Your First IEP Meeting
By Stephanie Wynn
Congratulations, you have been invited to attend your child's first Independent Educational Plan (IEP) meeting. Awesome! Now what do I do? What is an IEP meeting? How do I participate? What is all of this paperwork they sent home for me to sign?
Overwhelmed and confused? Many of us parents remember our first IEP meeting with sweaty palms and some of us just chose to block out the memory of it all because we were so nervous. Don't be anxious! This is one of the first of many amazing steps to getting your student the help they are entitled to under federal law Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
Take a deep breath and remind yourself YOU are the expert when it comes to your child. You know them best and with time will develop the confidence along with the right tools and advice to guide you along the Special Education path during their school years and even into secondary education such as college and vocational technical school.
First get yourself a three ring binder and bring it with you. You will be surprised at how quickly it will begin to fill up with all of the papers you will be receiving and requesting. Begin with organizational tabs:
IEP (put the most current IEP on top and keep older IEPs behind for reference), Parent's Rights & Safeguards (make certain the school provides you a copy), Progress Reports, Report Cards, Sample Work, Evaluation, Medical, Contacts, Behavior, Communication log, Letters and emails to and from the school.
Most IEP meetings are annual so as you progress through the school year keep in mind IEP's are written for one calendar year not school year.
Next, think of your student and what brought you to this point. Write down how you feel your child seems to be doing in school and how you think their experience is unfolding. Next, detail in your own words their strengths and areas of improvement. Include, academic, social, and physical areas. List your child's activities and interests outside of school including friendships and hobbies. Jot down strategies that you have used at home that work and don't seem to work. Lastly, write your top questions about what you want to gain and learn from the IEP meeting. It could be anything from what is special education, how do I know if the services in my child's IEP are working and so on.
Be certain to take notes during the meeting or ask ahead if you can record the meeting. Laws vary by state and school district so send your request in writing at a minimum of 10 school days prior to the meeting hand delivered to your principal. I have found that adding a signature and date line at the bottom of each correspondence and asking the front office to sign, date, and give you a copy is very helpful. This ensures the school received the letter and you have a copy for your records.
Lastly, remember you have the option to not sign the IEP at the meeting. Allow yourself a day or two to take home and review it.
Go in with an open mind, be prepared, and keep your student foremost in your conversation. The outcome is always "How does this help my child access their education?"
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Stephanie is a Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates member. As an IEP Advocate Stephanie has worked with parents, students, & districts across the US.
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