Mindful Meetings

. February 28, 2019.
Mother Dara McCloud and her son Kaari participating in a Michigan Alliance for Families informational session. Photo courtesy of gud marketing
Mother Dara McCloud and her son Kaari participating in a Michigan Alliance for Families informational session. Photo courtesy of gud marketing

6 tips to help prepare for your child’s IEP meeting

Parents of a child with a disability know that navigating the process of your child’s education can feel intimidating and downright overwhelming. One of the most important aspects of the special education process is to create your child’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP). The IEP includes specific services that your child will receive at school, based on their individual strengths, weaknesses, and goals. As parents, you play a significant role in working with the school to advocate for your child and their individual needs.

Local advocates weigh in

We spoke with two local experts who offered advice on how parents can best prepare for their upcoming IEP meeting.

Heather Eckner, executive director of Ann Arbor Individual Disability Education Advocacy Services (A2IDEAS), shared her experience and expertise as a general education teacher and parent of two children, now 10 and 4 years old, who both have IEP’s. Eckner founded A2IDEAS with the intent to support other families through the IEP process.

Executive Director of A2IDEAS, Heather Eckner. Photo Credit from Reflective Works, Stephanie Yost.

Executive Director of A2IDEAS, Heather Eckner. Photo Credit from Reflective Works, Stephanie Yost.

Kristen Columbus is a Parent Mentor for Washtenaw County at Michigan Alliance for Families, an organization that provides information, support, and education for families who have children (birth-26 years of age) who receive, or may be eligible to receive, special education services.

Kristen Columbus, Parent Mentor for Michigan Alliance for Families.  Photo Credit: Tony Beyers, Michigan State University School of Social Work.

Kristen Columbus, Parent Mentor for Michigan Alliance for Families. Photo Credit: Tony Beyers, Michigan State University School of Social Work.

6 Tips to Help Parents Prepare for IEP Meetings

1. Know your rights. Eckner explains, “Special education is a complex system with defined procedures that are mandated by federal law. It is important to remember that all students are general education students. Some students may require specialized instruction, services, and/or supports (aka: special education). However, there is one curriculum and special education does not connote separate programs or locations. The focus of determining needs, goals, and supports related to special education is an effort to ensure every student has access to the learning environment and grade-level curriculum.”

2. Be collaborative and assertive. Eckner explains, “The IEP process is a team-based approach. Parents are required and equal members of the team; however, it can often feel like you are outnumbered around the table. Keep in mind that everyone on the school team is invested in the educational progress of your child. Parents, however, are the first and best advocates for their children. It is possible to work collaboratively as a team while still being goal-oriented and thinking critically on behalf of your child.

Ask questions and request clarification if there are comments made or information presented that you don’t fully understand. If you really aren’t sure about something, ask if it can be provided in writing and/or if there is a reference that can be provided so you can investigate it further. Columbus also added, “Be assertive, but not aggressive. You are your child’s advocate. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, make suggestions, and share your own observations or information about your child.”

3. Keep documentation organized. Eckner explained a practical aspect of preparing for the IEP meeting that often goes overlooked, “There is a lot of paperwork involved with special education. It’s good practice to stay on top of evaluations, IEPs, report cards, progress reports, work samples, and other relevant materials that you can produce at, or before, any team meeting.” A good resource to help with this can be found at understood.org.

4. Don’t forget recess. Columbus reminded parents that, “IEPs aren’t just for parts of the day that happen inside the classroom. Unstructured parts of the school day can be the most challenging for some students. The IDEA says that IEPs can include supports for nonacademic times of the school day such as lunch, recess, the bus ride to and from school and extracurricular activities such as school-sponsored sports teams and clubs.”

5. Request reports before the meeting date. Parents should come prepared by reading reports ahead of time. Columbus said, “Sometimes IEP meetings involve reviewing evaluations or other reports about the child, and it’s important to get those reports a couple days before the meeting. The parent is an equal member of the IEP team, but it’s hard to participate fully in the meeting if you’ve just been handed a 20-page evaluation report that may have unfamiliar terms or language that you don’t understand.”

6. Advocate for the individual needs of your child. Columbus articulated that in order to advocate effectively, parents should prepare for IEP meetings by making sure they can speak to what their child needs and why. Know the evaluation and/or anecdotal data that supports your position regarding your child’s needs and be certain that the team addresses all of the needs.

The child’s educational needs should be one of the first things the IEP team discusses and records in the IEP document. If this doesn’t happen, it can be harder for a parent to get services or supports written into the IEP in the later stages of the meeting.

Your child’s IEP meetings are a vital part of your child’s educational journey. Creating a strategic plan with intentional advocacy and preparedness before the IEP meetings will help you to feel more comfortable. A positive IEP meeting will allow your child to reap educational benefits.

For more information visit a2ideas.org or visit the Michigan Alliance for Families website at michiganallianceforfamilies.org. If you have a question about your child’s IEP, the evaluation process, or another special education issue contact parent mentor Kristen Columbus at 734-662-1256 x203 or kristen@michiganallianceforfamilies.org.

IEPs: What Parents Need to Know

United Way of Washtenaw County
2305 Platt Rd.
Thursday, May 9
AM Session 9am-12pm

“IEPs: What Parents Need to Know!” Presented by Michigan Alliance for Families
PM Session 1-3pm

“Can You Hear Me Now?”
Presented by Special Education Mediation Services

The workshop is free, but you must pre-register in order to attend. Register at
michiganallianceforfamilies.org/upcoming-events or contact Kristen Columbus at 734-662-1256 ext 203.