Most parents are not blessed to have a background in special education, so they naturally bow to the experience of the staff members and administration in their school. After all, teachers and educators always have their students best interests at heart, right? While I am certain this is true for a vast majority of educators, there are those teachers who only teach so they can coach, who teach because there is good retirement, or because they get summers off. Due to those few not so great teachers, there are some things every parent should know about IEP meetings that can be found in Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
- If you didn't write it down, it never happened. Every time you talk to an education professional about your child's education, write it down. Every time you leave a message, write it down. Every e-mail you send your child's teachers, print a copy and keep it filed. You have no actual proof that the things you discussed with the staff member happened if you didn't write it down as closely to verbatim as possible.
- Requests should be made in writing. Does Timmy, who has ADD, complain about being distracted by the students he is sitting with? If you need him to be moved to another seat, yet the teacher is being difficult, request an amendment to his IEP for preferred seating. When you make the request, put it in an actual letter with a date on it. The school then has a certain number of days (may vary slightly depending on state and local school board policy) to respond to the request. This holds true for everything you believe your child needs in order to be successful. If you request it in writing, they have to prove that your child does not need that accommodation and then notify you of the evidence that supports their claim regarding the evidence.
- The goals must be measurable in some manner. If the goals that were written for your child are not able to be measured, through tests, observations, work samples, or some other manner, then they are not appropriate goals and should be rewritten or thrown out completely. You also have the right to take those goals to an outside party and ask their input. If a non-educator cannot see how the goals for your child would be assessed they are likely not written properly.
- Always explain why you believe something could help your child. It is possible that your request does not apply to your child's disability, or that the school has a service that would meet their needs better and you don't know about it, but you have to make sure they understand what you're asking. Writing down what you want for your child and why you want it and sending it to the IEP team before the meeting can help them make better decisions with regards to goal writing and service options that make for a less stressful meeting.
- IEP Meetings do not have a pre-set legal length of time. If you are feeling rushed, make sure you take a deep breath and slow things down. There is nothing in any educational law that says IEP meetings are only supposed to last a certain length of time. If you have more questions, ask them. If you need something explained, ask them. You are the best and most important advocate of your child's future, few people in their lives are willing to fight for them like you will fight for them.
There are hundreds of by-laws, state and local regulations, and nuances at each school district that can differ where you live; but everyone has to follow federal mandates except where school policy improves on the federal law. An example would be if federal law says the school must respond to your written request in 60 days and school policy says they will respond in 15 days, this is better for your child and restrictive within the existing law. With the exception of some private institutions, schools are not allowed to deny, ignore, or refuse to follow through on federal special education guidelines. For the full law, make sure to check out the IDEA link above.