I’ve been a special education teacher for 11 years. So, I’ve had plenty of experience preparing for, participating in, and leading IEP meetings. But remote IEP meetings are a first for me.
The (IDEA) allows for alternative methods of participating in meetings when meeting in person isn’t possible. Now that my state’s schools are closed due to the coronavirus, I’ve had to move our IEP meetings to online settings.
I usually feel anxious in new situations, so I’m relying on my past IEP experience and systems. My priority is to make sure we hear from every team member and honor the rights of the student and family. Here are some of the ways I’m preparing for and leading remote IEP meetings.
1. I’m considering new realities as I schedule the IEP meeting.
When scheduling a remote IEP meeting, I need to find a time that works for everyone based on the new realities that come with school closures. I can no longer walk down the hallway to collaborate with colleagues or meet during common prep time. Families have new situations that can make finding time to meet more difficult.
I’ve been reaching out to families and other team members through phone calls, text messages, and emails to decide on the meeting date. I adjust my methods depending on team members’ needs.
When I reach out, I also ask team members to start thinking about new needs, strengths, or concerns related to the school closure.
2. I’m personalizing the platform to best meet the IEP team’s needs.
As I plan meetings, I consider how much access to technology team members have and how familiar they are with online platforms. I’m also following my school’s policies around student privacy and confidentiality. A day or two before the meeting, I make sure all team members know how to enter the online meeting space.
So far I’ve used Google Hangouts for our meetings. But there are other options, like Skype and Zoom. (Make sure you set up a password requirement.) I prefer a platform where team members can see and hear each other. I also want to be able to share my screen to present documents. A chat box allows members to submit questions.
I use the captioning service on whatever platform I’m using. For instance, on Google Hangouts, each participant has the option to turn captions on. I make sure all team members know how to use this option in case they want it.
I also assign the role of note-taker to a team member from my school. The notes help capture the complexity of the discussion and fill in gaps in case anyone misses something due to technical glitches.
To ensure equitable language access for family members, you may need to have a translator present at the meeting. Read this article to learn more.
3. I’m ensuring that all team members feel valued.
Whenever I hold any IEP meeting — remote or in-person — I make sure that each team member feels valued. Right now, I’m especially aware of the need to be sensitive in my approach. Some team members may be caring for their own children, serving as essential workers, or experiencing loss. At the beginning and closing of each meeting, I state my appreciation for the time and perspective each team member is giving.
In a virtual environment, it can be hard to know when to speak and who is speaking. I make sure to give each person time to share their thoughts, ideas, and concerns about the student. I also ask everyone to say their name and role each time they speak.
Finally, I remind all team members that the IEP is a living document that can adapt and change with the student. Because of the current situation, I ask the team to consider specific supports and accommodations needed for distance learning.
Many family members are now in a unique position where they can provide new insights into the strategies they see working or not working at home. These observations can better inform the work we do as teachers.
The transition from in-person collaboration to virtual can be difficult. But as a teacher, I have bonds with my students, their families, and my co-workers. These bonds support me through any challenges that come up during the process.
I try to remember that not much should change when holding a remote IEP meeting other than the meeting space. I continue to keep the meeting student-centered and solutions-oriented. I remember that advocacy, empathy, flexibility, and inclusion of all voices transfer to a virtual space.
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About the author
Lauren Jewett is an Understood Teacher Fellow and a third/fourth-grade special education teacher in New Orleans.