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How To Prepare for IEP Meetings

Individualized Education Program meetings, or IEP meetings, are a requirement under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA). IDEA requires a child with disabilities' school representatives to hold meetings with the child's parent(s) to discuss the child's changing needs and develop an educational plan reflecting the child's needs and goals.

IEP meetings can seem daunting. But, they are a fundamental part of the IEP process and a vital time for advocating for your child's special education. These meetings provide a collaborative platform for school personnel, including the general education teacher and special education teacher, to meet with parents or guardians to plan for the child's special education services throughout the school year.

These IEPs must contain details of your child's individual educational accommodations, including things like extra time on tests, oral administration of exams and assignments, a seat in the front row of the class, an accompanying support or education services teacher, or anything within the school district's ability that will better aid your child's education.

This article will help prepare you for your first IEP meeting.

Tips To Know Your Rights and Options

Some parents grow anxious and stressed before their IEP meeting. Parents can be intimidated by school administrators and experts in this field. Additionally, many parents may encounter limited school resources for necessary accommodations. For instance, parents may face teacher shortages, insufficient funds, or inadequate education programs.

Don't let this deter you. Even in a school district with limited funds, you have viable options. And remember, you have a voice and final say in your child's educational needs. Follow these tips to help you prepare and feel more confident attending your child's IEP meetings.

Familiarize Yourself With Your Child's Legal Rights To Education Support and Services

IDEA requires your school district to provide information about education laws, regulations, and policies. Often, schools organize this material in a parents' rights booklet. Be sure to request one and read over it carefully well in advance of the IEP meeting.

You should be familiar with the IEP process. The IEP process outlines a comprehensive approach to determining your child's eligibility for special education programs. Due process safeguards in public schools regulate this process, ensuring parents have a say in their child's education.

Remember that as the parent, you are a decision-maker regarding your child's needs. As your child's teachers and aides gauge your child's performance at school, you are the one who sees your child at home and in other settings. Therefore, yours is an essential voice at the meeting.

It's essential to understand key terms such as assessments, reevaluation, IEP goals, measurable annual goals, present academic achievement and functional performance levels, related service providers, and assistive technology. These terms may come up in an IEP team meeting. FindLaw's Glossary for Learning Disabilities can be a helpful resource to review.

It's also a good idea to know your rights as a parent. As a parent, you are entitled to receive a prior written notice detailing the school's proposal or refusal to initiate changes in your child's education program. Understanding these rights will empower you in the decision-making process.

Talk To Other Parents and Parent Organizations

Many parents form alliances and organizations to discuss issues and support one another. Check with your school to see if your district has such a group. If not, consider starting one.

Also, ask your local learning disabilities association or your state's parent training and information centers about other support they may offer. These avenues of additional support can give you some great ideas and learning tools and help build your confidence about IEP meetings.

Determine Your Options

Collect information about different learning programs in your area that may be helpful to your child. You can ask your child's teachers and school administrators or check with your local learning disabilities association for information on such programs. Before the IEP meeting, visit several of these programs to get an idea of what they're all about. Take notes and organize them for the IEP meeting. For more information on eligibility, visit FindLaw's IEP Requirements for Disabled Students page.

Tips To Be Prepared and Get Organized

Follow these steps to get organized and tackle the process ahead of time.

Obtain a Copy of the School's IEP Form

Reading through this before the IEP meeting will familiarize you with what you will be filling out at the IEP meeting. IEP forms typically ask you to fill in the following:

  • Class vs. Programs: Decide which would be best for your child. Examples are a classroom environment for your child all or part of the day, a specialized program set aside just for students with a learning disability, or a specialized school for your child's specific disability.
  • Goals and Objectives: List goals such as linguistic, social, vocational, cognitive, self-growth, independence, and general academic goals you have for your child. Think broadly from math and reading skills to building healthy relationships to successful independent living. Consider what steps it will take for your child to accomplish these goals.
  • Related Services: Consider what supplemental supportive services will help your child succeed in a traditional classroom or will help your child reap the benefits of education support or services. Again, think broadly about your child's complete day, such as a one-on-one aide in the classroom, language therapy, transportation to and from school, etc.
  • Transition Services: List any support programs that help children transition into vocational settings and advanced placements. Typically, this is offered to children age 16 or older, but check with your state's laws. These services may be offered as early as age 14.
  • Additional Educational Elements: These include other elements that will help your child succeed, like certain teaching methods or curricula.

