The conference table, acronyms, the never-ending paperwork—IEP meetings are enough to make anyone a little anxious. At your child’s IEP (Individualized Education Program) meeting, you’re part of the IEP “team,” a group of teachers, therapists, an administrator, and you. Each person on the team has their part in creating a successful IEP for your child.
Sitting in the IEP meeting, you may feel relieved that something is being done to help your child. You may feel angry that the school doesn’t seem to be taking your opinions to heart. Or you may feel overwhelmed and uncomfortable speaking up in a room full of professionals.
At the end of the day, you are the first advocate for your child, but here’s how to advocate without crossing a line.
As the parent on the IEP team, you should not …
There’s a lot of ground to cover in an IEP meeting, and it can feel tempting to take charge. But keep in mind that if you’re bulldozing others, you might miss important information. Feedback from teachers, administrators, and other experts who are present might change your mind about what’s best. If you’re waiting to jump at the next chance to talk instead of listening, you might (without meaning to) undermine the ultimate goal of the meeting: getting the best outcome for your child.
Instead: Arm yourself with information beforehand so you can have your main points and keep the focus on that. Read through the parent handbook for your district so you know what’s in it. Know your child’s IEP inside and out. Request a draft copy in advance of the meeting, so you can explain yourself without letting emotions get the better of you, especially if you disagree.
2. Be disrespectful
Feelings may run high at IEP meetings. This is a meeting about your child, after all. But yelling, berating, or otherwise making others feel uncomfortable is not acceptable. And if you lose your cool, the team may end the meeting, leaving you back where you started.
Instead: Do your best to stay calm. Have a few sentence starters that keep the focus off of your feelings and on the task at hand. Something like, “I really want to focus on …” or “Let’s revisit …” If you feel yourself getting really hot, it’s OK to take a break (say you have to use the restroom and then use the time to cool down).
3. Bend too much
As the parent, you provide helpful information that can help the team determine placement, goals, and accommodations. It’s easy to get overwhelmed—especially in a meeting where you are reviewing data or discussing behavior. You have a right to understand what’s being shared, from the evaluation results to what each aspect of the IEP means for your child. Don’t sit back and let the IEP team proceed with something you don’t understand or that you don’t agree with.
Instead: If you’re feeling intimidated and uncomfortable, it’s important to ask the team to stop and clarify. Give others the benefit of the doubt and say, “Thank you for including this, can you explain …” or “I’m not sure I understand, can you tell me …”
4. Be silent
IEP meetings are like doctor’s appointments—it can feel like one side has all the knowledge. While it’s good to listen, if you’re made to feel that you can’t speak up at all, that’s not OK. You have important information to share—everything from official diagnoses to your child’s sleeping habits or current likes and dislikes. They may be experts in their field, but you are the expert on your child. Working together is the best way through.
Instead: If you have a question but feel overwhelmed, focus on your child’s teacher or another adult that you know and trust, and ask them the question. Another adult may answer it, and that’s OK.
If you get really stuck, it may be a good time to bring in an advocate. Reach out to your state’s parent resource center (every state has one) in advance to find advocates in your area.
For another helpful read before your IEP meeting, check out What Is an IEP?