Blocks with the letters I E P.

Does Your Child Need an IEP? Here’s How to Prepare for Your First IEP Meeting

If your child needs an Individual Education Plan or Program (IEP), you’re going to be sitting through your fair share of IEP Meetings.  All the records you need to collect, evaluations to sort out, and to know which questions to ask – it’s a lot. But you know your child better than anyone else. And as their advocate, being prepared for that first IEP meeting, and the rest to follow, is one of the best things you can do for your child’s education. 

*It’s important to note that there are three separate meetings you should attend. 

  • Determination of testing and assessments needed 
  • Eligibility meeting to go through assessments and place your child (if qualified) into a disability category
  • IEP meeting

To make things a little easier for you, we’ll walk you through some of the most important things to know when preparing for your first IEP meeting.

Understanding Your Child’s IEP Team

There’s going to be a whole host of support for your child on their IEP team. Because IEP’s are offered in the public school system, they must abide by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which outlines the strict legal requirements. These requirements include who makes up your child’s IEP Team. And while there may be a few exceptions, the whole IEP team must be present for all IEP meetings. 

IDEA protects parents and children the minute they state a suspected disability in their child. As soon as your child’s school receives a diagnosis report, you and your child are covered.

  • YOU: That’s right, you or one of your child’s parents or caregivers is the first member of their IEP Team. (And perhaps the most important? After all, you are the one always in their corner!)
  • Teacher: at least one of your child’s general education teachers
  • Special Education Teacher: at least one special education teacher 
  • Specialist: A school psychologist or other specialist who can interpret your child’s evaluation results.
  • Administrator or Administrator Designee: a representative of the school or school district who is knowledgeable about the availability of school resources 

Along with the required members of your child’s IEP team, you’re permitted to invite anyone who may be a part of your child’s support team, and even the child themself. You are also welcome to include state and district advocates at the IEP meeting. Typically, their services are free to you. (If you reside in a state other than IL, you can use this map to search for “special education parent advocates” in your state.)

IEP Meeting

What to Bring to An IEP Meeting

IEP meetings involve lots of discussion and information and can last a couple of hours. So it’s best to be prepared with:

  • Pen and paper for notetaking (Although you also have a right to record the meeting using your phone or another recording device.)
  • Bottle of water (lots of talking!)
  • Snack 
  • Questions you want to ask
  • Positive attitude 

That’s pretty much it! You don’t need to bring much with you, but it’s important you do your best to stay positive. It’s easy to get frustrated in IEP meetings. Still, if you go into it focusing on staying positive, you’ll most likely leave the meeting feeling informed, optimistic, and armed with an excellent education plan for your child.

Questions to Ask at Your Child’s IEP MeetingRed question mark indicating the questions to ask at an IEP meeting.

As we said, there are going to be a lot of things to discuss. IEP meetings involve many papers, so it’s a great idea to organize your questions and concerns beforehand and stick them in a binder. You can also put any other information about your child’s IEP in after the meeting. 

It’s a great idea to request a copy of your child’s IEP in advance. This request must be put in writing. This way, you can put it in your binder, read through it, and write down your questions and concerns before the meeting.

While every child’s IEP is going to be different, there are some key questions you should address, no matter what your child’s education plan is going to be. 

  • What is the best way to contact you?
  • How often are we going to meet to discuss my child’s progress?
  • What strengths do you see in my child, and how can I encourage them?
  • What do the progress levels look like in my child’s IEP? If they don’t meet a level, what will be done to support them, so they are successful in the next quarter?
  • What are the most important goals, and how can I support them at home?
  • How are we going to measure my child’s progress? 
  • What kind of academic and behavioral supports will be provided?
  • How can I support you? And how can you support me?
  • What will a typical day look like for my child?
  • Why did you choose “this” instead of “this” as a part of my child’s IEP?
  • Is my child on a modified curriculum, or will they be expected to master grade-level content? (Please note, as a parent or guardian, you don’t have much control over the curriculum used, but you can most certainly give your input about it.)
  • Who is going to be working with my child, and what training do they have?

