10 Tips for Parents during the IEP Process
July 15, 2014
Whether parents are attending their first Individualized Educational Program (IEP) meeting or have already attended many meetings, developing a child’s educational program is a process that takes preparation and patience. There are steps parents can take before, during and after the meeting that can make it a smoother process and lead to results that benefit the child.
Before the Meeting
1. Know your child’s diagnosis
Parents who will attend their child’s first IEP meeting may still be learning about their child’s diagnosis and how it impacts his or her learning, behavior, communication, and other skills. Becoming knowledgeable about autism and learning about educational interventions that can help the child is valuable, as it will enable a parent to confidently communicate their child’s needs in the meeting.
2. Know your educational rights
It is just as important to learn as much as possible about special education law, and parental rights. The New Jersey Administrative Code, NJAC 6A:14 is New Jersey’s interpretation of IDEA 2004, the federal special education law. This document describes procedures and timelines that school districts must follow in the course of evaluating, determining eligibility, developing the IEP, and providing services to children with special educational needs. It also outlines the rights afforded to parents when it comes to special education decisions. It is helpful to print a copy of NJAC 6A:14 and highlight sections that are relevant and important, and bring it to the meeting for reference. In addition, school districts are required to provide a copy at no charge to parents.
3. Create a check list
IEP meetings may have as many as ten people participating at once, with a great deal of information being shared and multiple conversations taking place in a short amount of time. This can be a daunting experience for many parents. Start by creating a list of important issues to discuss, and any questions concerns, or opinions. A list of any significant changes in the child’s life, such as medication, behavior, speech, preferences and interests, family life, etc. is also helpful. Referring to these items during meeting can help keep the discussion on track. It can also help to practice communicating the child’s needs with a friend, relative and/or advocate, and to find out ahead of time who will attend the IEP meeting.
4. Draft your own IEP
Although schools will typically bring their own draft of an IEP to the meeting, parents can also prepare their own draft. Autism New Jersey’s IEP Packet explains the required components and considerations according to NJAC 6A:14, and provides a sample IEP for reference.
The draft IEP can include documentation of needs in areas such as adaptive behavior, academics, cognitive functioning, personal/social development, physical and health status, prevocational and vocational skills, recreation/leisure skills, communication, and self-help skills. Include the need for any related services, such as speech therapy. This information will serve as a guide for developing a child’s goals and objectives, which should be specific, measurable and observable skills that the child will work on through their educational programming. Being specific about goals and objectives also helps ensure that progress can be tracked throughout the year.
5. Collect outside evaluations and review school records
Parents can use information gathered from outside evaluators to support their opinions about their child’s educational needs. Provide copies of these evaluations at the IEP meeting and refer to any recommendations for services and supports. It is also important to obtain and review information from the school such as copies of the child’s school records, evaluations conducted by the school and any prior IEPs before the meeting. NJAC 6A:14-3.8(f)1 states: “a copy of evaluations conducted by or through the school district are to be given to the parents at least ten days before the scheduled meeting.”
6. Visit School Programs
If possible, parents should visit several suggested programs and educational alternatives before the meeting. Autism New Jersey’s What to Look for in a Special Education Program brochure is a helpful checklist with items for parents to consider while evaluating different programs.
During the Meeting
7. Be creative and willing to negotiate when appropriate
Parents are more likely to have a successful outcome when they work collaboratively with the school district. As equal, fully participating members of the IEP team, parents have the right to have their input documented, and for their requests to be considered. Disagreements may arise, but it is important to remain calm and take a reasonable approach. Parents can advocate in an assertive manner while still listening openly to what the Child Study Team members are contributing to the discussion and to their recommendations. It is helpful to keep the focus of the conversation on the child by using the phrase “my child needs” rather than “I want.”
8. Take notes or record the meeting
It is helpful to take detailed notes about what was agreed upon during the meeting. In addition, according to NJAC 6A:14-3.7(l) “….either a copy of the IEP or written notes setting forth agreements with respect to the IEP…shall be provided to the parents at the conclusion of the meeting.” If a school district representative is making notes on the IEP about revisions that will be made, be sure to receive a copy of that version. Make sure that each required component of the IEP is addressed and a specific decision is reached. It may be necessary to schedule additional meetings in order to finalize/resolve all the issues. If possible, obtain written confirmation of future meeting dates and times before leaving the meeting.
Parents who cannot personally attend the meeting may participate through an individual or conference telephone call. While the law allow parents to make an audio recording of the meeting, it is advisable to do so only after repeated instances of miscommunication or broken promises. Parents who plan to record the meeting must provide notice ahead of time. Keep the recorder in plain view, and announce the date and purpose of the meeting on the recording. Ask members of the group to identify themselves at the start of the session, and whenever they are providing verbal input.
9. Review draft IEP
Even if it seems that everyone agrees with the IEP at the end of the meeting, it is a good idea to take a copy of the “final” version home and carefully review it for completeness. Even though a child’s first IEP cannot be implemented without a signature, it is an important opportunity to ensure that nothing was missed.
After the Meeting
10. Review, reread, schedule follow-up meetings
Take the IEP home and read it carefully, checking for inaccuracies or omissions. If additional meeting dates were arranged, send a written follow up to the case manager to confirm. When parents and the other members of the IEP team cannot come to an agreement during the meeting or follow up meetings, there are additional steps and formal procedures parents can follow to attempt to resolve the disagreement. For an initial IEP, no services can be offered until the school receives written parental consent. For all subsequent IEPs, the IEP will automatically go into effect 15 days from the date the parents receives it, unless they provide written notice requesting changes or stating that they disagree with the proposed IEP.