Saving the IEP Meeting When Conflict Arises

By Ann McCarthy

As parents of a child with learning disabilities, it’s important to realize that conflict is likely to occur at IEP meetings; how you handle it is what matters. When dealt with appropriately, dissension can lead to positive outcomes for your child.

Following are three strategies to help keep you and your child’s IEP team on track when conflicts arise.

  • Control the emotional temperature in the room: Plan for the moment when conflict has rendered you or an IEP team member too emotional to be productive. Call a five-minute break so that everyone can collect their thoughts. Strong emotions come with having a child with special needs, but try to keep them out of the meeting room.
  • Have a Plan B: With the goals you hope to achieve in mind, come to the meeting with alternative solutions that will enable you to reach those goals. Is there another reading program that would work? Is there an option that the school district is proposing that you should consider? Determine the breadth of your “wiggle room” before you walk into a meeting.

Here are examples of how to handle some common disagreements in an IEP meeting:

School: “We are required to try strategies via Response to Intervention before we consider an evaluation for special education.”

Parent: “I’m glad you brought that up. This is a common misunderstanding, and here is a memo from the U.S. Department of Education that states the opposite. I’ll give you a moment to look it over before we talk about what John’s evaluation will include.”

School: “We cannot agree to five hours of speech/language support weekly until we get approval from the special education administrator. We’ll get back to you.”

Parent: “My understanding is that at every IEP meeting there must be a representative from the district who is knowledgeable about the availability of resources in the district. If that person is not present, can you get them on the phone now?

School: “Here are the evaluation reports. We are sorry we couldn’t get them to you before the meeting. We can use this time to review all four documents and plan for next year.”

Parent: “I can’t discuss how to use the results when I am only now seeing the information for the first time. Let’s review the reports today, and schedule a second meeting to plan for next year.”

 Ann McCarthy is a former special education advocate.