday cake that someone blew on? Eeeuwww, I won’t.

Restaurants got better at takeout and so did apps. The whole “from home” thing just blew up and this has been fantastic as far as moving accessibility forward. Virtual IEP meetings? Who knew?

mom participating in an online iep meeting

I’ve been working at home and doing online and phone meetings for almost a decade. And I know more about IEPs than most people on the planet. So my comfort level with an online IEP meeting is very high. But I realize that may not be the case for everyone.

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Virtual IEP Meetings

But now this issue is coming up–a school is only offering a Zoom or online meeting and not offering the opportunity for it to be in person. Can they do that? Can a parent request that it be in person, and do they have to comply?

Let’s dig in. For the record, I use the following words interchangeably: online, virtual, zoom, skype, and teams (meaning Microsoft teams, the software, not an IEP team).

What IDEA says about online meetings

IDEA allows for this:

(f) Alternative means of meeting participation

When conducting IEP team meetings and placement meetings pursuant to this section, section 1415(e) of this title, and section 1415(f)(1)(B) of this title, and carrying out administrative matters under section 1415 of this title (such as scheduling, exchange of witness lists, and status conferences), the parent of a child with a disability and a local educational agency may agree to use alternative means of meeting participation, such as video conferences and conference calls.

But, as with much of IDEA, there is a clear-cut mandate either way. You can agree to this as a parent. But do you have to?

Well, maybe. You should file this under “Is this the hill I’m going to die on?” Because neither side has something to point to and say, “I win.”

So, it becomes a dispute, which then goes to dispute resolution. This scenario may change a bit if you (the parent) have a hearing or vision disorder and cannot effectively participate on Zoom.

I am not aware of any case law that works for or against parents when it comes to online or phone IEP meetings. What I mean by that is this. I do not know if a school can force you to attend a virtual meeting if you are uncomfortable doing one. Nor do I know if you can force an in-person meeting if you want one.

That’s the only surefire way to secure an in-person meeting–demonstrate that you cannot have meaningful participation via Zoom or Teams. Perhaps you don’t have a computer. Then you ask the school to provide one for you to participate. Many districts have Chromebooks to loan out.

Given the past few years, demonstrating that Zoom will not allow meaningful participation in the IEP process will be an uphill battle.

Doctors now regularly see patients online. The court system, and the prison systems–both now are regularly hearing from defendants, witnesses, etc., via Zoom or Skype. Psychologists, IEE evaluators, job interviews, parties, and happy hours…so much of it takes place online now.

This weakens your argument that only an in-person IEP meeting will be effective and meaningful.

For me, not the hill I’m going to die on. If you choose to pursue this, please take all of this into consideration as you prepare to ask the district.

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But also, consider changing your frame of mind and getting comfortable outside of your comfort zone.

I have heard from parents that when an IEP meeting is virtual, they worry about side conversations and notes and whispering that may not happen if the meeting was in person.

Yes, that’s a crappy thing to do to parents and it stinks. I’m still not sure if it’s a path I’d pursue as a reason to force an in-person meeting. First, accusing people of stuff like this, even if it’s true, is not going to go over well. Rarely do people admit that they’ve done stuff like this and agree to change.

Meaningful parent participation in the IEP process is one of the cornerstone principles of IDEA. My professional advice is to keep your points focused on how having a virtual meeting does not allow you for meaningful parent participation.

Benefits of Virtual IEP Meetings

I prefer video conferences such as Zoom or Skype rather than phone meetings. I’ve done phone meetings, and they’re awful. You can see facial expressions and body language on Zoom.

And I find the technology to be better and more real-time communication. I hate those awkward pauses and interruptions in phone conference calls. But there are many benefits to online IEP meetings.

  1. Save money on gas, child care for siblings.
  2. Save time going to and from, plus whatever time you may have needed to take from work.
  3. Clinicians and therapists who are not in your child’s building can attend rather than “just sending in her written part”
  4. You can record it with a screen recorder and transcribe it, so you have instant meeting notes!
  5. It allows both parents to attend more easily, and two parents don’t have to leave work, etc.
  6. Allows for private/home team members to attend and participate

Online and Virtual IEP Meetings

A virtual IEP meeting can be a real advantage if parents do their due diligence.

Please make sure that you follow up with your After IEP Meeting Letter. But, with a recorded Zoom meeting, there will be much less to write.

Sample Virtual IEP Meeting Agenda

I can’t remember the last time I was in an IEP meeting for only an hour.

But this is directly from OSEP’s “Ideas that Work,” so….here you go. This assumes that much prework was done. Prework is not predetermination if the parent’s concerns are included.

sample virtual IEP meeting agenda

Tips for Virtual IEP Meetings

The best over-arching tip is this: Keep in mind that the only thing that has changed about this IEP meeting is the location.

That’s it. Location. It is now being held online instead of in person. Everything else should remain the same.

  1. All standard rules still apply. Just because it’s not in person doesn’t mean that other wonky rules get to come into play. All mandated IEP team members must be there unless you excuse them.
  2. Other rules that seem to “change” when it’s an online meeting: Having a copy of the IEP or evals there for the parent, signing documents, and parental input. None of these changes just because the location of the meeting has changed.
  3. Confirm what software they are using ahead of time. Download it and try it in advance.
  4. Treat it just as you would any other IEP meeting. Do your parent concerns letter and your after-IEP meeting letter. The only thing that has changed about this IEP meeting is the location.
  5. Be professional. Dress appropriately and sit in a quiet room with no distractions. You wouldn’t attend a regular IEP meeting in pajamas, and you shouldn’t for this one. Be on time.
  6. Many online meeting software programs allow for easy recording of IEP meetings. You may want to research this option and let your team know. Again, all rules and laws will apply–including that you SHOULD NOT record if you are in a 2-party consent state and do not have consent.
  7. Charge the phone or device you will use to 100%. Using these programs can be an extra heavy drain on batteries.
  8. Make sure you are in a location with solid Wi-Fi or internet access. It’s annoying on all ends when it’s spotty, and people freeze up mid-sentence.
  9. If you’re nervous about how you look or sound on video (I hate how I sound on the Don’t IEP Alone podcast!), that’s just a personal comfort issue you must overcome. Know that I’ve done a zillion conference calls and online meetings, and never once am I focused on “eeuw, that person’s voice is weird!” Once you start chatting about the task, you forget you’re online.

Online meetings may be a real positive thing for many families. Once we get over this hump of insecurity and newness, they can be a huge lifesaver for snow days, car breakdowns, and many other situations.

It also has been a huge factor in my advocacy business and keeping costs down. I don’t need to charge parents for travel time and gas and I can fit more clients into my schedule.

You might like it once you get used to it!

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