As promised from last week! We're talking about YOU in this blog post. YOU make up the "Y" in our ABCs of SPED series!
We're talking about YOUR role in the IEP process.
You probably know that the law (I.D.E.A.) requires certain people to be a part of any IEP meeting. These people include:
While any number of other professionals may also attend, these aforementioned people are foundational to the team. This means that you, as a parent or guardian, are considered an equal member of the IEP team. You are an important enough member of the team that the meeting cannot happen without you.
(Unless the team can prove, in writing, that they have tried immensely and still failed to get you there. I once knew a teacher who held an IEP meeting at a Burger King during a parent's break who was working there. That's my new bar for "trying immensely to get your attendance.")
So yes, you're an equal member of the IEP team. But sometimes it's hard to know what your job is on the team. Everyone else has a clearly defined role, whether it's the case manager, the occupational therapist, the administrator...but parents? That's more complicated.
In my experience, the role of the parent in the IEP meeting is this:
1. To ask questions. The special education world is FULL of jargon. You could easily sit through an IEP meeting as a first-timer and miss 2/3 of what the team is saying. If you're going to support the work of the school, you have to understand what they're saying! So ask questions if you're unfamiliar with a concept. Ask questions if you're not sure why one strategy was suggested over another. Ask questions if you think your child needs something that the team has dismissed. Ask, ask, ask. Sometimes the best advocacy you can do is simply to ask the team to justify what they are doing. Questions are also a great way to hold the team accountable.
2. To provide context and insight. Your child's teachers and therapists only see him or her in a handful on contexts. They have no idea what s/he is like outside of school, much less what happened last year or when s/he was 2 years old! The role of the parent is to provide a holistic perspective on the student by bringing in information that may be relevant that the team doesn't have access to. While they are the expert on education, YOU are the expert on your child.
3. To share ideas. The education world tends to get stuck in phases. A new piece of research comes out and BOOM everyone is all about "alternative seating," or "flipped classrooms," or "brain breaks." It can be helpful to hear parents' ideas about what might help their child. You've been teaching your kid a lot longer than we have! What works well at home? What have you tried that was a miserable failure? Share these things in the IEP meeting! A good team builds on the knowledge of other team members.
4. To keep an eye toward the future. As a rule, the IEP process works in regimented increments. A new IEP every year, new goals every year, new evaluations every 3 years, certain timelines for what must happen in 60 calendar days if X happens...it's all relatively fixed with regard to "start" and "finish." Life isn't like that! Sometimes a parent can provide needed perspective on what they want for the child, and what the child wants, AFTER K-12 schooling. This should inform how parents approach the IEP process.
5. To learn strategies you can transfer to the home environment. Just like teachers should learn from what you're doing at home, parents should learn and incorporate at home what is working well at school. This continuity of strategies or supports between contexts can be so, so helpful for students. This is why I always advise parents to bring a notebook and a pen to IEP meetings-- there are often great ideas floating around that may very well make things easier for you at home just as they are at school.
This is not an exhaustive list, but it's a good place to start. If you're nervous about how to interact in an IEP meeting, focus on these 5 tasks first! As you get more comfortable you can expand to making requests and advocating with confidence.
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