Hey EVERY SCHOOL DISTRICT, here’s how you IEP…

I’m pretty sure the Devil had his hand in the inspiration of having my kids’ Individualized Education Program (IEP) meetings just five days apart. It’s the only way in which I could explain it. In so doing, it made it REALLY EASY to compare and contrast what works and what doesn’t work.  Abby’s IEP did. not. work. I wrote about it last week.  Casey’s IEP? Totally worked. So, here for you educators, you district representatives, you therapists…how to make an IEP that works.

Surprisingly enough…most of this you can find in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), but whatever. That’s in tricky legalese, which is the native tongue of Satan himself.  It’s also not laid out in an easy to read list.

  1. Work with the parents on IEP goals before the actual meeting. If the child is coming from out of district or if an IEP needs to be changed at all, talk to the parents about why those changes should be made and have the data to prove it.
  2. Find a time for the IEP that works for everyone and give at least a week’s notice. The notice should be in writing and should include everyone that will be at the meeting.  At this time, be sure to give the parent a copy of the Procedural Safeguards and explain to the parent exactly what those are.
  3. Make sure the parent has a copy of each team member’s contact information.
  4. Give the parent a copy of draft version of the IEP a couple of days (at least) before the meeting so the parent can have time to go over it, compare it to the former IEP, and note any questions or concerns.
  5. If there are any changes to the IEP draft made after the parent receives it, make sure these are noted at the meeting.
  6. Make sure someone is taking minutes during the meeting and that the minutes are read over and signed off on at the end so that everyone on the team has a clear understanding of what was discussed during the meeting.
  7. Be sensitive towards the parents’ feelings, especially during the “present levels” part of the IEP.  Most parents know very well the areas that the child is having problems with. It’s a tough blow to have them repeatedly pointed out, though we understand this is a necessary part of the meeting.  Evaluations that show where the deficiencies are, and these areas are what drive the goals.
  8. Discuss with the group how the IEP will help the child reach their goals.   Explain to the parent WHY these are the goals, the benchmarks that will show progress, and the methods used.  Explain to the parent how the methods you plan to use have been successful in the past. This can be done by giving the parent the written information about programs you use- books that explain the processes, or scholarly articles that show that the methods used are scientifically based and have had repeated success. Anecdotal evidence is good, but it’s not enough.
  9. Show the parent that you understand their child. If you are from the district  and don’t know the child, don’t pretend that you do. Don’t think because you understand the child’s diagnosis, you understand the child. Parents will see right through you.
  10. Never, ever, talk down to a parent. Do not be condescending. Do not be passive aggressive.
  11. If there are issues with the IEP even after you’ve done all of the prior steps, try to be understanding of those issues and work to find resolutions. Seek creative or outside the box goals. Don’t immediately turn down an idea because “it’s not what this district does.”  IDEA was written so that education would be tailored to the child’s needs, not to what the district has to offer.
  12. Do NOT try to guilt the parent into signing an IEP that they are unsure of.  Do not make the parent feel badly about the time spent or even that there will be a great inconvenience to reconvene another IEP.  If the IEP doesn’t work for the parent, it’s because YOU* failed to show them how this education plan will meet the goals of the child.

I am very aware that there are parents out there who feel their child is entitled to an education plan that is outside the legal range afforded to children with special needs. I know there are difficult parents. But I also believe that they are the exception rather than the rule when a parent refuses to sign an IEP. I didn’t sign Abby’s IEP because I wanted to be difficult or because I thought Abby needs services that go above and beyond what could be defined as “appropriate” for someone with her needs. I didn’t sign it because it was never shown to me how her goals would be met given the decrease of time and services from one IEP to the next.  Her IEP was not data-driven.

I signed Casey’s IEP because everything on it was something that had been previously discussed, was based on data (evaluations and observations in the class), and I felt was written as the best possible plan to meet his educational goals. Casey’s special education resource teacher GETS Casey. She understands his needs. The principal (who also served as the representative for the district- or LEA) KNOWS my son personally. He’s seen him in the classroom and understood going into the meeting what would help him best reach his goals. His teacher provided input as to how to best keep Casey inside the classroom, and works on a regular basis with the rest of the team to support his needs.   In that meeting, we were a TEAM. We worked together.  It made all of the difference.

Is there anything you would add to the list?

12 steps for better IEP Meetings for school districts, educators, and special service providers
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6 thoughts on “Hey EVERY SCHOOL DISTRICT, here’s how you IEP…

  1. This is interesting. I wonder if this is done differently in different areas? I have never been given an iep draft before an iep meeting. Here they treat an iep meeting as a discussion of what should go into the next iep and then it is written afterward based on the discussion. I think I would prefer to get a draft ahead of time.

  2. Great list! As a special educator myself, I find that providing parents with a draft of the IEP prior to the conference is extremely valuable. the only other thing I would include is to provide parents for the feedback form that allows parents to provide input on all areas of present levels of performance- parent feedback is such a helpful thing to me when I am drafting a child’s IEP.

    I also encourage parents to take the time to read over the finalized IEP overnight if need be before signing. I can’t imagine anything more stressful as a parent that being pushed to hastily sign such an important document.

    Thank you for being so candid and so stinking funny.

  3. We recently had our first IEP meeting for my about to turn three year old autistic son. It was a mess. I didn’t feel as though anyone was particularly invested in the meeting, which makes me angry. Seriously, the SLP and LEA (Vice Principal) were there for maybe five minutes because they had to “run to other meetings”. Way to make my family feel valued. I saw the IEP for the first time right then and when I asked about taking it home to review it before signing, I was pressured into signing it and I relented. I’m so mad at myself over it. The goals are ok for the most part, but the amount of speech therapy seems miniscule.

    I’ve been told that 120 minutes is the district max for preschool, but have yet to be shown where that’s actually written.

    Ugh. Im getting all ornery just thinking about it now.

  4. Great post! I absolutely agree that it’s a good idea to ask for parent input prior to the development of the initial draft of an IEP and to give the parents time to read the draft IEP in advance if at all possible. I also agree that a good IEP lists strengths, not just weaknesses – and that recommendations for interventions and programs need to be evidence-based. In my district, school employees have been told that we are not allowed to comment on or explain the Procedural Safeguards to parents because we are not trained in legal interpretation; I thought you might find that interesting. And here’s my two cents to add to your list: (1) if a meeting “goes south,” call for an adjournment and reconvene at a later time when cooler heads can prevail; (2) if a staff member who is listed on the notice for the meeting finds out later that he/she cannot attend, the parent should be contacted as far in advance as possible and given the option to re-schedule if desired; (3) if possible, parents should bring along another family member, a friend, or an advocate who can take notes; and (4) parents should remember that another IEP meeting can be called at any time during the year. And to Jennifer – I’m sorry for the experience you had at your first meeting; the LEA is supposed to stay for the duration, and they should not have pressured you to sign the IEP in the meeting. If you are uncomfortable now, call another meeting; at the very least, I suggest getting in writing the amount of Special Ed instruction time that will be provided to your son. Thanks again for the great post!

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