Individual Education Programs are extremely valuable tools for parents and educators alike. These living documents contain all the information needed to make the classroom environment a safe, enriching place where your child can learn.
Of course, no plan is perfect, and issues sometimes crop up that we, as parents, need to address. While these situations can be incredibly frustrating, it’s important that you always feel empowered to advocate for your child.
I speak from both sides of the table. I’m a mother of three beautiful children and I’ve been a special education teacher and special education program specialist for over a decade! It’s not always easy having an issue pointed out to you as a teacher, and it’s not always easy pointing an issue out to a teacher. But we’re all in this together for the kids, right? Let’s put our adult hangups to the side and work collaboratively in the interest of our students!
You as a parent spend the most quality time with your kid and know them better than anyone else, so when something is off, you’re likely to be the first to notice. If your instincts are telling you something needs to change, you’re probably right.
Below are some guidelines I put together to help the process of addressing these issues go more smoothly.
How to Address an IEP Issue:
1. Review the IEP
A thorough review of the IEP will help you determine whether the problem lies with the IEP itself, or with how it’s being implemented.
Many IEP issues fall under one of three common scenarios:
Standard Language: Some digital IEP forms contain drop-down menus or autofill certain fields, making it more difficult to customize them. If the language in the IEP seems general compared to what was discussed in the initial IEP this may be the case.
Note: You have the right to request that standard language be overridden to individualize the plan for your child.
Outdated Information: Another possibility is that the IEP hasn’t been updated to include new information about your child’s needs. Perhaps you discussed a change with the teacher or administration, but an update wasn’t recorded.
Inconsistent Implementation: A third scenario involves the IEP not being followed properly. There are many reasons this may happen, but it’s never acceptable. You’re well within your rights to advocate for your child until the IEP is followed properly.
2. Meet with Your Child’s Teacher
A conversation with the teacher—and aide, if applicable—is helpful in all three common scenarios. Here’s how:
Standard Language: In the case of auto-filled IEP forms, the teacher can help you confirm the standardized language doesn’t apply to your child’s situation or isn’t specific enough. They can also suggest updated, custom language tailored to your child’s needs.
This meeting also helps get both of you on the same page, so you can act as a team during the IEP update meeting.
Outdated Information: When changes occur in your child’s development or the classroom, your child’s needs may change. Perhaps they need fewer accommodations or a new modification.
Your child spends many hours a week with their teacher and even more hours with you. Both of you are ideally positioned to make observations about what is and isn’t working, and can collaborate on what kinds of changes may benefit your child.
Inconsistent Implementation: In this scenario, a conversation can help remind the teacher what accommodations or modifications are in the IEP, and how they help your child succeed in the classroom.
Discuss the issue at hand calmly, and take notes about the teacher’s responses, both to record their suggestions and have a written record of where IEP implementation has fallen short.
I would also suggest you ask the teacher to provide examples of day-to-day learning activities and situations that your child experiences. That way you can better understand how the learning activities support the IEP goals. During this meeting, I would also request to see the daily data log to review most recent data collection and student progress.
Note: Before you meet, make sure the teacher has a copy of the most up-to-date IEP and at least 48 hours to review it.
3. Engage an Advocate
An advocate can provide you with a lot of support while addressing an IEP issue. Advocates aren’t attorneys, but many are former teachers with deep wells of knowledge about your district’s special education program and special education in general. They can help you navigate the IEP process and provide valuable information about your district’s specific practices and procedures.
A few specific services they provide include:
- Reviewing the IEP with you
- Advising you about your child’s rights
- Helping you negotiate with the school
- Attending IEP meetings
- Suggesting modifications or accommodations for your child
Bringing an advocate to meetings also gives you a non-biased second set of ears that is able to debrief with you after the meeting, as well as step in to ask clarifying questions. When we’re talking about our own children, it can be a difficult and emotional experience. This often leads to us feeling and acting in ways we might not normally feel and act. An advocate can be a very helpful partner for both parents and the school.
The Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA) keeps a current list of available advocates.
4. Request a Meeting With the IEP Team
Meeting with the IEP team enables you to make changes to the IEP or to address that the IEP isn’t being implemented properly. You can invite your advocate to attend the meeting with you as a partner. I would advise communicating with the school in advance to let them know you are bringing an advocate. Just like you don’t want to be surprised when it comes from the school end, it’s good form to extend that courtesy when bringing an advocate. Remember, this is about being on the same page and working together. Not some sort of “gotcha” event!
At the meeting, go over your areas of concern and describe the changes that you believe need to be made to the IEP.\
Standard Language: Compare the standard language to your child’s situation, pointing out areas where the standard language doesn’t apply to their needs or isn’t specific enough.
Present your suggestions for updated language, explaining that the new language more clearly describes what your child needs to access their education.
Request the IEP be updated to include the custom language, and ask how that can be accomplished. Be firm, and let the team know this is necessary to your child’s well-being.
Outdated Information: Describe the changes in your child’s development or in the classroom and how they’re affecting your child’s ability to learn. Then discuss the updates that need to be made and how they’ll benefit your child.
You can also ask for suggestions from the IEP team! They may have additional insight and can offer information about new special education practices.
Inconsistent Implementation: Give specific examples for how the IEP isn’t being followed and how this impacts your child. Ask what concrete action will be taken to ensure the IEP is followed in the future.
Take notes so you have a record of what was said, in case you need to take further action.
Note: You have the right to call a meeting with the IEP team at any time throughout the year.
5. Review the IEP Again
Within 24 to 48 hours after an IEP meeting where changes are made, you should receive an updated copy from the case manager.
The last page of the IEP is a document called Prior Written Notice, PWN, which contains a list of the updates made to the IEP. It’s called prior written notice because you’re receiving the record of the changes before they’re implemented in the classroom.
A second review of the IEP helps confirm the issue has been resolved. Here are some things to look for:
Standard Language: Check the places on the forms that previously used auto-filled or standardized language. Make sure these fields match the updates discussed during the IEP meeting.
The PWN is especially helpful here, because it will likely contain the new, custom language.
Outdated Information: Examine the PWN. It should list all updates agreed upon in the IEP meeting. You can also use the PWN to check through the forms to ensure the new information has been recorded in the IEP itself.
If you’re not sure everything you discussed was added to the new IEP, compare an old copy to the new copy to ensure the forms were updated properly.
Inconsistent Implementation: If the issue was poor implementation, and no updates were made, you can still review the IEP with your meeting notes at hand to ensure you understand what steps will be taken to ensure your child’s needs are met in the classroom.
This way, if the issue needs to be addressed again, you’ll be prepared with the right information.
Note: If you’ve engaged an advocate, they can help you review the IEP forms.
Addressing Issues with Confidence
When an issue arises with your child’s IEP, it’s important that you feel empowered to advocate for them. The professionals aren’t with your child as much as you are, and they don’t know what it looks like at home. At the same time, the school team can offer very important insight on the time your child spends at school in their learning environment. The absolute key to success in all of this is that you and the school team work as a collaborative unit in the best interest of the student.
Sometimes it can feel like you and the school are on opposite sides of an issue. During these moments, it can help to remember all of you are working really hard. The teachers are working to educate their students, the administration to keep the school running smoothly, and you to ensure your child can learn in the least restrictive environment possible.
Keeping this in mind, try to remain calm and conversational during meetings with teachers and the IEP team. Ask clarifying questions and welcome their input. Remind them their insight as an educator is valued and valuable, and your knowledge as a parent or guardian is priceless. State that you want to work together for the best possible outcome, but don’t be afraid to stand your ground until your child receives the help they need.
By balancing collaboration with trusting your instincts, you gain the power to own your child’s IEP and navigate issues with confidence.
Please feel free to leave a comment or question below! Email me! I know there can be so much more when it comes to questions and concerns involving your child’s IEP. I’m here to help!