Legal FAQs About IEP Meetings

By The Understood Team

At a Glance

  • It helps to review the school’s IEP form before the meeting.

  • It’s important to take notes during an IEP meeting.

  • If you disagree with a decision that’s made in the meeting, there are steps you can take.

The rules around what you can and can’t do during an IEP meeting are tricky. Can you take notes during the meeting? Can you record it? Here are some common questions about parent rights during IEP meetings, and answers to help.

Can I take notes at the IEP meeting?

The IEP form the school uses doesn’t have a separate section for minutes. Instead, it includes input from the IEP team in several sections. (Two of those sections are the Present Level of Performance and the Student Profile.) So it’s a good idea to take notes during the meeting—for your own use, or in case there are disagreements down the line.

Some parents find it hard to take notes and effectively participate in the IEP meeting. In that case, you can ask someone else to come with you for that purpose. It’s also very likely that the school will have its own note-taker at the meeting.

Reviewing your school’s IEP form before the meeting will help you understand how the meeting will progress. That will make it easier to take notes.

Begin by noting the date, time, location and who is attending (including names and titles). Also include the full name, address and phone number of the school’s note-taker. In the notes it’s fine to summarize what’s being said. You don’t need to write everything down word for word.

It’s especially important to take good notes if there’s something you and the school disagree about. Let’s say your child has been working with a private tutor after school. You want this information included in the Present Level of Performance section, but the school refuses.

In your summary, clearly note that you made this request and why. Also note that the school refused and the reasons it gives.

After the meeting, when things are still fresh in your head, review your notes for anything that’s unclear or to add information that you may have missed. Then don’t make any more changes.

It’s fine to make some notes to yourself about the meeting later on, just not as part of the IEP meeting notes. If you add to the meeting notes, you may not be able to use them in a legal proceeding if there’s a dispute.

Can I record the IEP meeting?

It depends which state you live in. Each state has the power to decide whether IEP meetings can or can’t be recorded, and there’s no federal law covering this issue. Reach out to the nearest parent training center to find out the rule in your state. It may help to consult with an attorney.

Sometimes, states leave the decision to individual school districts. So you may get permission from the school simply by asking. Put your request to record the IEP meeting in writing. If the school agrees, make sure you have that in writing, too.

Can the school record the IEP meeting without my consent?

Again, the answer depends on the laws in your state. It’s worth noting that the law must apply to both schools and parents equally. If the school is recording the IEP meeting, parents can, too. They can’t allow one but prohibit the other.

If the school records the IEP meeting, the recording becomes part of your child’s “educational records” under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). This means you have the right to listen to the recording. You can also request a copy. And you can ask for corrections—for example, if the recording is incomplete.

Does the school have to reschedule the IEP meeting if I can’t attend?

Yes. If you can’t attend, the school must reschedule the meeting. Federal law states that schools “must ensure that the IEP Team … includes … the parents of the child.”

Schools must give enough advance notice for parents to have the opportunity to attend. They must also schedule the meeting at a mutually agreed upon time and place.

If you get a notice that the meeting has been scheduled at a time when you can’t attend, let the school know as soon as possible. Explain why you can’t attend (perhaps a work or family commitment). You may also want to give the school some alternate dates and times when you can attend.

Keep a record of this correspondence. It’s important to show you’re cooperating with the school to set up a meeting at a mutually agreed upon time and place.

If you can’t attend the IEP meeting in person, and if you agree, then the school may include you via phone call.

The school may hold an IEP meeting without a parent. But that only happens if the school can show that it couldn’t persuade the parent to attend. That’s why it’s important to keep a record of the efforts you’ve made to schedule the IEP meeting.

Can I “handpick” the school staff who attend my child’s IEP meeting?

The law sets which school staff must be part of the IEP team. For example, the team must include a general education teacher and a special education teacher. It must also include a specialist who can interpret evaluation results. A school representative must attend as well.

But the school assigns the individual team members. Federal regulations state that the school “determines the specific personnel to fill the roles for the required participants at the IEP Team meeting.” (See the regulations in this PDF, at page 46674.)

