Too often, parents fail to comprehend the devastation caused by their silence. Children with special needs depend on their parents advocacy throughout their educational journey. This is especially true when it comes to the creation of their IEP (Individualized Education Plan).
Most IEP meetings I’ve been a part of throughout the years, seriously lacked parental involvement and as a result, weren’t as thorough as they should be. A parent spends the most time with their child, and without their input, it’s almost impossible to be absolute in the creation of this vital document.
Early in my teaching career, I received a new student in my classroom. He was shy, kept to himself, and it took a LONG time for him to trust anyone new in his life. All of this was very common for the students I worked with at the time, however this particular student had an IEP meeting scheduled 3 days after his arrival in my class.
I knew very little about him. His previous IEP was horrible. The goals were not attainable; his present levels of performance were way below that which were reflected on the IEP, and it just didn’t make any sense. I was worried, I only had three days of information to use, which wasn’t a lot.
The only way I was going to get accurate information was by contacting his parents… or so I thought.
I attempted to call the parents several times, but the phone was disconnected. I also tried to email both mom and dad and didn’t get a response. I left a few voicemails for the emergency contact person listed on the enrollment paperwork and still nothing. I sent home meeting notices and even a note requesting information, and yet again nothing was returned. I was at a loss, what was I going to do?
At this point, I just started writing an IEP with what I had; just the basic information I could get in three short days. I did some testing to see where he was academically and started asking him questions to figure out why he was at my school. I was hoping for some answers, but received very little.
I was frustrated; I tried everything I could think of to get information. Why did I have to write an IEP after ONLY THREE DAYS of having this student in my classroom, that’s not fair to either of us. This document is supposed to set his educational goals for the following year. What if I was wrong? This would affect the way I taught him, the services he received and what’s worse? HE is the person that would suffer the most and no one seemed to care!
I wasn’t about to just throw something together because of a “deadline.” I wasn’t going to be that teacher, the one who writes horrible IEP’s.
My plan was to do something completely out of the ordinary, finish writing the IEP during the meeting with the help of the team.
As the meeting started, I explained the situation and asked if it would be possible to write the IEP together. Everyone agreed, and we began to write.
I started with the parents. I asked several questions about their son. Things related to academics, his previous school, and his special needs. Mom and dad didn’t say much, except, “What do you think?… or whatever you think will work.” They didn’t answer any of my questions, rather they just agreed with what I said. The mom kept saying, “You’re the teacher and whatever you say will work for us and our son.”
What?? Really?? I couldn’t believe this, they were NO help whatsoever. I was so aggravated and I could see frustration in their sons eyes too.
I tried several times to get the parents to answer my questions or just provide me with some suggestions, still nothing. Both parents just sat there and said NOTHING. Really? This is YOUR child! STAND UP for him! For the first time in my life I actually wanted a debate. I truly wanted his parents to disagree with me and argue their points. Instead, silence.
We wrapped up the meeting and moved forward with the minimal information I was able to produce during that time. Luckily, in this case I was his teacher. Throughout the year I was able to pivot my teaching and his goals to consistently meet his needs. As he opened up to me, I was able to gain additional information that led to refined goals and shifts in the plan. However, what if he moved schools again? The information in the original IEP wasn’t accurate enough for a new teacher to follow.
From that point forward, I’ve made it my mission to ensure every parent was prepared well ahead of the IEP meeting. I sent them questions to consider and articles to read with plenty of time to review. They were reminded several times, that as parents THEY ultimately have control over their child’s education. They can request tests and services as they feel necessary.
A parent HAS to be an advocate for their child’s education and life in general! No one in this world cares more for your child than you do!
If you’re stuck, or have zero idea what to expect in an IEP meeting, there are thousands of available Special Education Resources that can help. Furthermore, we offer a free report that warns against the top 3 mistakes parents make during an IEP meeting.
As a parent, the most important thing to remember is to SPEAK UP FOR YOUR CHILD’S RIGHTS! Ask questions until you have a thorough understanding of everything covered in the meeting and never stop fighting!
-Suzie Dalien, M.Ed.
As a parent or teacher, what’s been your experience during IEP meetings? Have questions? I’d be happy to answer them, place your question in the comment section below!