21 Things to Do to Prepare for An IEP Meeting

I just came from a Family-to-Family conference, and now I know for sure I am not the only parent who dreads IEP meetings, known in some districts as ARDs. Luckily, a friend of a high-schooler with special needs gave me her cheat sheet about ways to make the ARD process go smoother. I hope it benefits you as much as it did me.

  1. Record Every IEP Meeting. Notify the diagnostician that you will be recording the meeting and she will also record it on behalf of the school district. You may also choose to ask the diagnostician for an audible copy of the ARD if you choose not to record or if you just want to have their copy. If you bring a jump drive to the meeting, you can get a copy before you leave campus.
  2. Wear Red. Avoid wearing white or yellow as those are passive colors and you want the members of the ARD committee to know you mean business.
  3. Get a Copy of the Law. Email sped@tea.texas.gov or call TEA at (512) 463-9414 and request a copy of the Special Education Rules and Regulations Side-by-Side. They will send you a double-sided copy with holes punched in it. If you prefer a digital copy, you can download it from the TEA website. I recommend ordering a printed version though because when you set your binder on the table with sticky notes and highlighter marks, they’ll sit up a little straighter. It’s empowering.
  4. Make Them Your Helper. As a parent, you are the first member of your child’s advocacy team. If you want help, you need to get professionals on your side. Teachers and school staff went to college for their vocation, so try not to step on their toes. You want your child to function at as high a level as possible. What can the professionals at the school do to help you in that goal?  For more information check out the Wrightslaw course.
  5. Make a List and Check it Twice. Make a yearly list of all the services you want for your child. As problems arise during the year, make sure you write down what modifications need to be put in place at the annual ARD to avoid the problem in the future.
  6. Don’t Agree Hastily. Sometimes staff at the ARDs start passing around the signature page before the meeting is over. When it comes to you, feel free to hold onto it. You don’t have to check agree unless you are 100% sure everything you want to be documented is. You can ask for a copy of the minutes and the signature page and take it home with you. That way you can double-check your checklist in number five with the minutes before you sign.
  7. Schedule Your ARDs in the Morning. Afternoon meetings are often rushed because of dismissal duties. There is no time constraint on IEP meetings, so keep that in mind if a school member tells you yours are taking too long.
  8. Bring Food. You think I’m talking about a snack for yourself? Decorate the center of the table with snacks, plates, and napkins for all those in the meeting. One mom said she brought party hats. I’ve yet to give this a try, but I imagine it lightens the mood.
  9. Take Attendance. No one can leave the ARD without your permission. If they do, stop the meeting until they come back.
  10. Ask Yes or No Questions.  If the school denies your child a service say, “Are you denying my child this service, yes or no?”
  11. Never Burn a Bridge. This seems like a complicated task because you might have to go over someone’s head to get services for your child. But as much as possible, be at unity one with another. Do not attack a person’s character because you never know who is related to whom or friends with whom and when you will be face to face with the same people as they move up the chain of command.
  12. Create a Communication Log. Document interactions with teachers and support staff and always send an email after a verbal discussion thanking the person for his or her time and restating the highlights of the conversation.
  13. You Can Change the Date of Your Annual ARD. If like most students, your child’s first ARD landed in May, each year it gets a little earlier. You can call an ARD to change the annual meeting to a later date. This is not something the school personnel likes to do because they have a lot to get done at the end of the year. They will tell you the first week of the following year you can call an ARD if your child’s goals need to change. That’s also true, but it’s good to know there is another option.
  14. The School Members Are on the Same Page. If you ever get to an ARD and it feels like everyone else is privy to information you never got, it’s probably true. School staff members meet informally or formally to discuss your child’s progress and make recommendations for upcoming goals. Sometimes those goals benefit the school and sometimes they benefit the student.
  15. Be Informed About the Roster. Ask the diagnostician who is invited to the IEP meeting. You can also request certain people come from the district, like the head of special education. You can also bring a friend or advocate with you and you are not required to give a name in advance. They will ask. If you choose to bring legal counsel to the ARD, you must disclose that so the school district has equitable representation.
  16. Wait Until the End of the Meeting to Speak. The diagnostician will ask you about your concerns,  but it is best to listen to every member of the ARD committee and then speak last. Make sure that you are in agreement with the plan that each specialist or educator presents before you more on.
  17. Money Talks. Unfortunately, your child and his or her services are sometimes lost in the battle for the almighty dollar. You can’t repeat your child’s education, so make it count.
  18. Make Sure all Staff Members Get a Copy of the IEP. It never hurts to have a conference with each of your child’s teachers and think of a reason to ask them about the IEP. They should be able to produce it quickly for you in digital or hardcopy form.
  19. Request Cameras. It’s the new law.
  20. Start Young. If you don’t push to get your child in their Least Restrictive Environment, or LRE, when he is in elementary school, it will be very hard to get him mainstreamed as he gets older. If nothing else, the social interactions you child has access to in a regular ed classroom as a young person are equivalent to the type of interactions he will have in the community as an adult. The districts get money based on the percentage of the school day the child is in special education classes. Each child who is in special ed more than 50% of the day generates a substantial income for the district. Push for inclusion as much as possible.
  21. Insist on a Social Lunch. Some districts will push for your child to eat in the special ed room. Say no! As an adult, your child will eat at the next available table at a restaurant, not segregated from society.

This isn’t an exhaustive list of ways to prepare for you IEP meeting, but I was thankful for the veteran special needs mom who passed these recommendations to me. Of course, you must do what is best for your child. These are just heartfelt suggestions from one parent to another.

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