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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