Blog by Summer Stech, Esquire – TACA’s Legal Advocate
TACAnowblog series: Legal Advocacy
The school year is well underway and winter break is around the corner. By now you may have already had an Individualized Education Program (IEP) meeting – or two or three – or maybe your child’s triennial or annual review is coming up in the spring. Either way, you are likely to step foot into an IEP meeting in the near future, and it is always best to be prepared. Whether this is you r first IEP meeting or your 21st, it is always a good idea to keep in mind some of the basic skills of getting through the IEP meeting unscathed.
Our first article in this three-part series focused on how to PREPARE for your IEP meeting. As you go about preparing for your next IEP meeting, also keep TACA’s top 10 list of things to do DURING an IEP meeting in mind:
- Be polite but assertive at the meeting.
Do not be afraid to offer suggestions.
Do not be afraid to ask questions – even if you think you already know the answer (sometimes ESPECIALLY if you know the answer).
- Disagree effectively.
Explain the reasons why you disagree and why you believe something is important for your child. Cite information from your child’s evaluations or other records to support your position (also see #3).
Make sure your disagreement is clearly noted in the team meeting notes.
Try not to be overly persistent with your disagreement; it might be difficult to do, but being overly defensive or emotional isn’t an effective way of persuading others regarding your point of view.
Sometimes it is better to “agree to disagree”. You will have a chance to voice your concerns and press the issue in a more productive manner after the meeting.
- Provide rationales and/or documentations if you have them to back your point of view.
Make it difficult for the district to disagree with you. It is much easier to disagree with something a parent thinks, feels or believes than it is to disagree with a professional finding or opinion.
- Make sure you are being realistic about your child’s abilities and needs.
Talk to friends, family members and TACA mentors.
You know your child best, but speaking with others who also know your child may help you formulate a clear vision for the IEP.
- If your child is in high school or about to, clarify whether or not your child is on a “diploma track.”
Not all students will receive a diploma and many students with IEP’s will receive an alternate “certificate” indicating completion of 4 years of school without a diploma. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires the district to continue to provide special education services and placement to students who do not receive a diploma until the reach the age of 21. Without a high school diploma, students with a certificate of completion do not qualify for admission to post-secondary educational institutions.
The IEP document must indicate whether or not your child is working towards a diploma.
- If your child is in high school know the high school exit requirements.
Many states require a high school exit exam to receive a high school diploma. Additionally, most high schools have certain requirements for graduation.
Ask school officials about the graduation requirements are for the state and school district and whether your child is scheduled to meet those requirements.
IDEA requires your child’s IEP to identify whether he will be working towards a diploma. Do not overlook this section! Make sure you are part of the decision making in determining whether your child will work towards receiving a diploma.
- Do not agree to a placement without seeing it!
The school district must allow you to observe any placement that is proposed as part of its offer of a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). Schedule an observation as soon as possible and
- Always describe your recommendations and request for services as “needs” NOT “wants”.
Always state “my child needs….” As opposed to “I want….”
Make sure that it clearly states that these services are necessary for your child to receive an adequate level of educational progress. Never try to argue that the services you are requesting are the “best.”
- Make sure IEP goals are challenging, objective and measureable.
Goals drive placements. Insist that your child’s goals are challenging, objectively written, and measurable.
- Make sure to review meeting notes before you leave and do not sign the IEP at the meeting.
I repeat – do not sign the IEP at the meeting!
Even if at the time you seem to agree with everything on it. Take it home and review it with your spouse, family member or a trusted advocate.
Review meeting notes to see if they adequately reflect what happened at the meeting. If they do not reflect what happened, create a “parent comment section” and add it to the IEP. If you do not agree with what was offered, write a letter of dissent clearly stating what you consent to and can be implemented immediately, and what you disagree with and do not consent to.
Any disagreements can be resolved through the IEP process or a due process hearing. [i]
[i] TACA Talk About Curing Autism, Best Practices at IEP Meetings [PDF document]. Retrieved from Lecture Notes last updated December 13, 2011 by Stech, S.