IEP Mistake #1: Failing to Attend

by kconroy on September 7, 2017

After analyzing thousands of IEPs, we’ve settled on the top five IEP mistakes.  This installment focuses on Mistake #1, failing to attend.  Failing to show up for your child’s IEP meeting
in mind, body and spirit is by far the greatest IEP mistake we have encountered.  This can have long-term, negative effects on your child’s education and undermine your ability to advocate for her.   If you’re a past ADAMS ESQ client or have referred families to us, you already know the importance of fully attending IEP meetings.  But there are many other families, teachers and special education service providers who may be able to benefit from this information.  So please feel free to forward, post, text, tweet, snap or otherwise share this blog.  You can make a difference in the life of a special needs child.

I.  Mind
IEP meetings can be mentally exhausting.  Whether meetings last only 30 minutes or 3 hours, parents must remain laser-focused on hearing what the school district is saying about their child. Reports are often very complicated and parents are somehow expected to review them, listen to the explanation and formulate questions all at the same time. This is even more challenging where parents require translations or have common learning disabilities such as Dyslexia or ADHD.  Other parents trust the school district to know what is right for their child-after all they’re the experts-so they just go along with the program offered. Some IEP meetings can be brutal.  Many parents report attending meetings where school officials scream and yell at them and parents (and sometimes teachers) are bullied by team members. Often parents attend IEP meetings in person but, for these and other reasons, their mind is not in the game.  Their goal is to just get it over with.  Failing to be mentally present and attend in the right frame of mind is a mistake.

II.  Body
IEP meetings are intimidating.  Usually there’s just one parent and a number of school district “experts” including general education teachers, special education teachers, school psychologists and principals. Some school districts even bring their lawyers to IEP meetings.  Other IEP meetings are plain boring as parents do not feel that they have any say in the process.  This is especially true when parents see that the school district already completed the IEP before the meeting even started and the district refuses to make any changes.   IEP meetings are scheduled at inconvenient times that conflict with work schedules or other prior commitments.  Parents themselves may have physical or mental disabilities that prevent them from attending an IEP in person or are just too physically exhausted.  Therefore, they fail to attend their child’s IEP meeting and instead allow the school district to develop the IEP without them.  Failing to attend in person, or at least by phone or virtually, is a mistake.

III.  Spirit
Parents may attend the IEP meeting in person but fail to show up in the right spirit.  Whether restricted by fear, anger or cynicism parents may be geared for battle instead of collaboration.  Parent fears are very real.  Some school districts pressure parents to sign the IEP on the spot, without fully reading or understanding it.  Other parents fear making a mistake so they never sign the IEP.  In the current climate, many parents are afraid of deportation if they challenge the district. Still other parents show up angry due to the school’s past failures to address their child’s needs. This anger, while justified, can impair the ability to hear and recognize new IEP team members who may truly make a difference. Finally, many parents have become cynical after years of fighting for their child’s education.  They believe that no one understands or cares about their child’s needs or what they are going through as a parent.  This cynicism can deafen parents to constructive comments, helpful team members and creative educational solutions.  Failing to attend your child’s IEP team meeting with a positive attitude and spirit is a mistake.

Here are a few tips that parents may find helpful in fully attending IEP team meetings:

If you can’t make the scheduled IEP meeting date, request in writing that the IEP meeting be rescheduled for a time when you can attend.  Indicate in your note that they do NOT have permission to proceed without you. Provide two or three alternative meeting dates and times.

IEP meetings are generally held annually.  Provide available dates to your child’s case manager before she schedules the next meeting.

If you simply can’t make it in person, consider attending via telephone, Skype or FaceTime or send a grandparent or other responsible relative.  Ensure that they have your written permission to attend in your absence, otherwise the school district may try to exclude them.

Always attend InitialTriennialManifestation Determination and Transition IEP meetings in person as they are especially important.

Keep an open and positive attitude (even if you have to work hard at it).  This will help to make the meeting more collaborative instead of combative.  Bring special treats or snacks.
District representatives may have children with disabilities too.  Identify the “angel” in the IEP meeting who may gently be attempting to help you.

Remember that your input at the IEP meeting is equal to that of the entire school district staff.  No one knows your child better than you do.

Dads are especially important IEP team members-even if they don’t say a word.  If Dad can’t attend, bring one friend, religious leader or advocate for support.
Remain alert and listen carefully to every team member.  Contrary to popular belief, school district team members generally do not collaborate prior to IEP meetings.  Therefore, their findings can be completely inconsistent.  Ask questions and point out potential errors on the spot so that they do not impact your child’s educational program. If you get tired, it’s ok to call a 5 minute break and step outside the room.

NEW DYSLEXIA GUIDELINES FOR CALIFORNIA SCHOOLS

AB 1369, Statutes of 2015, require the Superintendent of Public Instruction to develop program guidelines for dyslexia. The guidelines are to be used to assist regular education teachers, special education teachers, and parents to identify and assess pupils with dyslexia, and to plan, provide, evaluate, and improve educational services to pupils with dyslexia.
The California Dyslexia Guidelines are not binding on school districts, charter schools or other entities. However, ADAMS ESQ is hopeful that it can be used to establish at least minimal standards for evaluations and services afforded to students challenged with dyslexia.

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