by Summer Stech, Esquire – TACA’s Legal Advocate
The new school year is finally underway! Of course a new school year means it is time to start thinking about your child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP). Although many annual IEP’s are developed in the Spring - due to the prevalence of Spring birthdays, it is a good idea to have an IEP meeting in the beginning of the school year as well. Once your child has had some time to acclimate to a new classroom, new teachers and paraprofessionals, and maybe even a new school; the team should take the time to review the program set forth in the IEP and make any necessary changes to ensure a successful school year.
You have the right to request an IEP meeting to review or change your child’s program at any time. You should make this request in writing and mail the request with a return receipt or hand deliver your letter and have it date stamped and copied by the school office. Your request should be addressed to your child’s teacher, principal or special education administrative office. Although federal law and its corresponding regulations do not specify a timeline for when an IEP meeting requested by a parent must be held, your state laws and regulations might. You should ensure you are aware of any state mandated timelines associated with your request.
As you prepare for your first IEP meeting of the school year (or maybe it’s your first IEP), keep TACA’s top 10 list of things to do before an IEP in mind:
1.) Take a look at the services on your child’s last agreed upon IEP.
- Write down why different services have or have not worked.
- Write down any new services you feel your child needs and why your child needs them to receive a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE).
2.) Go through each goal from the last agreed upon IEP.
- Write down your opinion in regards to whether your child has progressed in different goal areas.
- Be sure to give specific examples to support your position.
3.) Observe your child outside the classroom.
- At different times of the day, doing different activities. Take notes. If you have concerns share these with the team.
- If necessary ask for assessments for a new area of need.
4.) Observe your child inside the classroom at different times or volunteer in the classroom.
- Each school district is going to have their own rules regarding parents observing in the classroom. If you are told that you cannot observe your child, ask for your district policy in writing on parent observations.
5.) Be prepared! Preparation will give you confidence at the meeting.
- Bring copies of previous IEPs/school records/evaluations that may be discussed at the meeting.
- Be prepared to discuss these documents during the meeting.
- Use tabs or post-it notes to mark information you feel is important to the discussion of your child’s needs.
6.) If it’s your child’s triennial IEP or assessments have been completed, ask for a copy of these assessments prior to the IEP meeting.
- It is very common for school districts to give assessments to parents immediately before the meeting. However, you really should take time to review these documents and be prepared to discuss them before the meeting convenes so you can participate in the meeting and give your informed consent.
- If you do not receive copies of assessments reports prior to the meeting, ask to reconvene the meeting until you have the opportunity to review these reports.
7.) If your state law allows it, audio record the IEP. Give the school district advance notice in writing that you intent to record the meeting.
- Know your state law and whether or not recording of IEP meetings is allowed and what procedure is required to do so.
8.) Plan on arriving at your IEP meeting on time, if you cannot make it on time have the meeting rescheduled. It is important to start the meeting right.
9.) Do not plan on bringing your child or other children with you. Find a babysitter or ask a friend to watch your children. You want everyone's focus to be on developing an appropriate IEP for your child.
10.) If you can, bring a friend or family member to the IEP meeting with you (make sure to notify the district at least 24 hours in advance if you are bringing someone with you).
- Have this person take notes for you at the meeting and compare them to the district’s notes before you leave for the day and correct any discrepancies.
- Having a friend or family member take notes and recording the meeting will allow you to have full participation as an integral member of the IEP team.
IEP meetings can make you feel anxious and overwhelmed. It is difficult to feel comfortable when you don’t fully understand the process, you feel out-numbered and/or you are not sure what your role is supposed to be. Knowledge is power, and it is important that you go into your next IEP meeting feeling powerful![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.