Ten Common Mistakes Parents Make During the IEP Meeting
by Matt Foley, M.Ed., L.P.C. & DeAnn Hyatt-Foley,
When our son was diagnosed with PDD-NOS in 1990, we
found ourselves ill-equipped for our new role as advocates for our son.
Our first Individual Education Program (IEP) meeting was over-whelming.
We found it very difficult to follow what the educators were talking
about. We certainly did not know what our role was in the process. We
had the expectation that the trained educators of our IEP team would
make the best possible decisions for our son's education. Six months
later, it became abundantly clear that the decisions we had agreed on in
the IEP meeting were not the best for our son's education. It was at
this time that we began to educate ourselves about PDD-NOS and the
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). In 1991 we began
working with other parents to help them become informed about their
child’s disability and the educational laws that are in place to provide
a Free Appropriate Public Education.
It is important that parents become informed and
involved in their child’s education. There are many sources of
information and support in your state. However, the more skills you have
and the more information you learn, the better you can advocate for your
child. Over the past few years we have found that parents tend to make
some common mistakes during the Individual Education Program (IEP)
meeting. The following is a list of the common mistakes and some
suggestions for avoiding them:
1. Believing the professionals are the only
It can be very intimidating to sit at a table
with several educators and professionals. Professionals/Educators do
bring a great deal of knowledge and experience to the table.
Although most parents do not have a background or degree in
education, they have a great deal of knowledge and experience
regarding their child. Parents are experts in their own right; they
also provide historical information and the big picture from year to
year. They know what works and does not work with their child and
can be a great asset to the IEP team.
Parents have an intuitive sense as to what is
appropriate for their child. After working with parents for nine
years, we are still amazed at how parents are usually intuitively
correct about what will work for their child. We encourage parents
to follow their hunches. If something does not sound right, check it
out. Usually after some research, parents will discover their hunch
2. Not making requests in writing.
Any request a parent makes needs to be in
writing. This includes requests for assessments, IEP meetings,
correspondence, related services, etc. Written requests are
important because they initiate timelines that the school district
must follow in response to your request. This will also create a
paper trail. When you write a letter be sure to send it certified
mail. When you have a discussion by phone with a school official,
write a letter that briefly outlines what you talked about.
Documenting your conversations helps prevent miscommunication.
Documenting requests (i.e., teaching assistant,
speech, etc.) for the IEP committee clarifies to the committee what
you are requesting and allows you to use your own words (as opposed
to the note taker paraphrasing your request). We encourage parents
to type exactly what they think their child needs and list why they
think it is educationally necessary. This helps parents think
through why they are requesting a service for their child. Have the
IEP committee record the written request as part of the IEP
minutes. At this point, the IEP committee has one of two choices:
the committee can accept or deny the request. If the committee
denies the request, then they must follow the procedural safeguards
in IDEA and provide written notice of why they are denying the
parents’ request. This method makes it difficult for an IEP
committee to tell parents “no” without thinking through the options.
If the request is not written down, the school district is not
obligated to provide the service. Make sure you write it down.
3. Not being familiar with Prior Notice of the
Procedural Safeguards (34 CFR 300.503)
All sections of the Procedural Safeguards are
important to parents. This particular section gives parents some
leverage during the IEP meetings. Whenever parents make a request
for their child in the IEP meeting, the IEP committee is required
under Prior Notice to provide the parents with written notice with a
reasonable period of time. The notice must include the following:
A description of the action proposed
An explanation of why the agency
proposes or refuses to take the action;
A description of any other options that
the agency considered and the reasons why those options were
A description of each evaluation
procedure, test, record, or report the agency used as a
basis for the proposed or refused action;
A description of any other factor that is
relevant to the agency’s proposal or refusal.
We have found many instances where a parent
requests an assessment or service only to have the IEP team tell the
parent it cannot be done. By making all requests in writing and by
requiring the IEP team to provide Prior Notice, the parents make the
team accountable for its decisions. This practice also takes issues
out the emotional areas, allowing all team members to focus on IDEA
4. Requesting a related service instead of an
assessment that supports the need for a related service.
Many times parents will request services such as
speech, occupational therapy, physical therapy, etc. in the IEP
meeting. Frequently the IEP committee will respond by stating that
the student does not need the service. We recommend that parents do
not request the service but request the assessment that supports the
need for the related service. For example, instead of requesting
speech for your child request a speech assessment.
Only a certified or licensed professional is
qualified to determine if a child needs or does not need a
particular related service. As in #2, list the reasons why you think
an assessment is educationally necessary for your child and submit
your request to the IEP committee as part of the IEP minutes.
5. Accepting assessment results that do not
recommend the services you think your child needs.
Sometimes parents receive assessment results that
do not accurately describe their child and/or do not recommend the
amount and duration of services the parents think the child needs.
Under 34 CFR 300.352. Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE),
parents of a child with a disability have the right to obtain an
independent evaluation at public expense if they disagree with the
results of the school’s assessment. When the parent requests the IEE
(in writing) the school has one of two choices: they may either
provide the IEE in a reasonable period of time or they may take the
parents to a due process hearing. When an IEE is agreed upon, parent
and school must come to an agreement as to who is qualified to
assess the student. The examiner for an IEE cannot be employed by
the school district . Parents should request the school district’s
policy on guidelines and qualification for their examiners.
6. Allowing the assessment information to be
presented for the first time at the IEP meeting.
