Welcome to the third edition of Rivers Law, Inc.’s quarterly newsletter!
Please note that this newsletter is intended to provide general information regarding special education law, and should not be construed as providing legal advice. Every student and case is unique. If you are concerned about special education issues affecting your child, please call our office to schedule a free 30-minute consultation with one of our attorneys.
Understanding the IEP Is the First and Most Important Step to Preparing for An IEP Meeting
In our last edition, we discussed the basics of special education assessments. After assessments are completed, an IEP meeting is scheduled with a team of people, including the parents/guardians, to review the assessments and determine if a student requires an IEP (if it is an initial IEP meeting) or if a student’s current IEP needs to be changed to provide him/her an appropriate education.
Prior to attending any IEP meeting for your child, it is crucial that you educate yourself regarding the purpose and function of an IEP. Once you understand the nuts and bolts of an IEP in general, you need to spend time reading your child’s most recent IEP. You should highlight any parts of the IEP that you do not understand and use a reliable source to figure out what it means. Once you understand what the current IEP states, including each of the IEP goals, then you will be better prepared to ask questions at the IEP meeting. By asking lots of questions, you can start the needed dialogue among your child’s IEP team to come up with new ideas, solutions, and resources that would remain unknown otherwise.
** If you do not have time to prepare for your child’s IEP, then request (via email or other writing) to reschedule the IEP meeting for the following week to give yourself more time. The law is very clear that the District is required to allow a parent to reschedule an IEP meeting to allow the parent to fully participate in the IEP meeting.
What is an IEP and What Does It Have to Address?
IEP stands for Individualized Education Program (or Plan). It is a written document that includes goals, services, and accommodations, among other things, which an IEP team has decided a student should have to meet his/her unique educational needs and make appropriate progress. Courts have defined “unique educational needs” to include academic, social, health, emotional, physical and vocational needs. This is important to understand because if you are concerned about your child’s lack of social interaction with his peers — you need to know that this concern is perfectly valid and the District is required to address this concern within the IEP. Often times, school administrators attending IEP meeting may want to focus mostly on academics and downplay social/emotional challenges that are impacting a student’s ability to develop positive relationships at school. Once parents understand that the law says social/emotional needs are as important as academics, then they are empowered to insist that the IEP address their concerns.
Who Develops the IEP?
The IEP team, which always includes the parents, a teacher, a school administrator, and other individuals with knowledge of the student, develops the IEP at an IEP meeting. During the IEP meeting, the team discusses the student’s strengths, areas of needs, progress on previous goals, and gets input from the whole IEP team regarding meeting the student’s educational needs moving forward.
Based on this discussion and the team’s consensus, the District is required to make an offer of a Free and Appropriate Education (FAPE), which includes IEP goals (again developed by the IEP team), related services (such as speech or OT), accommodations/modifications needed in the classroom or other times of the day, educational placement, specialized academic instruction (such as reading intervention), etc.
Checklist for Preparing for the IEP Meeting
Parents can and should take steps to be prepared before going into an IEP meeting! Even if you have concerns about how the meeting goes, taking these steps will help you feel prepared to move forward with addressing your concerns or getting assistance with legal issues.
- Review the IEP meeting invitation – The District will send you an invitation to the meeting including the date, time, location, and people who will be attending. Importantly, the invitation will also state the purpose of the meeting – what will be discussed. It is always important to understand why the meeting is being held to make sure you are prepared for the topic going in. If the invitation is not clear, contact the District or school for more information. It is best to email your questions to memorialize your communications with district personnel and create accountability.
- Ask for copies of any assessment reports or other documents that will be reviewed at the meeting in advance – while there is no specific requirement about how early the District must give parents documents in advance, the law requires Districts to provide parents copies of documents early enough for parents to review and be able to participate meaningfully in the IEP. As always, put your requests for copies in writing several business days before the meeting. Inform the district that you will need to reschedule the IEP meeting if you are not provided the assessments in sufficient time to thoroughly review them prior to the IEP meeting so you will know what, if any, questions you have.
- Audio recording – Recording an IEP meeting can be a good solution to make sure that the entire IEP discussion is preserved. If you want to record, you must give the District notice at least 24 hours prior to the meeting start time. Be sure that you bring a reliable recording device that you can play back from later.
- Bring pen and paper or a computer/tablet to take notes – Having a way to take notes at an IEP meeting is very important. So much information is shared at IEPs that it is very difficult to remember everything that is said. Even if you record it, you will want a way to quickly remember important details. Also, the District members of the IEP team come with computers or notepads and will be taking notes at the meeting. Parents should come just as prepared to feel confident that they are equal participants, write down important comments or concerns, and can make notes to remember to follow up on next steps.
- Invite other people – Anyone who knows the student and is able to provide information to develop the IEP can be a part of the IEP team. This can include another family member or a provider of therapy services from outside the District, for example. Parents are also allowed to bring an attorney or non-attorney advocate to the meeting. Be sure to notify the District in advance of anyone you will be bringing to the IEP, especially if you will be bringing an attorney. The District has the right to know if you intend to bring an attorney and may want to have an attorney present as well.
- Bring other documents – If you have documents from service providers from outside the District including assessments, treatment records, or doctor’s notes, you can bring copies to the IEP and request the District to review and consider them in developing the IEP. Especially documents that include information about disabilities or medical conditions that impact your child’s education may be important for school IEP members to review. If possible, provide any outside evaluation reports you want the IEP team to consider a few days prior to the IEP meeting to allow team members sufficient time to review.
- Invest in an organization system – We cannot emphasize enough how much paperwork is involved in special education! The District must provide you written documentation of every IEP meeting, as well as many other documents and forms throughout the process. Take steps to make sure you can find these important documents later by dedicating a binder to storing all the documents you receive regarding your child’s special education program.
Next time, we will be discussing the IEP meeting itself – who is there, what is discussed and when, and what the parent’s role and rights are throughout the process.
“This newsletter is not to be construed as providing legal advice, representation or agreement by Rivers Law, Inc.”