Spring is here, which means that not only is it officially baseball season (go Sox!), but also that it is officially annual IEP Team meeting time. For parents who find these meetings to be a little overwhelming or frustrating, here are some tips that I hope will be helpful:
1. Be Prepared. Take some time before the Team meeting to make sure you have identified any questions and concerns about your child’s educational program, and have carefully reviewed any evaluation reports that the Team may be discussing. It can be helpful to bring a written list of questions and comments with you to the meeting.
2. Share Information Before the Meeting. It is usually a good idea to share with the Team any private evaluation reports that you have at least ten school days in advance of the meeting, so that the school district can consider the findings and recommendations contained in the reports. Sometimes it is also helpful to have your child’s service providers (i.e., tutors, therapists, specialists) provide short written summaries for the Team to consider as well.
3. Consider the Meeting Invite List. As I noted in an earlier post, there are a number of people who are required to attend Team meetings. For parents, it can be helpful to review whether your child is at an age and/or developmental level where they should attend part, or all, of the meeting. Parents can also elect to bring a friend for moral support (and to take notes), and ask the Team to invite individuals who have knowledge to share about a student that would be helpful for the Team to consider.
4. Listen. School district staff are able to observe your child for a significant portion of the weekday, and they may see things in the school environment that you are not witnessing at home. Try to listen to what school staff are reporting, and consider this information carefully. If there are significant discrepancies between how you view your child and/or their abilities, and how the school views your child, then the Team should discuss these differences and determine whether any additional changes should be made to the IEP.
5. Participate. You have the right under the law to participate in the development of your child’s IEP. You should always be able to ask school staff to clarify anything that you don’t understand during a meeting, and to be given an opportunity to share your concerns and requests.
6. Try to Keep Your Relationship with the Team Positive. It is really important for parents to try and keep their relationship with the Team as positive and cooperative as possible. That does not mean that parents have to agree with everything school district staff say or propose, but parents should try to handle any disagreements in a cordial manner.
7. Create Your Own Record of the Meeting. It is a good idea to take notes during, or immediately after, your child’s Team meeting so that you have a contemporaneous record of what transpired. You may also want to consider giving the district a copy of your notes or a meeting summary within a day or two of the meeting. Creating this kind of record can help eliminate potential disputes down the road.
8. Wait to Sign. Parents should never feel pressured to sign an IEP, or any other document, during a Team meeting. If you are not sure about whether or not to sign something – don’t!
9. Carefully Review the Notice Forms You Receive After Each Meeting. Anytime the school district either proposes an evaluation or a change to your child’s IEP, or refuses to evaluate or change your child’s IEP at your request, the school district is required to send you a notice that reflects in detail what action was proposed or refused, and why. This is known as “prior written notice” and is an important procedural protection that requires school districts to document the basis of their decision-making. Make sure that you receive and read this notice (which is sometimes called an N1 form in Massachusetts) after each Team meeting, and verify that the notice fully reflects what actually transpired at the meeting. If the notice is inaccurate or incomplete, you may want to consider writing a short letter to the Team Chair to express your concerns.
10. Listen to Your Instincts. You know your child better than anyone else. If you sense that he or she is not making progress at school, or in other areas of development, then you may want to consider obtaining updated evaluations to assess your child’s progress.