How to Have Meaningful Parent Participation in the IEP Process

IEP Parent Participation

Nothing disappoints me more than when I hear about a parent not learning the IEP process and maximizing their rights in the process. Look, not judging here. Mostly.

Ok, so I am getting a little judgy here. But here’s the thing. Not knowing and using your IDEA given rights is detrimental to your child. Schools absolutely know who is an active, engaged, knowledgeable parent and who isn’t.

anxious teen worried about going to school

And, they may take advantage of those who are not.

A few months ago, I met an IEP mom who was furious at how her child’s situation was being handled. But, upon further inspection…she had never even read the IEP!

Yes, this is an extreme situation. Still, you’d be surprised at how many parents I encounter who do not read the IEP in its entirety, or their Parents Rights (aka IEP Procedural Safeguards).

arents helping a child with homework

Parents as IEP Team Members

Parents are mandated IEP team members. Our policy makers who wrote IDEA were so adamant in parents participating in the process that they mandated your attendance at IEP meetings! That’s a big deal.

When you don’t know what you and your child are entitled to, and what they aren’t entitled to, it often creates unrealistic expectations.

I can’t even count the number of times a parent was enraged because an IEP team member didn’t do something that the parent thought they “should” do.

And guess what? They had an expectation of receiving something that is not required. Stuff like draft IEPs, email responses within X number of days, stuff like that.

You have to fully know what to expect to be a good advocate.

Here are some tips for parents new to the IEP process. Or those who maybe aren’t new, but are new to fully immersing in the process.

New to the IEP Process

As your child begins their IEP process, you may find yourself with many questions, one of which is “What can I do?” Being an active participant in the IEP process will be extremely beneficial to the success of your child as they navigate special education services within the school district.

While it can be daunting, there are many who have gone through it before you and want to share their experiences so you can have a stress-free journey with your child. My Facebook group has thousands of experienced parents and advocates and even attorneys in it. You are not on this journey alone.

Sure, it’s a learning curve. A journey I wish I didn’t have to take. But, these are the cards we’ve been dealt. So if you’re going to do something, do it well.

The information below will give you the tools to be an active participant in your child’s IEP process from start to finish and help the team carry out an effective IEP.

IEP Parent Presence

As your child’s parent, it is extremely important that you support your child in any way possible and show the school team you are ready to support them as well. For starters, the district cannot implement or change an IEP for your child until you have given consent.

Throughout the IEP process, you will be given insight pertaining to your child’s struggles, accomplishments, and development as it pertains to their IEP goals. This is wonderful information for you to have so that you can further support your child at home and stay up to date on the ins and outs of the classroom.

You also want to highlight for them what you are seeing at home because they may not see it at school. Doing an IEP Parent Concerns Letter is one of the most important steps in this process.

Your presence will create continuity in the IEP process by translating what is happening in the classroom to what is happening at home. This provides consistency for the child to continue developing without any unnecessary road bumps.

Depending on the child and their individual needs, supports will continue into high school and adulthood. You need to be the connector in helping your child taking an active role in their own goals and self advocacy. Your participation will allow them to openly communicate their goals as they grow so they can make decisions for themselves as they get older.

IEP Team Members

The team members on your child’s IEP team are especially important because they work with your child day in and day out. The people on the team may include service providers such as speech therapists, physical therapists, language therapists, and occupational therapists as well as their general education teacher.

Please note: For the purposes of this article, I am using the term “IEP team” in a broad, generic sense. In fact, a therapist is not a required IEP team member. Is it best practice to have them attend an IEP meeting? Absolutely! But it’s not required.

So it’s little things like this, if you have a misunderstanding, that can create a huge amount of hostility. I’ve had parents assume that a therapist or service provider did not attend an IEP meeting because they “don’t like me or my child.”

Chances are, they have a large case load and don’t have the time in their schedule to attend and instead send a report. But little things like this can quickly grow into big problems.

Never assume intent.

Your child’s teachers and therapists provide daily classroom insight into your child’s goals and successes. Also present for a meeting will be an administrator (LEA) and a special education teacher from within the school. But, while both a special ed and gen ed teacher are mandated IEP team members for an IEP meeting, it does not have to be your child’s teachers.

Again, best practice! But not required. Sometimes things come up when a teacher cannot attend the IEP meeting.

boy doing work at school

Everyone on the IEP team should be working together to give you data and observations from your child’s individualized education program so you can understand and assist with their goals.

If you don’t understand the data and reports, ASK. I find many parents don’t want to do this because they don’t want the team to know they don’t know this stuff. This is not your profession! Why would you know it?

And, whether or not you ask for help, a team will quickly discern if you understand the data or not.

The IEP team is required to present information to you in a format that you understand and explain it to you. This concept was so important to those who wrote IEP that they made IEP Parent Training a section on the IEP!

Understand the Purpose of the IEP Meeting

If you aren’t clear, be sure to ask questions. Or, read websites like mine.

Sometimes there are several IEP meetings throughout the year, they will most likely all cover different and ever-changing goals. Either clarify via email or phone so you can come prepared with questions or ask at the beginning of the meeting.

Oftentimes, a team member will open with the purpose of the meeting so everyone is on the same page. The general education teacher, as well as the special education teachers, should be communicating with you regularly but they often discuss the child’s IEP on a weekly basis to update one another.

Make sure you are clear on what’s happening and don’t hesitate to ask questions.

Request an IEP Meeting Agenda

One way to clarify the purpose of the IEP team meeting is to use a meeting agenda. Most public schools will already have this agenda and meeting minutes in place, but if they don’t be sure to ask for one.

This agenda keeps everyone on track so the IEP meeting can carry out smoothly. Any related services and progress reports that will be covered should be outlined in the agenda so everyone from the child’s teacher to you as the parent know what will be discussed.

An agenda is nice, but not required. Same with IEP meeting minutes. If they provide them to you, great. But they are not required to. (unless you do a full FERPA request, which I don’t recommend for novices)

Just more clarification so that parents fully know what they are entitled to and what they aren’t.

Ask Questions about the Evaluation Process

Individualized Education Programs can be extremely confusing sometimes. There are many moving parts and pieces that need to be carefully observed, modified, and completed on a daily and weekly basis.

While the teachers within your child’s school can speak with one another daily, you may not have as much access. If a goal doesn’t seem to fit the needs of your child, it’s your place to question it and make sure they are meeting your child’s educational needs in the least restrictive environment.

The best way to have your concerns taken seriously is to learn and use a Parent Concerns Letter and pair it with the PWN.

Again….YES! This is a learning curve. But, it’s essential that you learn it so as not to be taken advantage of.

Parent IEP Participation

As a parent, you bring critical information to the table. Parents know their child better than anyone. The IEP team wants to know how your child functions at home and what you have found works. You have been with your child for the longest amount of time, so you are bound to know tips and tricks that teachers can implement.

Parent participation is vital because you are able to share strengths and areas of need that the team may have never seen before. Tell teachers and special education staff about their interests and hobbies, they may be able to motivate your child using this knowledge.

The members of the IEP team are there to track your child’s progress, celebrate your child’s strengths, and learn about your child’s individual needs. They are a group of qualified professionals whose goal is to create the appropriate educational program for your child. I honestly do hear many success stories…I know there are lots of horror stories about IEPs. But there are good stories too.

It is a team effort but you are part of that team and get to make the final decision. Be their voice when they can’t advocate for themselves and be an active member of the team so your child can flourish!

In addition to the hyperlinks in the article above, please also read:

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