Creating a Better IEP Meeting Experience for Families


Whether at the pre-IEP conference, during the IEP conference, or beyond, it is the parent who steers their child’s educational course.

Every parent of an exceptional child receiving special education  in the public schools today has heard the words, “IEP meeting.” For some, these words conjure positive thoughts about a productive meeting that will educationally benefit their child. For others, however, the words “IEP meeting” can provoke some uneasiness. Have you ever wondered how you can improve the effectiveness of your child’s IEP meetings? This article will provide the reader with information about the concept of a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) for their exceptional child, procedural safeguards, the value of the pre-IEP meeting, making requests during IEP meetings, the importance of parents as IEP team members, and parent-teacher collaboration.

FAPE. All exceptional children are entitled to a free and appropriate public education, regardless of their disability; which is better known as FAPE. But what does that actually mean? Children with disabilities are to receive a public education, with no expenses being required of the parents. This education must be considered fitting or “appropriate” in meeting his or her specific educational needs. Under FAPE, the needs of exceptional children are met by the design and implementation of an individualized education program (IEP). The IEP is basically a roadmap outlining the student’s education program. It is through the creation of the IEP that students’ present levels of performance are identified, measurable yearly goals are constructed, special education and related services to be provided are indicated and annual goals are set.

Procedural Safeguards. Parents of exceptional children have rights, and those rights must be known in order to ensure their child receives the services that will help the child be successful. It is in the school’s best interest to follow procedures to safeguard and protect the rights of not only the child, but also the parent. As the advocate for their child, parents must be aware of these rights. For example, parents have the right to an independent evaluation by a qualified person who is not employed by their school district. School districts are to ensure all records are kept confidential and are provided to the parents upon request. When disagreements are noted between the school and parents, efforts should be made to resolve the issue by using mediation by a third party. If a resolution does not occur during mediation, the parents may request a due process hearing.  According to Bateman, many of the conflicts between schools and parents were resolved without resulting in due process hearings (2010). In order for this to happen, effective collaboration must be in place. So how do we work together and not result to mediation or due process hearings? One way consists of a pre-IEP conference meeting.

Pre-IEP Conference. The Pre-IEP conference meeting can be used to help parents, teachers, and administrators get on the same page regarding goals for the child. These meetings allow the parents’ voices to be heard in a more intimate setting; not sitting across from several school personnel at a round table. This can be intimidating for many parents. Often times the language that is used during the IEP meeting is confusing and filled with educational jargon. The pre-conference meeting is a time when parents can feel more at ease and ask questions that they might be afraid to ask during the IEP meeting. During this meeting, parents should be prepared to share the goals that they want to see their child target for the following year.

Making requests during the IEP meeting. Some parents may attend IEP meetings desiring services or alternative placements for their child that are not currently in place. Perhaps parents think their child should receive an additional speech therapy session each week or maybe they want their child to spend part of his day in an inclusive setting. It is important for parents to understand that they have the right to ask for additional services if they believe they are warranted. Such requests are typically made during an IEP meeting. When requesting services, it is beneficial when parents are knowledgeable about such things as the service they are wanting for their child, what the service will offer him or her, and reasons why they believe he or she will benefit from receiving it. In other words, the more informed the parents are when making the request, the more likely the discussion with other team members will be productive.

The importance of parents as IEP team members. Too often parents have reported feeling overwhelmed by school personnel at IEP meetings. Some even indicate feeling defensive when they enter the meeting room. At times parents will remain silent during their IEP meetings simply listening to the decisions that the school has made on behalf of their child. This should not be the case. Parents are equal partners in the discussions and decisions that are made about their child. They are highly valued members of the IEP team for many reasons. To begin, they know their child better than anyone and can share valuable insight about the child with the other team members. This could mean anything from how to motivate him during class time to behaviors surrounding test anxiety their child might experience. Knowing this kind of information upfront will aide teachers in their planning and educating the child. Having such valuable information not only saves time, but also helps educators to better understand the child’s strengths and weaknesses. Parents know their child’s preferences and dislikes which is paramount from a behavioral perspective. For example, a parent could inform the IEP team that his child loves computer games and that they would be an excellent reward for completing his work. From an educational perspective, parents can assist IEP team members in creating goals for their child that are meaningful and productive because of the personal knowledge about their child that they bring to the table. Once the parent offers this valuable information to the members of the IEP team, these individuals may begin to successfully work together to benefit the exceptional child.

Parent-teacher collaboration. Parent-teacher collaboration is central to the productivity of IEP meetings. It is the hallmark of quality home-school relationships. The more effectively educators and families communicate and work together, the better the outcome will be for the child. Here are some suggestions made by parents of exceptional children for effective collaboration with IEP team members:
Be positive with school personnel
• Develop a communication method: notebook, emails, phone calls, etc.
• Be open and honest about your child
• Answer e-mails from school as soon as possible
• Maintain a team attitude
• Focus on the child and not the disability
• Compromise with other IEP team members
• Be reasonable
Perhaps the most important thing to remember is that parents are the central figure when it comes to educating their exceptional child. Whether at the pre-IEP conference, during the IEP conference, or beyond, it is the parent who steers their child’s educational course. Realizing the parental role in the IEP meeting takes commitment and effort. Seeing a child succeed because of a parents’ hard work and dedication to their educational success, however, it worth every step of the way.•

Dr. Mary A. Houser received a BFA in Related Arts from Kutztown University of Pennsylvania; an MAT in Special Education from The College of New Jersey; and an EdD in Educational Leadership from Fayetteville State University. She is currently an Assistant Professor of Special Education at West Chester University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Houser has taught graduate special education courses for Walden University where she also served as a special education curriculum developer and assessor. In addition, she has taught graduate special education courses and supervised pre-service special education teachers for Campbell University (NC). Dr. Houser has worked as a learning disabilities specialist and has taught high school special education in both inclusive and self-contained settings. Her research interests include families and students with autism spectrum disorders and improving parent-teacher relationships for students with disabilities.

Dr. Charlotte Fontenot received a BS in Education, Curriculum and Instruction; Elementary Self Contained and Elementary Math, Texas Southern University; MEd in Generic Special Education from Texas Southern University; MEd in Education Administration at Prairie View A & M University; and her EdD in Educational Leadership, from Sam Houston State University. Dr. Fontenot has worked in the higher education system for over 7 years, including her current position as an Assistant Professor of Special Education for the College of Education and Behavioral Sciences at Houston Baptist University. Dr. Fontenot’s’ teaching focus stems around broadening the knowledge base of educators possessing zeal in servicing students with unique needs under the special education umbrella. During her service in the public school system, she taught as a Preschool Program for Children with Disabilities and Fifth grade educator, as well as serving as a district-wide Behavior Support Specialist. Dr. Fontenot’s research interests are in the areas of Autism and inclusion. Current research endeavors includes integrating technology into instruction, with primary interest on the utilization of the iPad and importance of effective collaboration between home and school.

Bateman, David F. (2010). “Due process hearing case study.” Teaching Exceptional Children 42.4
(2010): 80-82. Print.

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