Friday, August 7, 2009

What to Expect When You're Expecting an IEP

With the start of school looming in the not-so-distant future it's time to get prepared for those IEP meetings - you know the ones you requested at the end of the school year and will be happening sooner than you know it once school is back in session. So here's some pointers for what you can expect when you're expecting an IEP and what to avoid.

Preemptive Strikes

If you requested an IEP at the end of the school year the District may have already scheduled an IEP or may be contacting you shortly to do so. As with many IEPs the District may only schedule a few hours for the meeting. If you think the meeting is going to take longer or, especially in this scenario, the IEP is to review reports from the school district, which you have not received a copy of yet, make a request for two IEP dates. As soon as school starts, if not sooner, send a follow-up letter requesting a second IEP date in the event that the meeting does not finish in the allotted time - indicate that if you have a chance to review the District's reports ahead of time then you likely won't need the second meeting. This will have one of two results: 1) the district will make sure you get the reports ahead of time; or 2) they won't be shocked when you ask to have more time to review the reports and come back a week later to finish the IEP. (Well in all honesty there is a third option where someone moans and whines about coming back again to finish the IEP - in that circumstance let them know that you value their time but you did indicate that you would need the reports ahead of time so they should really talk to the person in charge.)

Another issue that you may need to take a stand on before the meeting even happens is attendance of IEP members. Under the law required IEP team members need to be present or have been excused ahead of time. Required members include the core team members as well as anyone who may have done an assessment, for example. Many a time a school district will wait until the meeting to give you a form to sign to have the member leave or just say they have to leave. If you think you need all the members there the whole time or there is someone in particular whose input you think is necessary - let the district know in writing beforehand that you expect that person or persons to be in attendance the whole time or -again - they can schedule another meeting the following week to ensure full audience/IEP team member participation.

What Not to Say and How Not to Say It

I have clients ask me all the time what they shouldn't say at an IEP meeting. Generally speaking you should feel free to share any information you think is important about your child.

What you should not say is that you want what is "best" for your child. That's the most dreaded four letter word a client could say. As harsh as it may be and even if the district members of the IEP team freely toss it around,your student is not entitled to the "best" and therefore don't ask for it. And if you say it once you can't take it back - someone, somewhere at some point will remember that. (If only there was a citronella collar for parents that would spray them in the face every time they said "best" like with a barking dog.)

Also don't yell at the IEP team. I realize that this is emotional and that now that you can't say you want what is best you're feeling a little frustrated and that someone may be looking at you like you asked for your child to take a shuttle to the moon instead of an extra half hour of speech but above all else it is best if you keep your cool. Why? Well for starters every member of the team may not remember why you yelled but they will remember that you did and that can hurt your creditability later on if you need to go the next level (such as a due process hearing). Second, if you do decide to litigate a matter you don't want the impression that it was done for any other purpose other than to get what is appropriate for your child, and not to retaliate against the school district. Which brings us to a whole other list of things not to say - that you will make them pay, that you will sue someone personally, etc. Basically, you need to be the Mother Theresa, Gandhi, Dalai Lama, Martin Luther King of the IEP team. Find a way to get your point across and still get along with everyone or at least be civil.

Finally, know when it is best to say nothing at all. If the district is digging themselves a shallow grave - let them do it. This is probably the hardest part of any IEP meeting and can probably best be demonstrated with a real-life example. If you are tape recording an IEP meeting and several members of the team indicate that they don't have the power to make a decision in this matter and that you will need to speak to someone at the "district' (which apparently they are not a part of), just ask for clarification ("So, just to clarify you can't offer my student a NPS, speech and language, etc.") and when they affirm it is best to be quiet at this point. Why? Well, if you've been paying attention you would know that this is clearly a big no-no on the part of the IEP team and someone at the "district" may be more willing to be cooperative after you share this snippet of information.

Don't Sign Anything

I've said this before (I'm sure) but don't sign anything at the meeting that you haven't fully had the chance to read - and this goes for more than the IEP itself. What could they possibly ask you to sign, you ask, well here are a few: an invitation to the IEP meeting (that you never received), an assessment plan (for an assessment they will be presenting that you never agreed to or participated in), or an excusal of IEP team members (who you want there). Note that most of these are items that you had to agree to before the IEP meeting, not once you are sitting there ready to go.

My Favorite Thing To Say

And no it is not supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. It may, however, make you sound precocious. Anyway, I have found it is a way to disagree with what someone is saying and yet make them feel in control of the situation. Here's the setup: An IEP team member is rattling off about how your child does not need some related service, let's say speech and language. You, however, have their own report which indicates that the student has needs in the area of pragmatics. What to say: "Correct me if I'm wrong, but couldn't a speech therapist address pragmatics, and doesn't your report indicate that is an area of concern?" And now what can they say? The trick, of course, is to not ever say anything that is wrong and therefore never be corrected.

If after reading this you are under the impression that these types of scenarios could never happen - then it is likely you're a first-timer or early on in the process and would benefit from learning about what is legally mandated to be in an IEP. You should then see the posts labeled "Breaking Down the IEP" - a series of posts that walks you through the nuts and bolts of what goes in an IEP. The most beneficial thing a parent (or teacher, or any other IEP participant) can do is to educate themselves about IEPs, special education programs, and the rights and responsibilities of parents and districts. The more you know, the better you can advocate for your child!

1 comment:

  1. They were always so nice as they handed me a pen an asked that I sign here and here and please initial here. The only thing I sign now is a sheet saying I attended the meeting. The "BEST word I've learned to replace this with "APPROPRIATE"