By Kristin Stanberry
Being a member of the IEP team requires confidence, collaboration and a commitment to your child. Here are five important ways to advocate for your child during an IEP meeting.
No one on the IEP team knows your child the way you do. The other team members may be experts about education, but you’re an expert about your child. Share your perspective on your child’s personality, interests, struggles and success. Cast a wide net. Describe how he behaves when doing homework, playing on sports teams and doing other activities outside of school. This will give the school insights into your child’s abilities and interests. It also will remind the team to tailor his IEP to him as an individual.
Everyone on the IEP team brings something to the table. You bring key insights and information about your child. Other team members offer experience and understanding of your child’s needs and strengths at school. If someone brings up an issue or solution you’re not sure of, hear them out. Sometimes issues may come up in school that don’t appear at home. After all, school is a different environment, with different rules and expectations. By working together, you can more fully discuss and address your child’s needs.
Special education laws and programs are complex. Even if you’re well prepared, you may hear new terms and references during an IEP meeting. When this happens, ask for explanations. You have a right to understand every detail and decision. You may want to ask in advance for notes to be taken during the meeting. Then ask for a copy of the notes at the end of the meeting.
Be aware of the goals you have for your child, and make sure the team understands your expectations. You can work together to create a plan to help your child achieve those goals. Together the team can figure out the best resources and effective instructional approaches. Be sure to ask questions about what the team proposes and even suggest changes.
Don’t allow others to gloss over IEP details that involve your rights. For instance, if you’re told that the district won’t cover certain services, ask to see the section of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) that supports that. If you’re unsure about the IEP drafted in the meeting, don’t feel pressured into signing it. (Signing the attendance page doesn’t mean you agree with the IEP; it simply means you attended.) Exercise your right to take the IEP draft home and think it over. Be polite but firm. Ideally the other team members will respect you for standing your ground.
At the end of an IEP meeting, you may be asked to sign a draft of the IEP. If you disagree with any part of the IEP, you don’t have to sign right away. Try these tips to make your case.
Are you uncertain about the IEP process and IEP meetings? These tips can help you get familiar with IEPs and build your confidence.
Kristin Stanberry is a writer and editor specializing in parenting, education and consumer health/wellness.
Whitney Hollins is a special education teacher and adjunct instructor at Hunter College.
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