by Pam Lindemann, The IEP Advocate

There’s no doubt: An IEP is an extremely important document in your child’s education. It is very complex. so understanding the IEP process is critical. Here are some tips to relieve some of the anxiety:

Before The IEP Meeting
1. More Than Just Once A Year: As the parent, you have the right to ask for an IEP meeting as often as you think is necessary (and reasonable) during the school year. Write a letter to the principal asking for the meeting.

2. Ask For Copies Before The Meeting: Write a letter to the principal or staffing specialist asking for copies of any evaluation results or the proposed “draft” of the IEP. Ask to have these copies sent to you at least three days before the IEP meeting so you have time to review them and write down your questions, concerns and ideas.

CAREFUL! The slightest change, even one word, can dramatically change the IEP. Lay the new IEP right next to the old IEP and – I’m very serious here – compare the new IEP against the old one, WORD FOR WORD, NUMBER FOR NUMBER. Here’s why: Unfortunately, some school staff will omit, delete and/or change parts of the IEP without telling you. In one IEP meeting the staffing specialist deleted the child’s behavior plan from the new IEP. When we noticed it was gone she said, “Oh, I didn’t think he needed it anymore!” Well, we disagreed, and requested it stay on the IEP, which it did.

3. The School Must Tell You In Advance Who Is Coming To The IEP Meeting: This is called “Prior Written Notice.” The positions of attendees, not necessarily the individuals’ names, should be listed on the meeting notification form they send you before the IEP meeting.

During The IEP Meeting
1. A Child Can Qualify For An IEP And Services Even If They Have Excellent Grades: The U.S. Dept. of Education has ruled “… the term ‘educational performance’ as used in the IDEA is not limited to academic performance.” Even a child with straight A’s can qualify for an IEP if they’re struggling in an area other than academics.

2. If You Don’t Want To Sign The IEP: You may not be making a comfortable decision while you’re in the meeting. You do not have to sign the IEP. Ask to have a few days to take everything into consideration. You can sign the IEP and write next to your name, “Parent signs for attendance purposes only.” I recommend you get in the practice of doing this for all your IEP’s, even those you agree with.

3. Warning! Before Giving The School Permission: The school may present you with forms for you to sign giving them permission to contact your child’s pediatrician, specialists, or therapists. They may tell you they would like to talk to these professionals to better understand your child’s diagnosis, behavior, or therapy care plan. Their intent may be genuine, but when you give others permission to talk to medical caregivers, they may get information you really don’t want them to have.

For example, a mom gave permission for the school to get information, but only in one medical area. Well, the medical clerk was so glad to help she copied everything in the file, including the child’s drug history mom did not want the school to know about!

This stuff happens. Do not sign the forms. Instead, ask the school what information they want, and YOU will contact the doctors and get the information for them. When you get the documents, you can review them before you turn them over to the school and you stay in control.

4. Taking Something Off The IEP: If the IEP team wants to remove a service, such as speech, OT, reading assistance, or a goal off the IEP, your child should have mastered the skill! In my mind that is the ONLY REASON for removing something off the IEP.

Before you allow it to be removed, ask the school to do a standardized evaluation showing your child mastered the skill. Anything other than a standardized evaluation is personal opinion and may not be accurate. In the meantime, the service stays on the IEP. If the evaluations show mastery of the skill, the service can be removed. If mastery is not achieved, the service should stay on the IEP.

After The IEP Meeting
1. If you disagree with the school’s evaluation for any reason: You can request an Individual Educational Evaluation (IEE). This is an evaluation where you choose a professional to do the evaluation at the school district’s expense. Put your request for these evaluations in writing to the principal.

2. Once A Year: Ask to see your child’s cum (pronounced “cume”) file and go through it page by page. Write a letter to your principal and ask to set up an appointment to look through the cum folder. The school should have someone sit down with you because they need to make sure a parent doesn’t walk off with important papers. If you see any documents that you don’t have ask the school will make you a copy. They have the right to charge you a fee for the copies.

Pam Lindemann is the Founder of The IEP Advocate, the largest private advocacy group in Florida. She and her team help families get services for children in the public school system and she offers advocate training classes for parents.
For more information:
phone: 407-342-9836