Going to an IEP (Individualized Education Program) meeting is not just "going to a meeting," although it may seem like that. It is going to war. This is a war for our children and their education. IEP meetings tend to be deceptively simple, where everyone "gets along," and the school members seem to decide all, with the parents just observing. As such, it is important, prior to going to any IEP meeting, to put together documents which will help parents get what they want for their children. This can mean the difference between a good education and a bad one for a special education student.
A critical document that a parent should obtain well in advance of the IEP meeting is a demand letter from an attorney setting forth requests and support for those requests. Often parents' wishes may be ignored until an attorney steps into the matter. Attorneys speak with authority and carry "big sticks" so resolution may come more quickly. If not, the attorney may proceed to other means of resolution such as filing a due process hearing request, a state compliance complaint, a disability discrimination complaint, or starting some other process.
If the parents do not have an attorney letter, parents should provide their own written outline of the items which they want added to the student's IEP plan. This list could include what placement would be appropriate, what goal areas should be covered, and the amount and type of services needed to help the student advance year to year. If provided with enough time, key IEP team members will likely mull over parent requests prior to the IEP meeting and may already be in agreement when parents arrive at the meeting. They will also usually go down a parent list item by item at the IEP meeting to discuss what the district will or will not do and why.
Also important are written reports gathered from independent outside assessments. Although a parent may be able to get a district to pay for an outside assessment, the best possible assessments are usually from completely independent educational professionals. This is because the professionals parents hire go to bat for the child, listen to what parents want, and help them achieve their goals.
District assessments, email, report cards, correspondence, and other documents should also be culled to locate support for each item requested. This is very important as otherwise parent requests are merely parent "opinion" and can easily be dismissed by the "authorities" at the IEP meeting. With support in the records, a parent has a much stronger chance of getting what he or she wants for their child.
Documents which will support the parents' position should also be copied and provided to everyone at the meeting.
This list should help arm parents for battle. Providing persuasive documents can create quite an impact on the IEP team and the plan they issue, and can mean the difference between academic advance and academic decline for the student.
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