IEP 102: At the IEP

Confused by your rights as a parent when it comes to IEPs and assessments? This series will guide you through the process.

Disclaimer!

Every school does their IEP meetings differently, so this won’t exactly apply to every situation out there. You’ll have to modify this information to suit your unique needs. But if you’re already involved in the IEP process, you’re probably pretty good at dealing with modifications.

A quick note: I’m based in California. I’ve worked in schools in the Silicon Valley area and in the Monterey Bay and have experience with their systems. The information here will probably be most helpful to parents in the area, pretty helpful to parents in other parts of California, and only somewhat useful to parents in other states. Why? Because every state has their own ed code. Also, I am not a lawyer, and my experience with California IEPs is not meant to replace legal advice. My interpretations of the law should not be taken as absolute truth.

Okay, that’s the boilerplate out of the way. This text will appear at the top of every post in the IEP series, so on future posts, you can just scroll past because you’ve already read our disclaimer!

At the IEP

IEP meetings tend to be difficult for parents, teachers, and administration. It can be a long process to get the district to approve an IEP meeting in the first place, and that tension can carry over. For the teachers, having one student (or several) who need extra services that they are not receiving is similarly frustrating.

With emotions potentially running high and your child’s educational future at stake, here are seven tips to make sure the IEP meeting goes well.

  1. Keep copies of all documentation. The school will always keep copies for you in the child’s cum file, but they are not always accessible to you during off hours and over school breaks. Some schools keep them on site and others keep them at the district office. You should have your own copies of everything. Ideally, you should get all the information before the meeting so you can go over it yourself. Bring any outside documentation you have too- and a copy for the school.
  2. Avoid charged language. No matter how stressful things get in the room, don’t let anger or disappointment color your tone or words. Unfortunately, some parents get labeled by school staff as being overly emotional or difficult to work with. The teachers and staff go into those meetings already discounting those parents.
  3. Stick to facts. You have all the reports and assessments to back you up. Whatever you say will sound stronger if you reference the documentation. Printed emails, SST and 504 paperwork, and historical evidence from past years are also great ways to demonstrate need.
  4. Focus on the need. If your child needs a one-on-one aide, keep the conversation focused there. You can use the present level of educational performance report, the school psychologist’s assessment, communication with the teacher, or administrative reports to demonstrate that the accommodation will meet your child’s needs.
  5. Be willing to try. If there is disagreement on the best service for your child, suggest trying one service for a period of time and agree to meet again later to see how that service is working for your child. Make sure you’re getting updates regularly.
  6. Set tangible, measurable benchmarks to evaluate success. This is how you can demonstrate that the services are working (or not working). Use the assessments to guide the benchmarks. If scores are low, the accommodations should support a rise in scores. If disruptive outbursts are the problem, accommodations should help the number of outbursts per week decrease.
  7. Schedule a time to decompress after. Once you’re alone in your car, say what you really think of the teacher who “tried everything” but clearly didn’t try anything you suggested. Practice self care with a coffee and pastry before you go home. Go to a nice trail and have a hike. Whatever helps you process the meeting best.

Remember, you don’t have to be there alone. You have the right to bring a friend, translator, outside expert, or partner to the meeting. You also don’t have to accept the IEP right away. You can take it home to consider it first. You can also accept parts but not all of the IEP. You can also reject the IEP entirely. Make sure that your signature of attendance can’t be used as a signature of acceptance. You can write “proof of attendance only” across or immediately under your signature so it can’t be cropped out. If the meeting went particularly poorly, ask for another meeting. You can ask for a meeting as often as you’d like.

IEP 101: Getting to the IEP

Confused by your rights as a parent when it comes to IEPs and assessments? This series will guide you through the process.

Disclaimer!

Every school does their IEP meetings differently, so this won’t exactly apply to every situation out there. You’ll have to modify this information to suit your unique needs. But if you’re already involved in the IEP process, you’re probably pretty good at dealing with modifications.

A quick note: I am based in California. I’ve worked in schools in the Silicon Valley area and the Monterey Bay and have experience with their systems. The information here will probably be most helpful to parents in the area, pretty helpful to parents in other parts of California, and only somewhat useful to parents in other states. Why? Because every state has their own ed code. Also, I am not a lawyer and my experience with California IEPs is not meant to replace legal advice. My interpretations of the law should not be taken as absolute truth.

Okay, that’s the boilerplate out of the way. This text will appear at the top of every post in the IEP series, so on future posts, you can just scroll past because you’ve already read our disclaimer!

Getting to the IEP

There are a few different ways your child might be referred to an IEP meeting. The schools are supposed to be the ones who find that a child needs additional accommodations in order to get an education. But let’s be real. The district has a few thousand students, each school administration has a few hundred, and each teacher has about thirty. It’s possible your child might fall through the cracks or be misdiagnosed as “trouble” or “aggressive” or “just shy.” Some disabilities are obvious, but many are not apparent to someone who doesn’t know your child.

Notice my language. I said disability on purpose. During an IEP it’s important to stress your child’s deficiencies and needs. This seems backwards because most of us approach parenting from a strengths-based orientation that focuses on the child’s abilities. The IEP is a time where you need to focus on the areas where your child needs support. You need to demonstrate that they are falling behind, not meeting benchmarks, or unable to keep up.

So how do you request an IEP? Each “special education local plan area” creates its own policy. Your school should be able to get you a copy of your policy, but many schools will refer you to the district office. Most schools are fairly cooperative, but some will try to keep you from the information. If your school is difficult at this stage, that’s a sign you might need a lawyer at some point during the process.

For bilingual children, it is important to note that the assessment should be conducted in their “native language,” so be specific and accurate on school forms where it asks about the student’s other languages spoken at home and their level of fluency. The assessor should use “the language and form most likely to yield accurate information on what the pupil knows and can do.”

After your child is referred for assessment, the school has 15 days to give you the proposed assessment plan. The plan should be in your preferred language using terminology you can understand. It will explain all the assessments that will be used. If you do not consent to the assessment, the school has the right to assess anyway, though they are not able to implement an IEP without your consent.

You should be called into a meeting within 60 days of signing the consent for the assessment (sometimes called the evaluation). The school will assess the student and use those findings to inform the IEP meeting goals. Some districts will accept information from an outside assessment, but many will not.

The ed code states that the student will only be moved to special education when they are unable to work in general education. If you know your child needs special education, this process can be slow and frustrating while your child falls farther and farther behind with insufficient accommodations in the general classroom. If you think your child needs additional help but could stay in the general education system, it can seem like the school is funneling students straight into special education without fully exploring the general education classroom options.

Look out for IEP 102: At the IEP here!