Parents are entitled to have the assessment
information explained to them before the IEP meeting. we encourage
parents to have the person who administered the assessment give them
a copy of the report and meet with them to explain the report
several days before the IEP meeting. This enables the parents to
think through the information before making decisions for their
child. If all IEP decisions are based on the information from the
assessment, it only makes sense for the parents to be knowledgeable
and informed about the assessment results in a way they can
7. Accepting goals and objectives that are not
Measurable goals and objectives are paramount for
your child’s IEP. Without measurable goals and objectives, it is
difficult to determine if your child has had a successful school
year. In working with parents, we have encountered many IEP goals
and objectives that are not measurable.
All goals and objectives should come from
assessment data. Assessment has four different components: 1) Formal
assessment (i.e., WIAT, Woodcock-Johnson, Brigance), 2) Informal
assessment (i.e., classroom work), 3) Teacher/parent observation,
and 4) Interviews. After the information has been collected about
the student it is compiled into an assessment report.
Recommendations on how to work with the student are listed toward
the end of the report. If you receive an assessment report that does
not give recommendations for potential goals and objectives, the
assessment is not complete.
After the assessment has been completed, the IEP
committee determines the student’s present level of performance
(PLOP) and states what the student is currently able to do. The
committee then develops the IEP goals and objectives. The goals
state what the student is expected to accomplish by the end of the
year. Objectives break the goals down into increments. For example:
Based on the Brigance and classroom work, Johnny is currently
able to read on a fourth grade level with 90% mastery.
By the end of the school year Johnny will be able to read on
a fifth grade level as measured by the Brigance and classroom
work with 80% mastery.
By October 1, Johnny will be able to read on fourth grade,
second month level with teacher assistance as measured by
the Brigance and classroom work with 80% mastery.
By January 1, without teacher assistance,
Johnny will be able to read on a fourth grade, sixth month level
as measured by the Brigance and classroom work with 80% mastery.
A method of determining if your goals and
objectives are measurable is to ask someone who is not on your IEP
team to read them (i.e., a teacher, another parent, advocate, etc.).
Then ask “Hypothetically, if you were to go into the classroom,
would you be able to see my child working on these goals and
objectives?” If someone outside of your IEP team cannot answer
“yes”, then your goals and objectives are not measurable.
8. Allowing placement decisions to be
made before IEP goals and objectives are written.
Many times after assessment is discussed, the IEP
committee will determine the child’s placement. Goals and objectives
are always written before placement is discussed. To ensure that the
child is placed in the Least Restrictive Environ-ment (LRE), the IEP
committee must determine: Which of these goals and objectives can
best be met in the general classroom?
With any remaining goals and objectives that
cannot be met in the general class-room, the committee determines: Which
of these goals and objectives can be best met in the general
classroom with modifications and support?
This line of inquiry continues until all
placement options have been decided upon for all the goals and
objectives. The committee must always start with the LRE and then
work toward a more restrictive environment only as necessary. IDEA
is very clear that the IEP committee must always consider the
general education classroom as the first option for students with
9. Allowing your child’s IEP meeting to be rushed
so that the school staff can begin the next child’s IEP meeting.
This practice is particularly common at the end
of the school year when educators are frantically trying to have IEP
meetings for all the students who receive special education
services. IEP meetings may be held one right after another. There is
no problem with this practice as long as the members of the IEP team
feel that all issues have been adequately discussed. Many times,
however, parents feel rushed. It is important that all issues are
adequately addressed before ending the IEP meeting. When the
educators have not planned adequate time to address all relevant
issues, request that the IEP team meet again at a more convenient
time to further discuss your child’s education.
10. Not asking a lot of questions.
It is very important to ask questions and lots of
them. Educators use many terms and acronyms specific to special
education. Parents may become confused when these terms are used
during the IEP meeting. This can add to the frustration that a
parent may already be feeling when they do not under-stand what is
being said. It is important to ask what the terms or acronyms mean.
Unless a parent has a background in special education, they are not
expected to know the terms and acronyms. Informed decisions cannot
be made when parents do not understand what is being discussed.
At some point in time we have made all the mistakes
listed above. We developed the habit of debriefing after every IEP
meeting to discuss our performance during the meeting. We have gradually
accumulated information and developed skills and we continue to trust
We have found that when parents apply the suggestions
listed above while working with their IEP committee they will see
results. It is important that parents continue to accumulate information
and develop skills related to the IEP process. Most parents feel
overwhelmed by the special education process. Do not be discouraged in
your pursuit to obtain the supports and services your child needs. We
found it helpful to break the process down into small steps. When you
use the suggestions listed above, you will be that much closer to
obtaining your child’s Free Appropriate Public Education. After using
each suggestion listed, pat yourself on the back for becoming an even
better advocate for your child.
About the Authors: Matt Foley and DeAnn
Hyatt-Foley live in Lubbock, Texas along with their son, Ryan. DeAnn is
the West Texas Area Development Director for the PATH Project. She has
been with PATH since 1993. Matt is a Licensed Professional Counselor
with an M.ED. in private practice. Currently Matt and DeAnn are forming
social skills groups for adolescents with Asperger’s Disorder and
related disorders. DeAnn may be contacted at 806-795-4639.
Reprinted with permission
written by DeAnn Hyatt-Foley, M.Ed and Matt
First published in THE MORNING NEWS Fall Edition 1999