In the next several weeks, school districts across the state will be sending out letters to parents whose children receive special education services in school. The letters will ask parents to attend their child's annual Individualized Education Plan meeting ("IEP meeting").
The purpose of the IEP meeting is to discuss the child's progress and to develop a new IEP for the upcoming school year.
IEP meetings can sometimes be stressful. Preparation is key. Here are a few tips to prepare for your next IEP meeting:
1. Do not wait until the day before the IEP meeting to review your child’s educational records. Parents should review all relevant educational documents at least a few weeks in advance of the meeting. If evaluation reports were recently issued, be sure to read those as well. Parents should also be intimately familiar with the different parts of their child's current IEP.
2. Invite a family member or friend to accompany you to the IEP meeting. If your spouse or significant other is unable to attend the IEP meeting with you, ask a family member or close friend to accompany you to the IEP for moral support. As a parent, you have the right to invite a family member or friend to your child's IEP meeting.
3. When you go inside the meeting room, do not sit at the head of the table. Instead, sit in between IEP members. This may help make you feel that you are a part of the IEP team, rather than a third wheel.
4. Are you sure you want to tape record the IEP meeting? Tape recording the IEP meeting may make everyone nervous and cautious. Ask yourself: why do you want to tape record the meetings? Is it because you don’t trust anyone in the room, or is it because you cannot remember everything that is being said? If someone at the IEP asks you why you are tape recording the IEP meeting, be prepared to offer an answer. In any event, it is a courtesy to tell your child’s case manager or the IEP team leader that you want to tape record the meeting. Springing out the tape recorder on the day of the meeting may start things off on the wrong foot.
5. There is a lot of information being shared at IEP meetings. Listen carefully to what each member of the IEP team says. If someone is speaking too fast, ask them to slow down. If you are not sure what was said, repeat out loud what you think was said and then request confirmation. If you have questions, ask. There are no stupid questions.
6. Always act professionally and speak to others with respect. If you disagree with the IEP team about any issue involving your child's progress or proposed IEP, try to remain calm. It may be possible to resolve the issues as the meeting progresses. If an agreement about a particular issue cannot be reached, try to understand their reasons. If you still do not agree, then you may wish to consult with an attorney who has expertise in special education law.
7. After the IEP meeting, be sure to follow up. If a particular issue was resolved amicably, write a letter to the case manager your understanding of what was agreed to. If you haven't received your copy of the IEP within a few days of the IEP meeting, call or write to the case manager to follow-up.
8. Remember the 15-day timeline. If no agreement has been reached regarding a particular aspect of the proposed IEP, it is important to request Mediation or petition for a Due Process Hearing within 15 calendar days in order to effectuate "stay put." Under "stay put," the proposed IEP is put on hold until the issues have been resolved by the parties or until a court has adjudicated the issue. It is highly recommended to consult with an attorney knowledgeable in special education law before filing a request for Mediation or Due Process Hearing.
9. Remember, the IEP meeting is not just about academics! If your child has allergies or special dietary needs, be sure to discuss those issues.
10. Extracurricular activities are important too. Most schools are required to provide children with disabilities equal opportunities to participate in extracurricular activities. If there is an after-school activity your child is interested in, be sure to discuss that at the IEP meeting.
Matthew Stoloff, Esq. represents clients throughout northern and central New Jersey. His practice areas include labor and employment law, special education law, small business matters, and non-compete disputes. For more information, visit his website. This blog article is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice.