Parents often leave their child’s IEP meeting feeling as if they have selected the only options available, and that they have to make the best of what was offered. In fact, the IDEA actually intended the experience to be more like a buffet than a prix-fixe menu, with an array of choices and the right to go back for more, depending on the meeting outcome. Following are some of your options.
If All Goes Well…
The best-case scenario is when you leave a meeting confident that the IEP accurately reflects you child’s individual needs and sets forth an appropriate program to address them. In that case, your next steps are simple:
- You can expect to receive a copy of the IEP with time to address any concerns before the implementation date. Review the document to make sure it is consistent with your recollection of what was discussed at the meeting.
- If not consistent with your recollection, inform the IEP team of any mistakes, omissions, or inconsistencies so that it can be revised accordingly.
- Once implementation of the plan is underway, closely monitor what is actually being offered, comparing that to what the IEP recommends. For example, is your child receiving all mandated services? Is the class ratio consistent with what is recommended? And are the teachers working on the goals set forth?
An IEP that is not implemented correctly results in a denial of a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) for your child.
If You Need More Time…
At an IEP meeting, there is likely to be a lot of information to process and digest. You do not need to feel that you must make any definitive decisions at the meeting. Nowhere in the law does it say that an IEP team cannot revisit an IEP discussion after the original meeting date. The IEP is a fluid document that can be adjusted as needed.
- Sign off that you were in attendance, but if you need more time before signing off on the actual plan, simply request that.
- You can ask to postpone a meeting if you feel relevant information is missing. For example, if your annual review takes place in March but you do not yet have the results of a private evaluation you can request to postpone the review until the evaluation is complete.
- You can request a new meeting at any time. You might ask for one if, for example, you believe the IEP is not being implemented properly, or if your child develops problems that were not addressed in the annual IEP review. Although federal regulations do not include a timeline for convening such an IEP meeting, some state regulations may include a timeframe in which the school must respond.
If There Is Unresolved Conflict…
If the IEP meeting leaves you angry, frustrated, or unsatisfied with the educational program being offered to your child, within reason, put your concerns in writing to the school district. You can share your concerns after the meeting is over; the conversation with the district does not end when the meeting ends.
- Wait until you’ve calmed down, then document your concerns clearly to ensure that there is a clear paper trail of the issues. As a parent, you are a key member of the IEP team, and your input is crucial throughout the entire process—not just at the IEP meeting. Should you ever need to take legal action against the school district, your attorney will thank you for keeping a thorough paper trail.
If You Have Unanswered Questions…
If the IEP meeting leaves you feeling confused about your child’s needs, and uncertain about the team’s recommendations, you can request that the IEP team do further evaluations (at the district’s expense).
- The school is responsible for meeting its burden to provide your child with a FAPE. Ask yourself if the program offered can meet your child’s needs, and if not have they conducted the necessary evaluations to understand his specific needs.
- Request an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE), which can clarify your child’s needs and suggest recommendations.
- Likewise, if the school did an evaluation and you are not in agreement with its findings, you have the right to request an IEE by an expert in the area of concern. There are many regulations governing the IEE process, but for now, it is important to know that the IEE is something you can request at the meeting, or after the fact.
Lara Damashek is a parent advocate and the founder of Early Insight Advocacy. She has experience as a teacher, special education attorney, and parent of a child with an IEP.
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