Become an Expert in Your Child's Educational Performance and Needs

  • Observe Your Child's Classroom(s): Schedule an appointment with your child's teacher(s) to observe your child in class and take notes. Seeing your child in more than one subject is helpful since different subject matters and environmental stimuli can affect your child's performance differently.
  • Review Your Child's Records: Schools maintain cumulative information on all students in a confidential file. Review your child's file periodically to help you assess your child's performance and better contribute to IEP meetings.
  • Ask Your Child: Go straight to the source. Ask your child what is working in school and what they want to improve. Around adolescence, ask your child about career interests, vocational programs, post-high school education, and where they want to live as an adult. Also, ask your child if they would like to attend the IEP meetings. Some children feel intimidated by this, and if your child doesn't want to attend, don't push. However, the child's input at the meetings can be helpful. Even if the child does not contribute much to the meeting, sometimes just being there to understand what is going on can help the child benefit from their accommodations.
  • Compose a List of Your Child's Strengths and Weaknesses: Think about your child's full day, including hobbies and extracurricular activities, behavior at home, social relationships, and any other hardships or strengths you notice. You should also include your child's interests, preferences, and environmental stimuli, which will all help contribute to a successful IEP. Jot down any concerns you have with your child's current evaluations and reports, and be sure to ask how your child is doing compared to their grade level.
  • Reflect on the Goals Listed in the Current IEP: Ask yourself which goals are the most important. Which ones will help your child prepare for post-school life? Compose a list of questions about how well your child is achieving these goals and which ones your child struggles with. Consider whether to keep the goals listed in the IEP, delete them, or tweak them.
  • List Some Goals That You Want Your Child to Achieve: Be specific. Think about behaviors you'd like to see improved, transitions into next steps or grade levels, the amount of time your child will spend in individualized education settings, whether your goals are appropriate for your child's grade level and academic setting, any technological assistance you want your child to receive, and any possible need for after-school and/or summer tutoring.
  • Decide How Often You Need Progress Reports: Your child's school must give you a progress report each time a report card is issued. Teachers are to keep in contact and may send notes home or call more frequently. If you don't feel like you are being adequately informed, think about what is necessary to fix this. How often do you think is appropriate to receive progress reports?
  • Understand and Explore Assistive Technology Options: Familiarize yourself with various assistive technology options that may help your child succeed in the school environment.

Develop Your Child's Ideal IEP

After careful preparation, you can create your own ideal IEP for your child. IDEA requires parents to compose the IEP with the school district. However, it is a great idea and often appreciated that you put together a blueprint before the IEP meetings.

This will help you learn about your child's educational life and show the school district that your child needs the educational assistance you are asking for. List your child's academic, social, and behavioral needs. This will help the IEP team determine measurable goals for the school year.

Gather Information and Material That Supports Your Ideal IEP

Organize copies of recent evaluations, reports, and medical records; samples of your child's work, showing strengths and weaknesses; and copies of evaluations and letters from any community or extracurricular activities.

Ask Who From the School District Will Be Attending the IEP Meeting

These meetings usually consist of one or more of your child's traditional classroom teachers, individual education teachers, and the school administrator responsible for education support and services (often the school counselor).

Pay close attention to the approach of your child's classroom teacher representative. This person usually sees your child's academic performance the most out of everyone and is an essential part of the team. As such, the teacher can either be your best friend or your worst enemy regarding IEP meetings since the teacher may be the most convincing member of the IEP team.

Invite Others To Attend the IEP Meetings on Your Child's Behalf

Consider inviting your child's doctor, psychologist, independent tutors and evaluators, or even personnel from programs you want your child to participate in. If you want someone there who can't make it, see if they would be willing to write a statement. Then, you can read this statement at the IEP meeting.

Come Up With Questions You Want To Ask at the Meeting

Keep a piece of paper handy as you prepare for the IEP meeting. Any time you have a question, jot it down. Then, add any other questions you may have included while writing your IEP blueprint or filling out the IEP form. Have this list of questions handy during the IEP meeting, and ask anything that isn't answered.

Organize All of Your Materials

Organization of your documents will make your life a lot easier. Collect and organize all reports, assessments, medical records, and additional information. This can include progress reports, report cards, and notes from teachers. If you go into the meeting with a nice, neat, clearly labeled binder or file, you will feel more confident and can easily move from topic to topic. Organize it in a way that makes sense to you, and it will be easy for you to turn to the sections you want quickly.

Tips For Going To the Meeting

Follow these tips for going to the IEP meeting or handling conflicts. Remember that you influence the quality of your child's education. IEP meetings are nothing to fear or be intimidated by. Be prepared and take the initiative at your child's IEP meetings to see results that will benefit you and your child.


Politely ask that everyone, including any of your guests, introduce themselves and state their roles at the IEP meeting. Jot this down for your records and date it. If you'd like to record the meeting, be sure to tell everyone there you are going to and record yourself doing this. There is often a sign-in sheet, and you can ask for a copy.

Follow Your Organized Plan

Go through your binder as you have organized it, asking all applicable questions as they arise. It might also help to prepare your input. As a parent, your insights into your child's needs are vital. Be ready to share them with the team. This should include your child's strengths, weaknesses, interests, and how the disability affects their school day.

Stay Positive

Try not to come across as hostile. Stay positive and polite, but don't be afraid to be assertive. Remember to thank the participants. You don't have to agree on the IEP plan the team composes right away. Take a copy home with you and let everyone know you must review it before making your final decisions.

Reschedule if Necessary

You can always reschedule the meeting. If the team is not making progress, or if you need some extra time to reflect on the recommended IEP, request another meeting, and when scheduling the next meeting, give yourself enough time to reflect.

Getting Legal Help with IEP Meetings

In some cases, you may need to seek legal advocacy to protect your child's rights during the IEP process. This may occur if you disagree with the school's assessments, feel that your child's IEP goals aren't appropriate or measurable, or believe your child is not receiving adequate special education services. You can also question evaluation results with school staff. Or, you might be interested in getting supplementary opinions.

An advocate or lawyer can help you understand your rights. They can explain legal safeguards to you. They can guide you in the decision-making process. They can also accompany you to the IEP meeting. Remember, it's important to keep your child's best interests in mind and focus on ensuring their access to an education that meets their unique special needs.

Talk to an education attorney about your child's disability and educational rights.

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