For some reason, we seem to begin “IEP season” earlier and earlier every year. Or perhaps, just like tourist season in New Smyrna, there’s no downtime anymore! We’ve had three this week so far, and it’s only Wednesday.
Anyway, I thought I’d go over a few tips:
- Remember, even though ten days is the locally accepted reasonable amount of time to be notified of an upcoming meeting, it isn’t the law that there is ten day notice. That seems to be a sticking point for some parents.
- You do NOT have to notify the school if you are bringing someone with you to the meeting, unless that person is a legal representative (in which case they need notice to bring theirs as well). If you are bringing someone, or several someones, that’s okay. You can notify ahead of time if you wish. This depends on your individual preference, but don’t be pressured on a phone call by a facilitator into telling them if you don’t wish to. On the other hand, the written notice must contain all personnel invited from the school side of things. If people show up who are not on the notice, you have the option of excusing them. Don’t be afraid to use that option, especially if you feel the school and/or district is deliberately trying to overwhelm you with a large number of people.
- Do not be embarrassed or upset if you become emotional during a meeting. This is normal. Meetings like these can be very overwhelming for parents and guardians, especially if you are new to the process or even the reverse; an old hand at it. Regardless, don’t give it a second thought if you shed a few tears or feel yourself growing upset. This is one of the reasons we recommend always recording the meetings. You may miss something and need to listen to the tape to jog your memory. Always ask, in writing and ahead of time, if you may record the meeting.
- Always, and we mean always, put any correspondence about the meeting in writing over e-mail. Even though Florida has a Sunshine Law regarding e-mail, student names and identifying information are expunged from public information records requests. If you are nervous about using your student’s name in e-mail, use their alpha code. Having a paper trail is critical for rigorous implementation and clarification down the road.
- Make certain you type out your parent concerns and bring them to the meeting, and absolutely insist they be included, verbatim, under “parent concerns” on the IEP. DO NOT allow the facilitator to either paraphrase or move them to the “notes” section. “Parent Concerns” is, unfortunately, one of the only places you can get some information into this legal document, rather than being steered to contacting school based administration or the teacher in a less formal setting. Once your concerns are in there–be they bullying, dirty bathrooms, the school barring you from walking your student to class–they must be addressed. Also if you’ve been getting the run-around on anything, put it under “parent concerns”.
- Don’t be afraid to advocate for your student. The educational professionals who serve that student are just that, professionals. Many, many parents waste time and energy worrying about offending the educators, then those educators taking it out on the student that they don’t “like” the parents. I have never, in all my years in education, seen professionals do that. But, I have seen many parents actually do harm to their own children by not insisting on rigorous implementation of everything on the IEP because they were worried about offending; the students, sadly, sometimes suffer the consequences. Sure, you may get talked about behind your back, or gain a reputation as a “pit bull”, for example. So what? Name calling and gossiping say nothing about you; they simply show the character of the gossiper.
- Take notes, and use our seating chart. Feel free to check out one of our free Toolkits; we have five. Currently three are checked out and two are available.
- One thing we are also doing at meetings, and asking parents to do, is keep track of how long the meeting takes as well as the number of people at the meetings, then doing a calculation of cost to the taxpayers for the meeting. This is information we are using to compile suggestions for the school system as regards cutting down on expenses. The district is strapped for money; some of these meetings have high-salary personnel at them whose time could be better spent elsewhere. We are getting suggestions together as to where costs can be cut and this data is part of that. Board member Linda Cuthbert has made a request that community members bring suggestions to the Board which will help the district save money. So, please keep track of what you will estimate the meeting costs the taxpayer. We have a form for you in the toolkit, and student identifying information doesn’t need to be included. It is also very interesting information for parents to have; you’d be surprised what the average IEP costs in terms of salary and travel for district personnel.
- Lastly, and very importantly, NEVER backdate anything. You are not the individual responsible for making sure the IEP doesn’t go out of date. If it does, be absolutely certain it is dated correctly (as in, the date the meeting actually happens) at the meeting. Never allow a meeting to take place without you just because the facilitator is worried that it is going out of date and they can’t get a meeting scheduled in time.
- Call us! We are happy to help!