It’s that time of year again. Every spring, there are a plethora of IEP (Individualized Education Program) meetings that I begin attending. IEP teams are normally made up of teachers, special education teachers, a special education supervisor who writes the actual IEP, parents, and sometimes, when appropriate, students. I’m one of those people who actually loves these meetings. There’s rarely this much time devoted to understanding and supporting a student than when you’ve dedicated 30 minutes to an hour on the needs of a student. Parents are notified by mail that a meeting has been set and this time is sacred. If something comes up, we typically put the parent on speakerphone in order to have their voice heard. If you’ve never been to an IEP before you may have questions. It’s okay: I have some answers. Especially for parents who don’t feel as comfortable speaking “educationese” that we tend to be guilty of during these conversations. Here are a few things to know before heading in to an IEP.
First, make sure you bring a copy of the previous IEP. If you’re a notetaker, take notes directly on the paperwork. Ask about the previous accommodations made for your child and whether or not they’ve met their goals. If they haven’t, request that the goals remain on the IEP during your annual review. If this is the first time an IEP is being written for your child, you will receive a copy either directly following the meeting. Goals will be written on this IEP and you will need it right away. There is no reason to wait for a “clean copy” (unless their copy machine is broken which has happened to me once!).
Second, make sure a classroom teacher is present. This is a non-negotiable since they spend concentrated time with your child and can provide factual representation of how your child is performing. While it’s important that the rest of us around the table are there, a classroom teacher is an essential piece especially when you question about how the accommodations are being implemented. Since teachers are the ones modifying lessons, their presence is crucial. It’s also important to ask about required or state assessments and what child services your child will be provided should you decide to have them tested.
Third, get familiar with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (2004). It’s the law that ensures that children receive the services they need in a classroom setting. It also governs how agencies can intervene for a child with a learning disability. These services are not limited to, but include, the following categories of accommodations: academic (classroom), behavior, speech and language, OT/PT services (occupational and physical therapy), and testing accommodations. Students are able to get things like clarified directions, shortened assignments upon mastery of a skill, and extra time on tests. If they’re not offered, it could be that whatever learning disability your child has simply doesn’t lend itself to that need. However, make sure you ask the team if anything else will help them be successful in the classroom. This is a great checklist of accommodations that I found on a site created by teachers.
As children get older, it’s possible that they’ll participate in their own IEP. The way we do it for our exiting 8th graders moving on to high school is to make them not only attend, but they run the meeting with a short presentation on their strengths, weaknesses, and their accommodations. Empowering students like this makes them advocates for their own education that extends beyond high school.
This isn’t an exhaustive list, but I know many parents will walk this route for the first IEP and that it can be daunting to sit around the table with experts who, it seems, are speaking another language. Finally, just ask us to stop speaking it because we do it with such ease with one another on a daily basis that we sometimes forget that parents aren’t as fluent or even comfortable. Basically, the best question you can ask in an IEP meeting is what are all the things we can do to make my child successful?