IEP Meeting Tips for Parents - How to get Ready
As parents, we all want the best education possible for our children. But if you’re the parent of a child with special needs, you know that getting the right Individualized Education Program (IEP) in place is critical to maximize your child’s success at school.
Many New Jersey parents approach the IEP meeting with a sense of fear or resentment. Even with preparation, first-timers naturally feel some measure of anxiety. Parents who have already had negative experiences with the IEP process may feel defensive before the meeting even starts. Again, it’s understandable. After all, it’s your kid that you’re fighting for.
The good news is that you aren’t powerless. You are your child’s best advocate. The following tips can help you make the most out of your child’s IEP meeting. If you run into trouble, call or contact the experienced IEP attorneys at Susan Clark Law Group LLC for help.
How to Prepare for Your NJ IEP Meeting
Read through all of your child’s previous evaluations before the IEP meeting. This includes assessments from teachers, psychologists, psychiatrists, pediatricians, therapists, and any other providers that provide support services to your child. Make sure you understand what everything means. If you don’t, contact the provider and ask for an explanation.
Also review your child’s performance evaluations at school, such as tests and report cards. Keep any communications with the teacher regarding your child’s classroom behavior and social functioning. Bring these documents to the IEP meeting. Highlight parts that you think need particular attention.
Once you’ve reviewed the official documents, close your eyes and think about your child’s needs. Don’t focus only on the differences. Write down your child’s strengths and any developments that have come up if you’ve had a prior IEP meeting. Then identify the school supports that you think can help enhance his/her education.
Unsure of what school accommodations might be available? The school’s child study team will have suggestions. However, consider working with a NJ special education lawyer or advocate who can give you examples of what’s possible based on the unique needs of your child. You may be surprised.
Understand New Jersey Special Education Laws
The federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) outlines the educational rights and protections for “a child with a disability.” In New Jersey, the definition of disability includes a variety of cognitive, communication, emotional, physical and other impairments. These disabilities must interfere with a child’s functioning in such a way that special education, instructional support, or other services are necessary in order to provide that child with a free and appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment.
New Jersey’s special education law also spells out the procedures and timeframes that school districts must follow in determining a child’s eligibility for an IEP, scheduling a meeting, and providing those services.
It’s important to understand your child’s legal rights, but it can be challenging to understand all of the terminology and verify that the school is actually following the law. If you’re unsure of your child’s rights going into an IEP meeting, it’s smart to seek the advice of an experienced IEP attorney for clarification.
Keep The IEP Meeting Focused On Your Child
An IEP meeting has many players. In addition to parents, the meeting will include teachers, administrators, counselors, school staff members, and any other people that you request to attend (e.g., psychologist, occupational therapist, lawyer, advocate, family friend, etc.).
With so many people at the table, the conversation may divert in ways that are unproductive and don’t focus on enhancing your child’s experience at school. Don’t be afraid to redirect the IEP meeting when you feel the focus drifting away.
One part of the IEP has a section entitled “Concerns of Parents.” Make certain that you go into the meeting with a written statement of your concerns. It could be short or long. However, it must be placed into the IEP.
Be Willing To Negotiate
A meaningful IEP meeting is a collaborative effort, not a battlefield. Once you’ve stated your child’s needs, listen to recommendations from the child study team and see if you can reach common ground. Try to keep your emotions in check so that the meeting is a rational discussion of what your child needs. You may not get everything you want, but you can ask for it.
During the negotiations, make certain you ask for a “prior written notice” for those items you were unable to get. This means that the district must give you the reasons for the denial(s), in writing. This becomes valuable to you if the case is pursued beyond the child study team meeting.
Don’t Sign Anything
You don’t have to sign off on an IEP right away. Tell the school you want to take it home and review it again before signing. This gives you time to go over what was discussed and make sure that you were happy with any compromises that you made. It also allows you time to consult with a special education lawyer if you have concerns.
If you’re struggling with the school’s assessment of your child’s needs or cannot come to an agreement on an IEP, you can file for due process until a resolution can be reached. A due process hearing is a formal proceeding before an administrative law judge, so it’s highly recommended that you talk to an attorney before moving forward.
IEP Meeting Checklist
Before your IEP meeting, make sure to:
- Bring your previous IEP, if you have one.
- Include copies of all evaluations related to your child’s disability.
- Write a list of priorities that you want to address at the IEP meeting.
- Bring examples that illustrate your child’s needs. Some children can have the amazing ability to mask their challenges at school. However, their needs show up at home when they are more comfortable being themselves. Don’t be afraid to use video or audio recordings to give the school the “big picture” view of your kid.
- Bring a pad to take notes and write down questions.
- Be ready to be assertive, not argumentative.
How Susan Clark Law Group Can Help You
With luck, your IEP meeting will go well and the school will follow through with its obligations to your child. But there are times when schools don’t fulfill the requirements of the IEP or won’t provide critical services to level the playing field for your child. When that happens, an experienced New Jersey special education lawyer at Susan Clark Law Group LLC can help enforce your rights.
To learn more about how we can help, call or contact us today for a free consultation.