Advocating for Your Special Needs Child’s Education

How to prepare for an IEP meeting.

What is an IEP Meeting?

An IEP meeting is a team meeting about your child run by the school district. The IEP team includes district employees, teachers and you, the parents. The team may also include others who know your child.

During the meeting, the team makes recommendations about available special education services. These are later put into a written document called the IEP.

What is an IEP?

An “Individualized Education Program” or IEP is a road map guiding your child’s education. It explains to you and the district what special services your child will receive, as well as outlines the goals to address. The district is legally responsible to furnish the services in the IEP.

When does an IEP Meeting Take Place?

If your child is already classified with a disability, an IEP meeting should occur at least once a year, usually in the spring. For this to happen, the IEP must be in effect before the next school year begins.

If your child is not yet classified but may need special education, there are a few things to consider before an IEP meeting is scheduled. After your child is referred for an evaluation, the district arranges for your child to be tested. Once you get the results, go to your child’s IEP meeting to decide if your child needs special education. The district has up to 60 days from the time you agree to the tests for the IEP team to make its recommendation.

Insight Before the IEP Meeting

  • Be prepared. Know what you want for your child and learn about your rights.
  • Be polite and cooperative with the district. The most successful IEPs are made when parents and the district work together.
  • Do not put the district on the defensive. You will be more successful if you negotiate with the district, rather than attack it.
  • Try to think about things from the district’s perspective. This helps ensure that your requests are reasonable.

How to Prepare for an IEP Meeting

  • Organize your child’s records in a notebook chronologically, putting the oldest document on top.
  • List your child’s “Present Levels of Performance,” highlighting your child’s strengths and needs. Sections for the list include social development, physical development, academic achievements and management needs, which are supports needed to help your child learn and behave appropriately.
  • Use the Present Levels of Performance list at the IEP meeting to help others on the team realize important information about your child.
  • If your child already has an IEP, cite all of the current services.
  • Make a list of any other services your child gets, like privately paid therapy.
  • Devise a seven-column chart describing what your child needs and what you want from the district. Label the columns “Child’s Needs,” “Facts/Laws to Support Request,” “School’s Likely Response,” “School’s Response at Meeting,” “Issue Resolved?” “Start Date” and “Person Responsible.” For more details on this, refer to pages 265-277 of From Emotions to Advocacy, The Special Education Survival Guide, Second Edition (Harbor House Law Press) by Pam and Pete Wright.
  • In the “Child’s Needs” column, list services your child needs, goals your child should work on and accommodations and modifications— supports that might help your child learn and act appropriately. 
  • Complete the next two columns and fill out the final columns during the meeting.
  • Tape record the meeting. Neither federal nor New York law prevent you from taping an IEP meeting. Inform attendees that you plan on taping the meeting.
  • Before the meeting, send the team members a letter explaining what you want to accomplish during the meeting. This gives everyone a mutual agenda.
  • In the agenda meeting letter to attendees, list the services you want for your child, along with problems you think might arise and possible solutions to the problems.
  • Mention the names of anybody you invited to the meeting in the agenda letter, and include documents, such as private evaluations, you want attendees to read before the meeting.
  • Deliver the letter by hand and file a copy of the letter in your notebook. On the back of the letter, write the day and time of delivery and the name or description of whom you gave the letter.
  • Make copies of your letter, as well as any photographs, charts, homework assignments and private evaluations to hand out at the meeting.

Know the Law and Your Rights

  • Read books that explain your legal rights.
    • From Emotions to Advocacy, The Special Education Survival Guide, Second Edition (Harbor House Law Press), by Pam and Pete Wright.
    • The Complete IEP Guide – How to advocate for Your Special Ed Child (NOLO), by Lawrence M. Siegel
    • IEP and Inclusion Tips for Parents and Teachers (IEP Resources, Attainment Company), by Anne I. Eason and Kathleen Whitbread, Ph.D.
  • Look at special education Web sites.
  • Review federal and state laws.
  • Contact your local Special Ed Training and Resource Center (SETRC) office.
  • Visit www.vesid.nysed.gov/specialed/publications/policy for the NYS Procedural Safeguards Notice; Rights for Parents of Children with Disabilities, Ages 3-21, revised September 1, 2007.
  • Join your school district’s Special Education Parent Teacher’s Association (SEPTA). If you don’t have one, consider starting one!
  • Join local support groups.

What to Bring to the Meeting

  • Your spouse and at least one other person who knows your child and can be there for emotional support.
  • Digital tape recorder with new batteries.
  • Notebook with your child’s records, including last year’s IEP.
  • List of your child’s Present Levels of Performance.
  • Chart of your child’s needs/what you want.
  • Copies of your agenda letter that you previously sent to the team members.
  • Copies of handouts.
  • Federal and state special education law.
  • Copy of IEP Direct goals, if used by your district.
  • A snack to share with the rest of the team. Food helps break down barriers— and helps you survive long meetings!