After representing thousands of parents and their special needs children over the years, we’ve narrowed down the top five IEP mistakes. These include failing to prepare for the IEP meeting and failing to focus on the most important things that will impact the child. The third mistake that we often encounter is the “never-ending IEP meeting”.
By law, school officials must ensure all relevant participants attend the IEP meeting. Typically, this includes parents, your child’s special education or resource teacher, general education teacher, any person who has prepared an evaluation regarding your child, and an administrator. Often, IEP meetings are scheduled for early morning or late afternoon in order to minimize the need for substitutes in the classroom. Depending on a variety of factors, like the age, disability or placement of the child, these meetings can last from as little as an hour to over three hours. Annual IEP meetings are typically much shorter than three-year (triennial) IEP meetings as the latter includes a review of recently completed educational evaluations. Yet some IEP meetings seem to take forever-lasting many hours or continuing from day to day. This is generally a mistake.
IEP meetings that drag on for hours at a time can become counter-productive. Long meetings can result in fatigue which in turn can lead to oversights and errors in the IEP. Ideally, all participants should work as a team to determine the child’s FAPE (free, appropriate, public education). But if some IEP team members need to leave early and other come in late, this revolving door of participants can result in missing information. Even if an IEP is ultimately developed, it can actually be too long and complicated. This makes it difficult for teachers to implement and too difficult for parents to fully understand. From our perspective as attorneys, it can also make it challenging for even administrative law judges to decipher.
Similarly, IEP meetings that continue for several sessions across several weeks or months can also have a downside. There may be different attendees during each session and therefore the team sacrifices continuity of plans and ideas. Long interruptions in completing IEPs can cause delays in services, transportation or placement. The timeline for completion of any goals and objectives might also be postponed. Once again, due to the complexity of the IEP, it may be difficult for a judge to determine what the school district’s offer of FAPE actually was and when it became effective.
How to avoid the never-ending IEP meeting:
Prepare. (Remember mistake #5, failing to prepare). Insist on reviewing any evaluations or testing prior to the IEP meeting. Also, review your child’s file and write down any questions in advance. You may even want to provide your questions to your child’s case carrier so that she will be prepared to answer them at the IEP meeting.
Prioritize. (Mistake #4, failing to prioritize). It is generally preferable to spend precious IEP meeting time on substantive matters that really make a difference like understanding assessments, developing goals and objectives, and reviewing program placement and services rather more clerical items which may be finalized after the meeting.
Schedule follow-up time with your child’s case carrier or service provider to answer any minor issues or questions. Make sure to document his or her response.
Consider an Addendum IEP. Addendum meetings usually relate to one item, like Occupational Therapy or Assistive Technology, and are very short. They can take place via phone and most IEP team members can be excused if their input is not needed. The Addendum IEP itself is generally only a few pages long and does not delay implementation of the main IEP.
If your child has complex needs that generally necessitate multiple IEP meetings each year, consider scheduling them in advance as part of his FAPE. That way, the school district has ample time to prepare and schedule the multiple IEP team meetings.
Of course, there may be occasions where you simply have to endure long and arduous IEP meetings. If so, try to stave off fatigue by bringing water and high-energy snacks and taking frequent breaks. Avoid signing a long IEP at the end of a meeting. Instead, bring it home and review it carefully prior to signing your agreement. This is especially important if you have had multiple IEP meetings over a period of months. Make sure that the final IEP is clear and consistent.