A successful IEP meeting is one that follows the law and gives space for all participants to be heard. But any of us who’ve attended an IEP meeting know things don’t always go to plan. An unexpected recommendation can be made, information that feels like a bomb might be shared, or a critical team member needs to leave suddenly. Progress can take a swift turn, even if the IEP meeting started off strong. Roadblocks that come up during IEP meetings can be classified into a few common categories, some of which I list here. You’ll also find tips to prevent problems and unblock the ever-important IEP process.
1. Unclear meeting objectives. By law, each student must have an annual IEP meeting, After the annual IEP, either the school or the parent may request an IEP meeting at any time during the year. Some common IEP meeting objectives:
· Adding services or specially designed instruction
· Addressing behavioral concerns
· Safety planning
· Discussing parental concerns regarding programming
Before embarking on the meeting itself, make sure your objectives are clearly stated. It’s beneficial to communicate what you want to talk about when you make your meeting request and again at the start of the meeting itself. That way discussion is targeted for success.
2. Disagreements that create obstacles. IEP meetings are fertile ground for disagreements. Old disagreements tend to seep into the conversation sometimes and new disagreements can arise if parental requests are being denied or debated. IEP teams need to have a way to navigate past disagreements so that they can accomplish all their meeting objectives. For example, at the annual IEP meeting, we don’t want to get sidetracked by a disagreement over what content is in the “Present Levels” section of the IEP and never get to a discussion of IEP goals. One tactic is the parking lot approach – where the debated issue is put in a “parking lot” for a period of time and is resumed later. Another strategy is to set an amount of time for a debated topic and allow that, but also schedule the follow up meeting while everyone is present with their calendars.
3. Predetermination. IEP team decisions cannot be one-sided and must only be made after all participants have been able to give input. Federal special education law contains a clear policy against predetermination. The classic predetermination example is when the school comes to the IEP meeting knowing that no matter what input or data the parent provides, they will be recommending a certain program/curriculum. When parties come to the IEP meeting with an open mind, all participants can truly be heard, and the child’s needs are best served.
4. Weak preparation. We’ve all heard that preparation is the key to success. The same is true for any IEP meeting. The best way I’ve found to prepare is to review the relevant documents and really know them when you walk into the meeting. List out your objectives alongside check boxes so that you can stay on track toward your goals. Get the draft IEP in enough time to analyze it before “go time.” Last but certainly not least, if you expect any pushback on your requests, bring information supporting why your request should be granted.
5. Missing the student’s feedback. Beginning with the IEP year in which a child turns 14, they should be invited to their own IEP meeting. But it can be helpful in certain situations to have the student attend before age 14. For example, if a child is experiencing school anxiety and is able to talk about what helps, they can certainly attend their IEP meeting and give that information to the team directly. It has so much more impact when it comes directly from the source! And it’s an empowering confidence builder for the child! Win – win.
6. Hearing but not listening. Let’s face it, asking a group of people to stay completely locked in for multiple hours is just not reasonable in our tech-driven times. However, roadblocks happen when folks are interacting with their devices instead of joining the discussion. Don’t be shy to call this out – politely, of course – when you see things heading toward roadblock-ville. Active listening is absolutely necessary during IEP meetings.
7. Leaving without saying everything you wanted to say. To achieve your goals, you want to use the IEP meeting to leave everything on the table. Of course, if a request is made after the opportunity given at the IEP meeting, it must still be considered, but using the captive audience at the meeting can avoid roadblocks with post-meeting email exchanges.
8. Straying from focus: the child. Sometimes we adults can lose focus of the true point of our IEP discussions. I once attended a school meeting where the parent placed a photo of their child smack dab in the middle of the table. It was disarming, but it sure enough centered the discussions on the child. Bringing a photo might not be every parent’s style, but the concept is helpful to avoiding an IEP meeting roadblock. Maybe you have a trusted team member who can give you a nudge when the focus strays from your child’s needs? Or maybe you’ve got the perfect anecdotal story about your child’s experiences that can help refocus the team? I’ve seen either strategy work.
Mom, lawyer and Wrightslaw contributor Jennifer Bollero has said, “In the field of education, it makes sense to be optimistic. Think about it. No one becomes a teacher, an aid, an administrator or facilitator because of the money, the hours or the Nike endorsements. They do this because they want to make a difference to children.” Trust that even if you’ve met a roadblock, with the right team the course will be set right. If you need a legal advocate, contact Zundel Law at 412-212-8356 or email@example.com.