One of the most stressful experiences many parents or guardians of children coping with special needs face is going to a meeting about their child’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP). This plan is very important because it outlines goals for the child’s education and treatment, and it guides how services will be provided. An IEP is created by a team and reviewed at a minimum annually at an IEP meeting.
“These meetings are very important because the IEP guides how the child will be educated and outlines goals for the child, interventions and any accommodations and services that will be provided,” says Dodd White, president and CEO of the Episcopal Center for Children (ECC), a nonprofit organization providing therapeutic and special education services to children ages 5-14 in the greater Washington, D.C. area.
“It’s important to review IEP meeting documents in advance of the meeting,” says White. “An IEP meeting brings together the entire IEP team assisting your child – educators, treatment providers, parents, the Local Education Agency (LEA) representative and others. The parent(s)/guardian(s) is an important part of that team. You are an advocate for your child,” says White. He offers the following tips to help parents or guardians preparing for an IEP meeting:
- Confirm meeting attendance. At least 10 days before an IEP meeting, you should receive a letter of invitation. As soon as possible, RSVP for the meeting in writing, informing the school if you will attend the meeting in person or by phone. If you are not available to attend the meeting at all, propose alternative dates and times, even locations.
- Review draft documents before the meeting. At least five business days before the meeting, you should receive drafts of the documents (e.g., IEP, Behavior Intervention Plan, evaluations) to be discussed during the IEP meeting. Take time to review these documents beforehand.
- Carefully review draft documents and write down your questions and notes. Make sure you understand your child’s diagnosis. Ask for clarification of education or treatment jargon if needed. Goals and objectives should be clear. Make sure you understand start date(s), how long services are offered and the procedures involved. If your child is not progressing toward a goal as you had hoped, ask how this will be addressed, or if a goal should be revised. If you want more frequent updates on progress during the school year, you can request additional updates. If you think something else might help your child, come prepared to discuss it. Write down any proposed changes to the IEP and any information you would like to add.
- Invite additional people to the IEP meeting if you want them there and think they can contribute. An IEP meeting takes a “team” approach to helping your child. Take the initiative to invite individuals who have relevant knowledge or expertise regarding your child (such as, family members, coaches, community support workers, social workers, attorneys, advocates, etc.). Let the school team know additional people will be attending the meeting.
- Strive to build a healthy working relationship with the school, treatment providers and the entire IEP team . Developing healthy and professional relationships with the school and treatment providers can help your child. Be open to discussing issues promptly, directly, honestly and courteously. Ask questions and listen carefully to answers. This will allow you to respond appropriately and avoid misunderstandings.
The Episcopal Center for Children (Center) is a nonprofit, nondenominational school and treatment program for children contending with emotional challenges from the greater Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. Accredited by the Joint Commission, the center serves children who are 5-14 years old in grades K-8. The goal of the center’s treatment, therapeutic milieu and individualized special education program is to empower each child to function productively within his or her family and community. Building on strengths within children, the center partners with families in treatment and focuses on enabling its students to access and become their best possible selves. More information is available at eccofdc.org, Facebook @ECCofDC, and on Twitter.