Many parents find themselves feeling anxious, concerned and exhausted by the thought of supporting their special education students through the IEP process. Nearly 15% of students in Illinois public schools have an IEP, which means that YOU ARE NOT ALONE. Here is our best advice to parents dealing with the IEP process. If you still have questions, please reach out to IVCIL Youth Services for information and advocacy.
Read the IEP!!
Every page of it. Read it twice, at least. The IEP process causes a great deal of stress for parents, so it is understandable that most parents don’t always want to read the document and evaluations. But you must read it. Read the IEP and the reports thoroughly and come to the meeting ready to advocate for any concerns, disagreements, and questions you have about the reports you’ve read.
Before and after the IEP meeting. Read the IEP. If anything is wrong, you must move to correct it immediately. As far as the IEP team goes, your silence is your agreement.
Review the previous IEP, and request the draft IEP document be sent to you with enough time to review it before your meeting. Find out which teachers will attend the IEP meeting. If you know that the occupational therapist will be there, e-mail questions to her ahead of time. If you prepare well then meeting time, which is an hour in most school districts, can be used more effectively.
To ensure that you have time to fully read your reports before the IEP meeting, make a request in writing to be provided with all your child’s reports in advance of the team meeting. If you are presented with the information without the adequate time you need to process it, request another meeting date, noting that you are unable to meaningfully participate without having read the information in advance.
Bring anything you feel will help fellow IEP team members learn about the student. You may have a report from your child’s therapists or a private evaluator. Letters can include recommendations to the IEP team suggesting strategies that work for them and services that may help your child reach their goals. Anyone who works with your child can be asked to write a letter or report about their work with your child. These may include therapists, tutors, after-school teachers, and caregivers.
Write a Parent Statement
Before the meeting, write down your child’s current strengths. Then write down their academic, social, physical, and emotional challenges, in order of priority. Request that the emergent concerns in each area be addressed.
Bring a list of your concerns as well as a list of any accommodations or services you believe your child needs. Bring suggestions that are supported by evidence found in the reports and supportive material. Make copies of your lists and share them with every member of the IEP team, if you can. It’s best to give it to them in advance to give everyone a chance to read it.
Make it Personal
A photo of your child and a piece of their artwork, or an “All about me page” can help to make connections with the professionals on your child’s team. There are many templates and activities to use with your student available online there.
Know your Rights
It’s important to come to your IEP meeting prepared. Your preparation will demonstrate your depth of knowledge of your child and the IEP process, leading the way for more meaningful participation from you as a member of the IEP Team. Educate yourself on your rights as a parent, and contact an advocate if you have questions or need assistance.
“THE PARENT GUIDE”: ISBE: Educational Rights and Responsibilities: Understanding Special Education in Illinois
Documentation EVERYTHING: Write it all down
Everything needs to be in writing. If you prepare as though Due Process is possible from the beginning, it is less likely that you will have to confront Due Process. Everything from the request for a special education evaluation should be in writing. Documentation is immensely important. There are timelines that the school must abide by concerning special education. In due process cases, these timelines can be critical in determining whether a school is compliant with the law. Documentation can be the difference between succeeding in a due process hearing and losing the case.
Email is a written record. Take good notes for all contacts with school staff. Some parents will submit a summary of the conversation in writing to the person with whom they had the discussion to ensure that everyone is on the same page. Follow-up emails indicating agreements, due dates, and the people responsible for each task can be very helpful. If problems arise regarding your child’s special education plan, you will want to be able to provide any documentation that you have.
Keep a binder or file for each school year. Include copies of the communication, the current IEP, test & report results, goal progress reports, and samples of your child’s work. This will help you keep the documents organized, and create a record of the progress your child has made. Refer to the notebook to show how far your child has come, and identify future goals.
Ask Questions and Keep an Open Mind
Don’t be afraid to ask for things even if you are not sure it’s something that exists. It’s perfectly OK to ask questions and weigh in on this information. You need to know these details so you can be a “meaningful participant” of the IEP team.
Parents must have faith in the system and their team. Your goal as a parent advocate is to explain your child’s needs and challenges and to request the best services the school can recommend. Instead of entering a meeting defensively, ask why the school is making its recommendation and provide suggestions.
After the initial IEP meeting, request a 60-day review with the team to see how the year is going. This can be arranged in person with the team or written down in the notes section of the IEP. Hold regular non-IEP meetings with your school administration whenever you see that the IEP management needs and services are not being provided. Say thanks. Most people who work with special-needs children do it because they love the kids. Send a note that includes examples of how a teacher’s actions made a difference.