By: Kimberly Lechner, Ph.D.
About the Author: Kimberly Lechner is a School Psychologist, Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor, and former special education administrator. She currently runs a private practice in Wheaton called Kids First Collaborative where she provides psychoeducational evaluations, clinical counseling, and special education advocacy. Her daughter receives services at Easterseals.
It’s May, and IEP season is in full swing! As parents, we work so hard to support our children’s development, and we are so deeply invested in our children’s success at home and at school. We are thoughtful about how we collaborate with members of our kids’ school teams. We support our children’s teachers, and we hope that they recognize and value our voices as parents. Still, when it comes to the IEP process, we sometimes feel like outsiders among a team of educators who are making important decisions for our child.
As a school psychologist and former special education administrator, I’ve facilitated countless IEP meetings. However, as a parent of a child who receives special services, I am amazed by how overwhelming the IEP process can feel. As you prepare for your child’s upcoming IEP meeting, consider the following strategies to support effective and meaningful collaboration with your school team.
6 Strategies to Prepare for Your Child’s IEP Team Meeting
- Proactive communication matters
Schedule a conference call with your child’s teacher or case manager to touch on any anticipated concerns in advance.
- Request that teachers consult with outside providers in advance
This can include private tutors, therapists, physicians, or other individuals who may have valuable input. Be sure that release of information documents are signed for all parties. If necessary, ask private team members to provide a written statement regarding their impressions of your child and their recommendations for the team.
- Review your child’s current IEP
Pay close attention to the following areas:
- accommodations and modifications
- special education and related services
Is your child’s IEP currently meeting his or her needs? Has your child made expected progress toward goals? Are there areas of functioning that are not meaningfully addressed in the IEP?
- Request a draft of the proposed new IEP goals.
School districts often prepare draft goals in advance, and parents should have an opportunity to consider draft goals prior to the IEP meeting. Note that determinations around eligibility, services, and placement are ONLY made in the context of the IEP team meeting and are not determined or drafted in advance.
Review your child’s draft goals in advance. Are the goals appropriately ambitious for your child? Do you understand how your child’s progress toward goals will be measured throughout the school year? Consider sharing any questions or concerns regarding draft goals in advance with your child’s team.
- Request copies of any evaluations of your child conducted by school team members.
You may also request any local data that will be used to support decision making (i.e. progress monitoring data and results of any district wide assessments).
- Write your own parent input statement.
Every IEP document includes a space for “parent educational concerns.” IEP facilitators ask parents to articulate their concerns at each IEP meeting. However, parents often respond with something general such as, “We want our child to be successful in school.” Although this simple statement is important, it might not fully express your goals for your child nor might it clearly articulate your concerns. Your perspectives are better understood when you have an opportunity to thoughtfully consider your family’s concerns and provide input in written form.
My husband and I recently attended our daughter’s reevaluation and annual review meeting, and I’m still processing all that transpired. I’ve yet to make it through an IEP meeting without a tear or two (or even an ugly cry), but I’m so very thankful to share that my tears have primarily come from a place of gratitude.
I see each IEP meeting as an opportunity to celebrate the progress my daughter has made and to reflect on the wonderful therapists and teachers who have helped our daughter grow and thrive. Our Easterseals therapists have played an incredible role in our journey, and so have the amazing teachers, therapists, and administrators from our school district. When I reflect on our recent IEP meeting, what resonates most is the love and support we felt from each and every member of our daughter’s team. I am also struck by the significant commitment of time, energy, and resources that went into preparing for this meeting. I can honestly say that our family experienced what TRUE collaboration looks like, both before and during this IEP meeting, and I am so very grateful for the professionals who made that possible.
As an advocate, I have the privilege of walking alongside families who are seeking that same level of collaboration, commitment, and support from their school teams. I typically find that both educators and families are interested in developing genuinely collaborative relationships. Nevertheless, disagreements do occur, and teams sometimes need to thoughtfully examine their assumptions and reengage in a truly child-centered problem-solving process. I believe firmly in the power of parent engagement, and I know that children do best when families play a central role in their education.
Our Parent Liaisons at Easterseals DuPage & Fox Valley have firsthand experience with IEP meetings and are available to answer questions or provide resources on the topic. For more information, visit: https://www.easterseals.com/dfv/explore-resources/for-caregivers/iep-help.html