6 Practical Tips For IEP Meetings

by Laura Epstein
Parents with their tween daughter on an IEP meeting
Steve Debenport/Getty

IEP meetings are important times to bring your child’s team members together to discuss progress and make changes when necessary. They can also be overwhelming, frustrating and stressful. Here are just a few of my tips that help lead to smooth meetings.

1. Document everything, and bring all the documents.

If you don’t already have a place that all documents from the school and independent providers go, get one now. Some people use a binder or folder for this purpose. Personally I scan everything into my computer and store it on Google Drive and then keep the paper copies in an accordion file folder. Whatever system you use, EVERYTHING should go into it and then be brought into the meeting. I have referenced e-mails from private therapist’s school visits in meetings and I was happy they were in my accordion folder (because, honestly, I have a terrible memory).

The other half of this tip is to document everything, and I mean EVERYTHING (sense a theme?). If a conversation can be done via e-mail instead of by phone, I do it by e-mail because I then have a copy to reference. Plus, the minute I get on the phone, my kids all “need” me inevitably. I’m not saying phone conversations don’t have a place, but often things are more clear in e-mail — plus you can go back to it later. I also send a summary e-mail to the administrators/ teachers at the IEP meetings afterwards. It’s just a couple sentence summary of what I thought happened and any action steps for myself or them.

2. Do everything you can ahead of time.

Last spring, the team sent me the draft goals for the next year and I really wanted to add a speech articulation goal. I’m a people pleaser and don’t like to “bother” people so I figured I’d bring it up at a meeting. My husband urged me to e-mail them now. I eventually did and it turned out the team had been considering an articulation goal (and had already done the testing for a baseline) but decided it was too many goals. They went ahead and wrote and sent over the goal.

In the meeting, the speech therapist thanked me for mentioning it ahead of time. She said it was easier to write the goal in her office than at a meeting. This had never really occurred to me but I now try to iron out any known issues before the meeting.

3. Bring someone else with you.

I think it’s always helpful at any major meeting (educational, health, or other) to have a second person. They may see different points or issues at the meeting and will help you remember what happened. Of course, chose your person wisely. Many people choose to bring an educational advocate or a spouse. I bring my mother-in-law. This is obviously not the choice for everyone, but my mother-in-law used to be a special education teacher and administrator, so she is good at making sure a goal is measurable and an accommodation is acceptable.

4. Speak special education language.

It’s important to be able to understand the terminology that will be used in the meeting and in the paperwork. A great place to start is by reviewing this Special Education Dictionary. You don’t need to memorize it but familiarizing yourself with the terms is useful. If there is any terminology I don’t understand, I jot it down and then ask when the person speaking ends.

5. Take care of yourself.

This one seems obvious enough, but I’m a “hot mess mom” so I’m frantically flat ironing my hair and then sneaking out before my twins schmutz my shirt. I have riffled through my car looking for my emergency almonds having forgotten to eat breakfast at pretty much every meeting and then there was the time I forgot to pee. The meeting was at 8:30 so it was a hustle out of the house. The kids were up at some crazily early hour so I’d been chugging coffee for hours. I did my put on the heels and cute top and sneak out of the house and arrived at the meeting. I’m a compulsively early person so I was early. Really early, because when I get anxious I get earlier. So as I sat in my car digging for almonds I realized I really had to pee. I knew the receptionist at the school was going to give me grief about getting there early because she never lets me in before 8:29 and I really didn’t want to admit to being there at 8:10. The good part about being really early is I actually drove home, peed and drove back. Moral of the story: eat breakfast, drink a sensible amount of coffee, don’t stress, be overly early — and definitely don’t forget to pee.

6. Know your rights.

You do not have to sign anything at the meeting. If you’re sure it is correct, then sign it at the meeting but do not feel pressured to. You can take it home, discuss it with your family, ponder it in the shower, and then sign it. A great resource for any questions about the legal side of the IEP process is WrightLaw and hiring an educational advocate (or attorney) is another option. My husband’s knee jerk reaction whenever the school worries me (they’ve never actually said no to anything) is that he wants to threaten to sue them. Why he has this reaction will need to be a different blog post, but I do not recommend telling a district this. However, it is still very important to know what rights you have just in case you need to use them.

What’s next?

Good luck at your IEP meeting! Stay calm, don’t sign anything you aren’t comfortable with, and don’t forget to pee beforehand.