Any meeting at school can be intimidating. Each of us comes to school with her own baggage, good and bad, from our own education which can make serving as our child’s advocate just a little tricky for us. Special education meetings or IEP meetings are even more intimidating because we frequently feel like we don’t understand what’s going on.

Each year, your child will have an annual meeting to help develop what his Individualized Education Program (IEP) will look like for the year to come. It is at this meeting that the team comes together to review what progress your child is made during the last year and to see what supports and services are needed for the year to come. As the parent, you are an important member of this team and being prepared can help you advocate for your child.

What Is an IEP?

An individualized education program (IEP) is the written plan that lays out what will happen at school for your child to address her disability. It should include a description of your child’s abilities, a list of goals for your child, describe the services that your child will receive, describe how much time your child will spend in the regular education classroom, and provide details about special accommodations or alternate assessments for state or district tests. The plan will also tell you how progress will be reported on each of the goals listed for your child. The IEP serves as the agreement between you and the school district as to how your child will be supported during the upcoming year.

Know Who Is Involved

Your child’s IEP team consists of the school staff, the parents, and the student (when appropriate – this usually starts to happen as your child gets older). Your child’s IEP team should include from the school the following:

At least one of your child’s regular education teachers – if your child does not participate in a regular education setting, this may be another teacher who is familiar with the general education curriculum.

  • At least one special education teacher, usually one who is working with your child
  • Someone trained to interpret your child’s evaluations – this might be a speech-language pathologist or a school psychologist, for example. Even if your child is not recently tested, these related service providers may be working with your child and should be part of the meeting.
  • An administrator or someone in the position to know what resources are available and be able to authorize those resources to be used on behalf of your child by the school district

You can also invite anyone that you would like to have with you at an IEP meeting. This could be an advocate, an attorney, or your neighbor from up the street.

What Should I Do Before the IEP Meeting?

Before you meet with your child’s IEP team, make sure that you’ve gathered all educational, medical and other information that you may have already collected about your child. It’s helpful to review this information to make sure that it is fresh in your mind. Think about the conversations that you’ve had with your child’s teachers during the past year. Make a list of the goals you have for your child as a result of these conversations and your awareness of their progress. Consider bringing your spouse or close friend to the meeting to support you.

It can be very helpful to write down any information that you’d like to share about your child. Make a note of any questions or concerns you have about your child’s education. Doing this can help the IEP team better understand your point of view.

Reach out to the school and request an advance copy of any document that will be reviewed at the IEP meeting. The school team may be working on a draft IEP which will be helpful for you to review.

During the IEP Meeting

While you’re sitting with the school team, make sure you share your thoughts and ideas. Ask questions and make sure that the team is addressing all of your child’s special education needs. Make sure to share that you appreciate the efforts of the school team and that you want to help your child succeed.

Make sure that you write down any notes or additional questions that you might have during the meeting and either have them addressed before the meeting is ended or follow up with the school team afterward with an email.

At the meeting, the school may present you with a variety of documents. You do not have to read all of them during the meeting. You may also be asked to sign several documents. The only document that you are required to sign during the meeting would be the attendance page to indicate that you attended the meeting. You have the right to review any of the documents that you were handed and decide whether or not you agree with what is written.

What Do I Do If I Disagree?

Not every IEP meeting will go smoothly. Both the school and the parents hope to see things eye to eye, but that doesn’t always happen. Sometimes differences of opinion or ego can get in the way of a smoothly running IEP meeting. If you are uncomfortable with the decision that the school is making, ask questions about it to gather more information. You can also ask for a recess or a break during the IEP meeting to privately speak with whomever you brought with to help clarify what is going on. You can also ask for the meeting to be ended prematurely and to reconvene at another time.

If you are finding that you are at an impasse with the school, one of the documents that you were handed at the beginning of the IEP meeting should include a list of the rights that you have under special education law. These rules and procedures will vary from state to state and school district to school district. Within them, you should find resources for finding an advocate, requesting mediation, or filing a due process complaint. These resources exist if you feel that your child’s rights are being violated.

Most annual meetings for a child in special education run fairly smoothly. It’s important to know, however, what your rights are and how best to be prepared for that meeting.