What You Should Know About Setting the Tone at IEP Meetings

By Nan Waldman, Esq.

It can be uncomfortable for parents to attend meetings to design an Individual Education Program (IEP) for students with disabilities. We as parents together face an IEP ‘team.’ To many of us parents, it feels like ‘us against them’ because we face an assembled team of employees of the school or school district. It can be overwhelming when a parent feels that a number of school officials are evaluating her child and her parenting skills.

To avoid feeling overwhelmed, attend IEP meetings with an objective close friend or advocate. Parents who are understandably emotionally involved will feel that IEP meetings are less adversarial when there are also capable human beings on ‘their’ side.

The first thing to do is to set the tone of the meeting. The goal is to get a feeling of ‘we are in this together for the good of the child.’ To do this, someone very familiar with the student should talk honestly, affectionately, and with passion to describe the child. Photographs at this point are very helpful. So is actual attendance by the child at the IEP meeting, even if only for a few minutes. Most adults at the IEP meeting may not know the child very well, and seeing a young face is a good reminder to all present that each is responsible for something important which is happening in the life of the child they are seeing. The goal is to coalesce positive feelings about the child – and to motivate the team to want to create an IEP plan which will be effective.

Then, parents (or, an advocate) explain that the IEP team will be deciding the education plan – as a team. It is helpful to remind those present and to note out loud that each person on the team has expertise to be respected and considered by the group.

Sometimes, after all the substance of the IEP plan has been discussed, parents receive an IEP document which does not accurately reflect their understanding of what occurred – or should have occurred — during the meeting. It is NEVER a requirement to sign an IEP document at the end of an IEP meeting. You have a right to receive a document in your primary language, and parents are well advised to bring the IEP document home and read it thoroughly to understand every part of it before signing it. There will be a place to agree with the document as a whole, but you should disagree with the parts of it which do not meet with your understanding of what your child needs.

©2008 by Nan Waldman, Esq.

Nan Waldman, Esq. is a special education and disabilities consultant with 20 years of experience in the field. She is also a parent and primary caregiver of a child with disabilities, a teacher, an advocate and a lawyer. Nan Waldman, Esq. can be reached by email at  n.waldman.esq@gmail.com.