What to Expect at Your Child’s IEP Meeting

Of course, not all IEP meetings are alike, but most typically follow a similar flow. The critical thing to remember is that your child’s IEP Team (that includes you) is working together to help your child succeed.

Procedural Safeguard Handbook

At your child’s first IEP meeting, you’ll be given an important tool you’ll want to familiarize yourself with: a Procedural Safeguard Handbook. The IEP team is required to offer a reading of this handbook. If you choose, you may decline this reading but accept the rights. It may be a wise choice to accept the reading, especially during the first IEP meeting. Whether you do or not, you’ll definitely want to go through it on your own time, so you understand your responsibilities and rights as your child’s guardian.

 

Individualized Education Program (IEP) Booklet

Review of Testing Results

You’ll go over your child’s psychological and educational testing results. The professionals involved in the evaluation process will talk with you about your child’s eligibility category and how it affects their learning. Understanding the results can be difficult and confusing. But the assessors should be able to break it down for you to understand better what was tested and the results.

Time for Questions

It’s natural for the IEP meeting to then flow into addressing your questions and concerns. Here’s where you bring out your list of questions. Because IEPs involve many legal requirements, including documenting your questions, clarifying your concerns during the meeting will allow them to be properly recorded. However, if your child’s IEP meeting doesn’t flow exactly like this, make sure you clarify when you’ll address your questions and concerns during the meeting. 

Present Level of Performance (PLoP)

During your child’s IEP meeting, you’ll go over your child’s PLoP, which can also be called their Present Level of Academic Achievement and Functional Performance (PLAAFP). The data in your child’s PLoP or PLAAFP will reveal their strengths and weaknesses in academics, social and behavioral skills, and functional performance. This data will help define specific goals for your child’s IEP.

Goal Determination

Set goals at IEP meetings.

Your child’s IEP meeting will outline specific goals for your child to work toward throughout their IEP. Don’t be afraid to chime in about these goals. You’re a part of the IEP Team too, and your opinion matters!

As the parent or guardian of a Special Education student, one of the most important acronyms to know is “Free Appropriate Public Education” (FAPE). You need to keep this in mind at every single meeting. While the term “appropriate” is vague and subjective, it leaves a lot of room for you to advocate for what your child needs.

Support Plan

You and the other member of your child’s IEP Team will define the supports you will provide to help them achieve the defined IEP goals. These supports can include accommodations, services, length of services, and where they’ll get these services. You can also determine your child’s testing options, including whether they will participate in standardized testing. 

Sign the IEP Necessary Paperwork

Depending on your state’s regulations, you may be asked to sign the IEP. If you aren’t required to do so, you will have to sign in to show you attended the meeting. You will receive a draft of your child’s IEP and be asked to sign the page to designate your attendance. Once your child’s IEP is finalized, you will receive a written notice of the edits and a finalized copy. After your child’s IEP meeting, everyone who attended will sign the IEP. 

Federal law doesn’t require you to sign the IEP, but you do have to sign paperwork at the initial IEP meeting acknowledging that your child may receive special education services.

Sign the necessary paperwork at IEP meetings.

Ask for Prior Written Notice (PWN)

PWN is a summary of everything discussed in your child’s IEP meeting. After each meeting you have, there will be a PWN available. This includes any meetings that determine your child’s assessments and eligibility as well.

This is crucial for parents and guardians because it is where you can voice your concerns and document any requests and denials of things proposed and accepted. Unfortunately, schools live by the unwritten rule: “If it isn’t it writing, it didn’t happen.”

Watch Your Child Succeed

IEP meetings get a bad rap. They can be long, frustrating, and arduous. But really, they are an important part of your child’s education and a great way to put your child on the path to success! The great thing about IEP meetings is that they put you in the driver’s seat to get your child the help they need. 

You know your child better than anyone else on the team. They need you there to make sure your child gets the best IEP experience possible. Once you get that first IEP meeting under your belt, you’ll be prepared for many more to come, and you’ll watch your child grow!

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