The night before and morning of an IEP (Individualized Education Program)
meeting are tense times for many parents, as you anticipate challenges and disagreements and wonder if you're as prepared as you should be. Use all that nervous energy to gather your thoughts, your to-do list, and your supporting paperwork. Here are eight things to do before you head off to that meeting, to make sure you're ready for your job as a full-fledged team member.
Read last year's IEP.
You may not have looked at that document much since it came in the mail last year, but now's the time to pull it out, dust it off, and give it a good going over. Mark any errors and inaccuracies so that they can be fixed this time around. Cross out goals you think your child has acheived, or placement details he has outgrown. Highlight items you need to make sure stay in the IEP -- bus pick-up, for example, or a one-on-one aide. Jot down any questions you have about past provisions or suggestions for future ones. Bring the IEP with you and make sure the issues you've marked out are addressed.
Review the past year.
If you keep a contact log, get it out and look through the contacts you've had with school personnel over the past year. Make a note of any trouble points, and also of specific positives or negatives the educators or therapists have mentioned. You'll expect them to have the same point of view in the meeting, and if they don't, you'll want to ask why. Go through whatever schoolwork of your child's you've saved over the past year and pull out anything that indicates either continued failure or completed success. The IEP should reflect that status, and if it doesn't, you'll have some visual aides to question it.
Look at the guest list.
The letter you got scheduling the IEP meeting should include a list of school personnel attending. Think about your contacts with those professionals over the past year, and any stories your child may have told you about their work together. See if you can think of one question you'd like to ask each person on the list, or one story you'd like to tell them about something your child has done. And if any of those whose names are listed don't actually turn up at the meeting, ask where they are, and make sure their viewpoint is being presented.
Check your child's report card.
Gather your child's report cards for the past year. If the grades are good, or rising, you should expect to hear about progress at the meeting. If the grades are bad, or sinking, you'll want to hear how the educators plan to help your child to do better. Any disconnect between what you're seeing on the report cards and what you're hearing in that room needs to be questioned and discussed. Is the IEP too modest? Are grades being inflated to help your child's self-esteem? If your child is succeeding to his ability but not to grade standards, do changes need to be made in class placement or assistance given?
Make goals for your child.
You're going to be hearing about what school personnel think your child should be doing over the next year, what he can acheive, where she is headed. Make sure you know strongly for yourself what you
think about those issues. What are your goals for the next six months, the next year, the next five years, the long-term future? Be prepared to ask questions as to how the school's goals match up with your own. Are you all on the same page? Do they see your child achieving more or less than you do? Are the goals the school proposes leading your child down the path you foresee, and if not, why?
Set your own agenda.
After you've done all this reading and reviewing, write down your most important points and goals so you'll remember to bring them up at the meeting. Discussions can fly by pretty fast, and professionals can try hard to push their own priorities, but you'll be better prepared to present your personal point of view if you've written those things down and keep that list in front of you. Don't sign off on anything or agree to a resolution until your items are checked off.
If you've found anything in your reading and research that helps you understand and work with your child, bring it along to the meeting -- preferably with enough copies to pass around. Many educators are leery of information parents dig up, but others are always looking for ideas and may welcome some expert advice, especially if it comes from publications by well-known and respected professionals. Be ready to explain how you have implemented this in working with your child, and how you expect the school, realistically, to do the same.
Make sure your input is included.
IEPs have a space for a parent to contribute a comment. Often professionals will just compose the parent statement based on things the parent may have said at the meeting, but if you submit your own pre-written version, you can save that person time and make sure your specific voice is heard. Include any precautions you want to be taken for your child, any disagreements you have with the IEP, and any promises that you want to ensure turn up in writing. If something happens at the meeting that changes what you want to write, tell the team leader you'll be providing a written statement, and deliver it promptly.