If you’re anything like me, awaiting IEP meetings is always nerve-wracking. I’ve found it critical to remind myself is that I am an important member of the IEP team with valuable input. As such, I’ve found that being prepared and knowledgeable about what I would like my daughter’s IEP to look like before going into each meeting is both empowering and comforting. Below are seven ways I recommend preparing for an IEP meeting.
1. Review the Procedural Safeguards
If you haven’t already, review the Procedural Safeguards, which outline your rights as a parent under state law. Your district is required to provide this document; you can also find it by searching “[your state] department of education procedural safeguards.”
2. Review draft evaluations and IEP documents
When responding to a meeting invitation, you may want to request to receive any pre-prepared drafts of new evaluation results or the proposed IEP “x” days prior to the meeting. The district may provide it as a courtesy, though they are not required to share drafts ahead of time. Whether you receive a draft or not, familiarize yourself with the structure of the IEP document if you haven’t already. Sections may vary by state or even district; however, there are some good overviews of common sections here, here, and here. This is also a good time to contact any staff who evaluated your child but haven’t yet reached out to you to discuss your personal concerns and questions.
3. Draft and send your parental concerns letter
Did you know that your description of your child’s progress, strengths, and needs has its own place in the IEP? I didn’t until just days before my daughter’s kindergarten IEP meeting! Unsure where to start? I highly recommend this post.
4. Review your child’s existing IEP goals and progress
Make a list of discussion points and questions. Some things to consider:
- What goals would you like to see your child working on? When preparing goals or reviewing those proposed by school personnel, ensure they are SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely). Need ideas? Ask people in relevant social media groups, talk to other parents, or search the Internet. I recommend starting here:
- What supplementary aids and services will help your child achieve their goals? IEPs include specially designed instruction (SDI) specific to your child that help them access the general education curriculum in the least restrictive environment. SDI’s include accommodations and modifications (read about the difference here). In addition to talking with other parents, I recommend finding ideas for SDIs here:
- What training (books, seminars, etc.) would help teachers, therapists, and paraprofessionals better support your child?
5. Make it personal
Aside from the parental concerns letter, there are several ways you can share information about your child as a person and the vision your family has for their education and future. When the team values your input, these resources help to guide the development of the IEP.
- Craft a vision statement. What is the life you envision for your child? If you’re looking for ideas, many parents share these in Down-syndrome-related groups on Facebook (including the two I shared in #4 above).
- Write a letter to the team.
- Especially if the team is unfamiliar with your child, provide an information sheet. You may want to review it in the meeting, but our team was grateful to receive this information ahead of time. Here’s a template for a basic bulleted information sheet in Word and Google Docs [go to “File” -> “Make a Copy”]. If you prefer something more visually appealing, there’s a useful tutorial here.
6. Invite someone you trust
A friend, family member, tutor, current or former teacher, outpatient therapist – you can have anyone of your choosing join the IEP meeting. I encourage you to share with them ahead of time your desires for the IEP, so they can support you, especially if you’re nervous about standing your ground on a potentially contentious issue. Trusted educational professionals often offer the advantage of being familiar with the IEP process and related lingo.
7. Go in with a positive attitude
So much of what you see on social media and hear from other parents are stories of being challenged by school districts. It’s easy to get jaded and feel like you need to be prepared to be combative. Maybe that is the norm? Maybe it’s because parents whose child’s needs are met are less likely to share their success story. Either way, I think you can build a better rapport with staff by assuming your experience will be positive until the school district proves you otherwise.
Want more information?
A Day in Your Shoes is a site developed by an IEP-experienced mom and certified Special Education Advocate. Visit her homepage and select the statement that best describes you to find well-organized information to help you on your IEP learning journey. Wowwee-zoweee, friends, Lisa has a ton of information and links back to IDEA frequently. If you like to feel informed, I highly recommend you give yourself a decent amount of time to wade through this site and be sure to take notes.
Inclusion Evolution is a younger blog than A Day in Your Shoes, but Courtney has some really succinct, practical Down-syndrome-specific posts related to IEPs, especially for those with a child transitioning to kindergarten.
Wrightslaw is a go-to resource on special education law and advocacy. This website has TONS of information, and it can feel a little overwhelming. Information about IEPs is found here. For other topics, I recommend starting with the A-Z topic list.
How do you prepare for IEP meetings? Share your strategies in the comments below.