If you want a specific teacher or administrator to be part of the team, you’ll need to advocate for that. The same is true if you don’t want a certain staff member to take part. The key is to persuade the school that the staffing you want is critical to your child’s success.

Can I bring an outside professional to the meeting?

Yes. You can always bring an outside professional to the IEP meeting. Federal regulations state that the IEP team can include “other individuals who have knowledge or special expertise regarding the child.”

You must be able to show how that person has knowledge or special expertise. This would include the professional’s credentials and a description of how he or she knows your child. Outside professionals often have this information prepared.

It is courteous to let the school know about the professional at least one day before the IEP meeting. But it’s not a requirement.

Can the school refuse to allow my child to attend their own IEP meeting?

No. Federal regulations state that “only the parent has the authority to make educational decisions for the child … including whether the child should attend an IEP Team meeting.” If you want your child to attend, the school can’t refuse. (See the regulations in this PDF at page 46671.)

Also, if the purpose of the meeting is to discuss your child’s IEP transition plan for work or college, the school must invite your child. (Transition planning starts at age 16, at the latest.)

Having your child attend an IEP team meeting is a big decision. Before going forward, it’s a good idea to talk with both the IEP team and your child. What might be appropriate for one child may not be for another, depending on age and maturity.

Can I ask for a recess during the meeting?

There may be times when you want to “recess” the IEP meeting and reconvene at a later time. Maybe the school doesn’t give you your child’s testing and assessment results until the start of the meeting, and you need more time to read through the results. Or the teacher who has detailed knowledge of your child is absent the day of the meeting.

Ideally the IEP meeting would be at a time when everyone could be prepared and attend. But the law has some very strict guidelines for the school on the time frame for when IEP meetings must be held.

The school will make every effort to meet this required time frame, even if you feel you’re not prepared for the meeting. So the school might pressure you to agree to a specific date.

However, there’s nothing in the law that says the IEP meeting has to start and conclude in one shot. IEP team members can agree to break and reconvene at a later date or time.

If during the meeting you think the team needs more information or that someone else should be there, you can ask that the meeting be stopped. Explain why, and before you leave, try to settle on a new time to reconvene.

If the school refuses to take the break, you can explain to the school that you will remain in the IEP meeting, but you intend to request another one at a later time when you have the additional information or attendee.

The school may then agree that it’s in the interest of everyone to “recess” and reconvene the IEP meeting later. The most important thing when you request a recess is to be clear about your reasons, and to stay calm and firm.

Or you can leave the meeting and immediately send a letter to the team explaining why you believe it needed to be “recessed.” The team will likely complete the IEP without your input. But you can request another meeting to amend the IEP with the new information you’ll be presenting. There’s no time limit on when this meeting occurs.

What do I do if I object to a decision the team makes during the meeting?

The IEP form includes a section where the IEP meeting attendees are listed. But in most states, there isn’t a section for you to sign and approve the IEP, because the federal law doesn’t require a parent to sign.

Once the IEP is completed, the school will send you a prior written notice. That alerts you to the fact that the school will implement your child’s IEP.

If you disagree with background information in the IEP, it’s best to write a letter to the school. In the letter, explain what you believe is incomplete or wrong in the IEP.

For example, the Student Profile section may note that your child has excessive absences. This may be because of a documented medical condition that isn’t noted in the IEP. You want this information included in the IEP. Ask that your letter of explanation be placed in your child’s special education file.

But what if you disagree with the placement or goals and objectives in the IEP? In that case, you may consider pursuing a formal action to challenge the IEP.

IEP meetings can be confusing. Learn more about questions to ask before and during the IEP meeting and who will be there. Find out what to bring with you to the meeting. And get familiar with the terms you may hear.

Key Takeaways

  • Parents are entitled to bring an outside professional to the IEP meeting.

  • By law, schools have to schedule IEP meetings at a date and time you agree to.

  • You can ask for a recess in the meeting to get more information or to have someone attend who isn’t there.

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