My very first experience with a facilitated IEP meeting was not a good one. Things were very tense between the parents and the school. The parent hired me, the situation began to escalate. So I suggested a facilitated IEP meeting.

We scheduled the meeting and the facilitator (more on how to do that in a minute). When the meeting day came, we all arrived and were directed to the classroom for the meeting.

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The facilitator spoke up, introduced himself, told us about his background and how long he had been working for the PA Office of Dispute Resolution.

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Then he said, “Now, I’m going to leave you folks to your meeting.” And then he went and sat in the corner and never said another word!

Facilitated IEP Meetings

And while the meeting was more civil than previous meetings, nothing really was accomplished. Still, I’m a fan of facilitated IEP Meetings.

What is a Facilitated IEP Meeting?

A Facilitated IEP Meeting is a meeting and an outside, independent facilitator is brought in.

IEP facilitation is a voluntary process that can be used when all parties to an IEP meeting agree that the presence of a neutral third party would help facilitate communication and the successful drafting of the student’s IEP.

This process is not necessary for most IEP meetings. Rather, it is most often utilized when there is a sense from any of the participants that the issues at the IEP meeting are creating an impasse or acrimonious climate. (from PA Office of Dispute Resolution)

Side note: I need to use the word acrimonious more often.

Facilitated IEP meeting

IDEA and Facilitated IEP Meetings

Not all states have IEP meeting facilitators. This is because this is a “best practice” that states should have in their toolkits, but it is not in IDEA.

Therefore, states are not required to provide IEP meeting facilitators.

However, OSEP does acknowledge the process and even has a booklet on Facilitated IEP Meetings. ( I have it below)

Pros and Cons of Facilitated IEP Meetings

If your IEP situation is already acrimonious, bringing in an outside facilitator may calm tempers and moods.

Having an outside party there may also keep the team more honest if you’ve previously been gaslighted or feel “ganged up on.”

But, if your team feels things are going well, they may take offense at you bringing in a facilitator.

Another item to consider is that not all facilitators are created equal. Like any profession, there are good ones and even great ones. And some who sit in a corner and do nothing for two hours. Try networking with parents who have done this and see what their experience was.

If you want your meeting to be facilitated, it may delay your meeting. The states don’t have a ton of these folks on staff, and they have to schedule and attend meetings across a large region. Waiting for one may mean you have to wait a few extra weeks. Again, just another consideration.

Finding an IEP Meeting Facilitator

Look at your state’s Procedural Safeguards booklet. In the back, you will find your state’s dispute resolution options and procedures. If you don’t see it there, there should at least be agencies you can call for assistance. Call and ask.

Why I Recommend Facilitated IEP Meetings

First, I have to constantly remind myself that parents don’t contact me when things are going well. I only hear the bad stuff.

But, that being said, I’m hearing enough “bad stuff” to feel like it’s a growing pattern. Parents are being gaslighted at IEP meetings, condescended to, belittled and more.

And, I’m also hearing that parents can either not find an IEP advocate or cannot afford an IEP advocate.

IEP Meeting Facilitators are free. While it’s not an advocate, it’s someone neutral there, and that may give you confidence.

I feel like the climate of special education has gotten worse in the past 10 years, not better. And my hope is that if states see an increase for requests for facilitators, maybe that will trigger some action elsewhere.

Here is the informational video from the state of Pennsylvania.

What to Expect from an IEP Meeting Facilitator

A facilitated Individualized Education Program (IEP) meeting is similar to a standard IEP meeting but involves the assistance of a neutral facilitator. The facilitator’s role is to help ensure that the meeting proceeds smoothly, that all participants have an opportunity to contribute their perspectives, and that the focus remains on developing an effective and appropriate educational plan for the student.

Here’s what typically happens in a facilitated IEP meeting:

  1. Preparation: Prior to the meeting, the facilitator may communicate with the school team, parents or guardians, and any other relevant parties to gather information about the student’s needs, goals, and concerns. They may also help ensure that necessary documentation and materials are prepared for the meeting.
  2. Introduction: The facilitator starts the meeting by introducing themselves and explaining their role. They may also review the agenda for the meeting and establish ground rules to ensure productive communication and collaboration.
  3. Discussion of Student’s Needs and Goals: The team discusses the student’s strengths, weaknesses, and unique needs, as well as their academic, social, and emotional goals. The facilitator helps guide the conversation to ensure that all relevant areas are addressed and that everyone has an opportunity to contribute.
  4. Development of the IEP: Based on the discussion of the student’s needs and goals, the team works together to develop or revise the student’s IEP. This includes determining appropriate educational services, accommodations, modifications, and goals to support the student’s progress and success.
  5. Problem-Solving and Resolution of Issues: If there are disagreements or challenges during the meeting, the facilitator helps facilitate discussion and problem-solving to address these issues constructively. They may encourage brainstorming, exploration of alternative solutions, and consensus-building among team members.
  6. Documentation and Follow-Up: The facilitator helps ensure that decisions and agreements reached during the meeting are documented accurately in the IEP. They may also assist with developing a plan for implementing the IEP and monitoring the student’s progress over time.

Facilitated IEP meetings can be particularly helpful in situations where there are significant disagreements or tensions among team members.

The neutral facilitator can help maintain a collaborative and constructive atmosphere, promote communication and understanding, and ultimately support the development of an effective educational plan for the student.

However, I have had a parent-client who screamed at teachers during a facilitated IEP meeting. Not only did the facilitator not do their job that day, but I ended up letting that client go as a client. She’s only one of three people I’ve actually “fired” as a client in 15 years.

Below is the OSEP booklet on IEP Meeting Facilitation. It gives you an overview of what to expect.

A reminder that it is a facilitator, and that this is not IEP Mediation. I think mediation is a good option too.

What the PA Office of Dispute Resolution Says:

It is important to understand that IEP facilitators are not hearing officers and do not have the authority to make decisions for the parties if the parties are unable to agree. IEP facilitators are third-party neutrals with a thorough understanding of special education law and procedures. They are not advocates for either party. They help the members of the IEP team focus on the issues at hand during the IEP meeting. The facilitator’s role is to focus the dynamics of the meeting to ensure that the participants interact respectfully, that the perspectives of all the participants are heard, and that the participants focus on the issues and future actions.

After reading that description, you can see why I was steamed when our facilitator sat like a bump on a log. But, that was my only negative experience with an IEP meeting facilitator, and now I just request others.

One way to think of it is that facilitation is the step before mediation if you think of them incrementally.

My state does not offer IEP Meeting facilitators.

I’m sorry. The only suggestion I have is to work with the various stakeholders to try and make it happen.

Good luck, I hope this helps you have better IEP meetings.

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