IEP Meeting Tips for Parents
IEP meetings can be overwhelming and intimidating, but it’s important to remember that you are one of the most important people in the room. You may be meeting with “experts” in special education law and school curriculum, but you are always the expert on your child. You are a very necessary part of the IEP team, and any document that comes out of a meeting should reflect your contributions and insight.
Still, it can be difficult to advocate for your child to the best of your ability when you’re in such an intense environment. To help you prepare for key moments before, during, and after your IEP meeting, special education attorney Grace Clark and special education advocate Dr. Sarah Pelangka offer the following expert tips. Here’s what you need to know to make your IEP meeting successful.
Recording IEP meetings
Can you record an IEP meeting?
- As the parent, you have the right to make an audio recording of an IEP meeting as long as you provide the school district with 24 hours' notice.
- Similarly, the district can record the meeting as long as they provide you with 24 hours' notice. (Most districts will choose to record the meeting if the parent asks to record it.)
- You have the right to object to recording by the district, but if you do prevent them from recording the meeting, you will not be allowed to record it for yourself either.
- If the school district records your meeting, that recording becomes part of your child’s educational file. In other words, you can now request and obtain the district recording, which can be helpful if something in your own recording is inaudible or unclear.
Why should you record an IEP meeting?
- Having a recording — and even a transcript — can make it much easier to review your IEP. In addition, it will allow you to compare the meeting transcript with what is written in the notes section of the IEP and ensure that the information matches.
- A recording of an IEP meeting is powerful evidence that helps you hold the district accountable. The district won’t be able to deny something a representative said, nor can they fail to put a service or accommodation into place that was agreed upon in the meeting.
- If they do fail to provide services or accommodations and you choose to take the issue to court, you will be able to use the recording when building your case.
- A recording also provides evidence of any objections you made or requests that were denied and require prior written notice (where the school gives parents written notice any time it adds, changes, or denies educational services to the child or wants to change the child’s placement).
How do you record an IEP meeting?
- You can use your smartphone’s voice memos feature or a digital recording device. Pro tip: Some apps like Otter allow you to record what’s happening in real time and then transcribe it for instant documentation.
- At the beginning of the meeting, place your device in the middle of the table and start recording. Audibly state the date, your child’s name, and the names/titles of people present at the meeting so that the information gets recorded.
Battling the “intimidation factor”
What is the “intimidation factor”?
- It is normal and expected to feel intimidated or uneasy at your child’s IEP meeting — but remember that you are a vital member of the IEP team.
- Openly disagreeing with a room full of five or more professionals, all of whom work with your child, can understandably be difficult because of the presumption that the other people in this meeting are more knowledgeable about IEP processes and special education than you are. Plus, the school team leads the meeting and dictates its direction. But remember that you are the expert on your child. In this clip, Dr. Pelangka gives valuable advice on what you can do to combat feelings of anxiety and intimidation:
How can you combat feelings of intimidation?
Before the IEP meeting, do something that calms you: Go for a run, meditate, repeat a positive mantra, etc.
You can also feel more confident by staying organized with a checklist of everything to prepare before the meeting.
In this clip, Dr. Pelangka breaks down what you can bring and how you can stay organized to best prepare before the meeting:
- It’s important that your concerns are considered and addressed in the IEP document, and you are the only one who can provide expert knowledge on your child!
- It bears repeating: Although they may be the “experts” in special education, you are always the expert on your child. Let that sink in and allow it to calm you.
Know your rights as the parent of a child with an IEP:
- If the district doesn’t ask if you’d like a summary of your rights when they hand you the Procedural Safeguards packet, then request a physical copy of your rights so that you can read them on your own. (The district may not adequately summarize your rights for you, so it is recommended that you read them yourself no matter what!)
- You don’t have to go to the IEP meeting alone! Parents have the option of bringing someone with them, and it doesn’t have to be an advocate or attorney. You can bring a friend, family member, partner, or any person who provides you with emotional support. That being said, hiring an advocate is a helpful way to ensure that your child receives what they are entitled to.
- The school team types up the meeting notes, and unless parents request those notes be read aloud, the district perspective is what is documented and portrayed. You can also ask the person accompanying you to take notes.
- By asking for the notes to be read aloud, you can request any changes you feel need to be made and have more influence on the direction of the meeting.
What to do when you disagree with the IEP
- At the conclusion of an IEP meeting, the district may ask you to sign the IEP — but you don’t have to sign it immediately (and you probably shouldn’t).
- IEP meetings can be stressful for parents and typically cover an extremely large amount of information in a relatively short period of time. If you’re having a difficult time speaking up during the meeting, you can tell the team you need to spend some time thinking about the discussion before making any decisions.
- Even if you agree with everything offered by the district, it is still usually not a good idea to sign the IEP immediately after the meeting because you won’t have enough time to process the discussion.
- When you’re back at home, write down your thoughts and objections to send to the team as an addendum to the IEP. Having a day or two to reflect on the meeting after it’s over can provide parents with clarity about whether the proposed IEP appropriately meets the needs of their child.
- Waiting to sign the IEP also gives you the opportunity to contribute to the IEP document, which, as a vital member of the IEP team, you have the right to do.
- These contributions could be an additional few sentences about something school- or home-related (such as homework assignments) or about more ambitious goals (such as novels to read).
- The district will either have to incorporate your suggestions or provide you with prior written notice that explains why they don’t believe they are legally required to incorporate your requests.