Monday, January 31, 2011

Control the Stress of an IEP Meeting

I don't know about most parents, but for me, IEP meetings can be stressful.  In order to advocate my child, I had to learn how to control the anxiety and focus on my child's education.  I had to remove the emotion of the meeting.  This is easier said than done, but by following a structure, I was able to remove the anxiety and feel empowered.

1. Prepare for Meetings
According to a legal source, there should be preparation ahead of time for an IEP meeting.  IEP meetings, regardless of how many a parent has in a single year are not something to walk into without a solid plan.  Depending on the reason for the meeting will determine the amount of planning that may need to be done.  Leslie Seid Margolis, Esq. is a managing attorney with the Maryland Disability Law Center.  She encourages parents to treat the IEP meeting as if it is the first step towards a due process hearing by preparing for the meeting and building a record. If you do this, you make it less likely that you will end up at a due process hearing. If you do end up at a hearing, you will be in a stronger position.
2. Prioritize Your Child's Needs
Since all of what you may want for your child is not equal in importance for their education, make a list of what your child really needs, what you want for your child (but may be willing to compromise on), and what would be nice to have but that you would definitely be willing to give up. Don't show all of your cards, but by having this list, it will be easier for you to determine how much you time and energy you may want to spend on a topic.  Ms. Margolis encourages parents to think about the evidence they have to support each requested item (i.e., reports, assessments, experts, other documents). If you prioritize your issues and have facts and evidence that support what you want, it is more likely that you will be taken seriously. 
3. Build Good Relationships
Develop positive relationships with school personnel, to the greatest extent possible. Ask questions. Ask your child's team to explain things you do not understand. Don't assume you should know something just because it seems everyone else around the table does. 
If a meeting is not productive, ask for it to be rescheduled or take a ten minute break.  If you feel a meeting may be adversarial, you can take an advocate with you to be another set of ears for you.  The main thing is to control your emotions.  In more cases than not, everyone in the meeting wants what is best for the special needs student.  The paths that are taken may be the sticking point. 
4. Document Issues & Concerns
This is an area, in my experience as a principal and parent, people usually neglect.  Documentation is critical for parents.  If you have a concern, don't let it go just because the meeting is over or you feel "outnumbered."  Remember, you are a part of a TEAM of people serving your child.  Ask that items and issues you feel strongly about be documented in the meeting summary or notes. Review the summary before you leave the meeting. Then be sure you see it in the meeting minutes or the IEP final document.  Know your rights about amending your child’s records.

The bottom line is that your child's education and well being are the focus of any IEP meeting.  A parent is a critical member of the IEP team.  As a parent, you may feel you need someone with you to help support you as you advocate for your child.  This is okay.  Seek someone who can be an extra set of ears and eyes for you.  Seek someone you can count on to help you maintain emotional control and help you document the meeting minutes.

Leslie Seid Margolis, Esq. is a managing attorney with the Maryland Disability Law Center (MDLC), a private, non-profit organization staffed by attorneys and paralegals. MDLC is the Protection and Advocacy organization for Maryland. Much of this article was taken from an article of hers found in a Wright's Law bulletin. 

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