by Linda DeFrancesco, B.S. Sp. Educ.
A carefully designed IEP is a team effort between the school’s resources and the family that focuses on and clarifies what should take place in the classroom.
A poorly written IEP can lead to vagueness in programming and a lack of accountability. The parents’ role in the design and implementation of the IEP is extremely important.
Educate yourself about the law in your state
Special education is federally mandated by a law entitled the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Each state interprets the law differently. Information about rights and responsibilities is available from your state department of education.
Prepare for the IEP Meeting
IEP meetings must be held on an annual basis, but can be called by either the parents or the school at any time. Preparation is a continuous job.
The best way to be prepared is to keep a log of all communication, written and verbal between you and those involved in your child’s program.
Keep an organized file of your child’s records, including minutes of previous meetings, test results, teacher and therapy reports, and all correspondence. Use a loose-leaf notebook with dividers.
Enter the date, time and results of all communication. Be specific and include details. Prior to each meeting review documents, making sure that you have copies of all reports of recent testing. Alert appropriate people so that they are available to attend.
Schools are required to schedule meetings at a mutually convenient time and give adequate notice (usually about ten days). It may be advisable to have an advocate or friend accompany you to assist with clarification. With so many people from the school system, parents sometimes feel overwhelmed.
At the Meeting
Enter the IEP meeting with a positive attitude and willingness to work with the team. Ask if you can tape the meeting in order to review what took place. This can be helpful if conflicts arise.
Ask questions about anything you do not understand. If there is not adequate time to cover all aspects of the child’s program reschedule a follow-up meeting to address the remaining issues. It is important to understand the following:
1) Your child’s present levels of functioning
2) Learning strengths and weaknesses
3) How much progress your child has made or why there is not progress if that is the case
4) What related services your child will be receiving and how those services are going to be delivered (in the classroom or in a therapy room, individually or in a group)
5) What classroom options are available (a self-contained model, full inclusion, or a special center).
Compare the new IEP with the one from the previous year. Make sure that they differ. Ask school personnel why they rejected more and less restrictive placements, why a particular recommendation is being made, and what options are available. If available options are not appropriate, a program must be developed.
After the Meeting
Remember that the IEP is a fluid document. That means that it can be modified and changed at any time. If goals are met, new ones can be added. If goals are not being met, maybe more realistic ones need to be considered. Listen to the tape of the meeting.
Get a copy of the notes from the meeting and the new IEP. Visit the proposed placement. Are the children good peers for your child? Does the teacher seem confident and warm? Are there ample opportunities for movement in the classroom?
Is the child’s individual learning style being respected? Are the IEP goals and objectives being focused upon, or is the child being fit into a pre-determined curriculum?
Write a note to the school, thanking them for meeting with you and noting any discrepancies between what the notes say and what you recall. Remember that the notes reflect the biases of the notetaker.
Add any important information that may be missing. Ask for periodic reviews to assure that the IEP is being followed and that your child is progressing. Relax and enjoy your “special” children.