It’s Not Jumping through Hoops
When reduced to basics, the IEP is a communication tool used so that everyone understands what is expected will happen. School personnel often fall into noncompliance because they view the regulatory requirements as administrative hoops to jump through rather than important steps to follow to ensure clear communication and a shared understanding. When school personnel view the regulations as an impediment or a bureaucratic imperative only, the result is often a frayed relationship with parents and noncompliance can result.
Suggestion: Learn and understand the regulations and how they can affect the outcomes of a student's school experience. Remind and instill in your staff that there is a purpose behind the regulations and that they are not an end in themselves. The regulations exist to guide schools so that there is a common and shared understanding of the student’s present levels, his/her educational needs, the goals, the services to be made available, and the student’s ongoing progress.
Start with the End in Mind
Often an IEP meeting begins with a review of the old IEP and any progress made, followed by a discussion of the student’s needs, his/her proposed goals, the services to be made available, and then placement. Very little time is devoted to the ultimate goal of what happens to the student after graduation.
Suggestion: Start the IEP meeting with the focus on the future and how current progress and proposals will help move the student to the desired outcome. Begin the conversation on a positive note by sharing a student's strengths, accomplishments and progress.
Make it a habit to schedule IEP and MET meetings well in advance of the IEP anniversary date or the 60-day evaluation or reevaluation deadline. Then there will be sufficient time if the parents ask to reschedule or if unanticipated events require the meeting date to be changed.
Parents are usually outnumbered at IEP meetings and can feel that the IEP process is not collaborative but adversarial.
Suggestion: Use round tables when possible. Have school personnel wait outside the room or remain standing in the meeting room until the parents arrive so that everyone either enters the room or sits at the same time.
Use of Names
Starting off an IEP meeting with introductions helps everyone be more comfortable and sets a positive tone.
Suggestion: Ask parents how they want to be addressed and then follow their requests.
Know Your Role
At the start of IEP meetings, the participants typically introduce themselves in the following ways: I am Mary Smith, the general education teacher; or I am Bill Jones, the special education teacher. However, it is far more important for the parties to understand each person’s role.
Suggestion: Have each participant explain his/her role. Example: I am Mary Smith and I teach second grade. My role in this meeting is to answer questions and provide input about grade-level curriculum and grade-level standards. Because I am in the classroom with second graders on a daily basis, I am aware of different learning styles, strategies and behaviors typically seen in a second grade classroom. I know how typical second graders learn and the misunderstandings and pitfalls that they often encounter. As your child's general education teacher, I can also provide information on your child's progress and interactions with others. I am here today to help this IEP team as it considers information and makes decisions.
Suggestion: If the student is going to be a participant in the meeting, consider adopting a student-led IEP meeting. While working toward this goal, a school can assign the student a preparatory role: have the student introduce the participants; explain what his or her disability is; explain what accommodations are helpful and necessary to his/her success; outline future goals.
Train the Agency Representative
It is not uncommon that IEP team participants do not understand the role of the agency representative. Because this required IEP team member understands the overall curriculum, provides or supervises the delivery of special education, and can commit resources, the agency representative is the person ultimately responsible for making decisions if consensus does not occur, either between the parents and the school or between staff members.
Suggestion: Train the staff who will serve as agency representatives at IEP meetings so that they fully understand their role and responsibility.
IEP - Draft Copy
If the school creates a draft IEP as a proposal for the IEP team to discuss, then a copy of the draft IEP should be provided to the student's parents in advance so that they can review it at their own pace and process the information; this extra time will enable parents to meaningfully participate in the IEP meeting. The draft IEP should be clearly marked as a draft to avoid any appearance of predetermination on the part of the school.