How to Prep for Your Child’s IEP Meeting in 2021


IEP season is officially upon us—are you ready?

Things might look and sound a little different at the IEP “table” this year, thanks to a long list of obstacles that made the 2020-2021 school year anything but ordinary. Emergency school closures, virtual learning, mask-wearing, hybrid scheduling, all contributed to a high-stress and inconsistent learning experience for students and educators. Your child’s Annual IEP Review meeting is the perfect time to take a closer look at how your child’s education was impacted. It’s with this big-picture goal in mind that I created a timeline for parents to follow.

1-2 weeks before

Request a Draft IEP.

Please note that there is no federal requirement under IDEA for this, but some states do now mandate it. New Jersey, where I reside, does not. If your school district is not willing to provide a full draft, request the present levels section at a minimum. This information is gathered prior to the meeting, so I can’t think of a reasonable argument why it wouldn’t be provided.  

Request the attendance of specific staff members.

As far as teachers go, there is only required to be one special education teacher and one general education teacher in attendance at IEP meetings. If you know that your child struggled in a particular subject more than others, request that that specific teacher be present. The attendance of a student’s related services providers (Speech, OT, PT, Counseling, etc.) is more discretionary, but they can be invited to attend by either the school district or the parent. In my experience, related services are often present at IEP meetings as a best practice, especially when their area of expertise is going to be discussed, such as at an Annual Review meeting. But to make absolutely certain, invite them by sending the request to your child’s case manager.  

I’ve found that violations regarding IEP team member attendance are some of the most common that I’ve seen. To be honest, they happen all the time! You should know that there are federal and state protections and procedures in place for parents regarding who attends meetings and written consent for excusal. You can read more about them here. 

5-7 days before

Now, this is the really important part…’re going to try to assess the impact of the pandemic on your child’s education. Generally speaking, most students across the country experienced pretty significant disruptions to their learning. In response, some have thrived, some have held their own, and some have struggled mightily. The outcomes are really all over the board. Your job is to try to determine whether or not your child made a reasonable amount of progress this school year, in spite of the uncertainty and inconsistency. If the answer is yes, that’s wonderful. The argument can be made that your child received an appropriate education.

Analyze the data you have collected. 

Start by reviewing the records that you’ve been keeping throughout the year (hopefully you’ve been jotting down notes and observations somewhere!). How has your child responded to the demands of virtual learning? Has their mental health been affected? What were their biggest obstacles to learning?  

Here are a few specific data points to consider. How do the numbers compare to what is outlined in your child’s IEP? 

  • The number of days of in-person instruction vs virtual.  
  • The number and length of related services sessions.  
  • The amount of time your child was engaged in each virtual session. 
  • The frequency and duration of interfering behaviors.  

Analyze the data the school has provided. 

Gather your child’s report cards, IEP progress reports (these should have been sent home in conjunction with your child’s report cards), and the Present Levels section of the Draft IEP.   

  • Look at the current year’s IEP. Has your child made progress toward their IEP goals? Are they on track to achieve them by the end of the year? What do their progress reports indicate?
  • Look at the proposed IEP goals. Are they the same or very similar to this year? If yes, that indicates that very little progress has been made. Are the new goals easier than the goals written for this current year? If yes, that is indicative of regression.  
  • Read the Present Levels section very carefully. Has meaningful progress been made? Have any new challenges risen to the surface this year?  

3-4 days before

Send a Parent Concerns email and ask that it be added to the meeting agenda.

You should reach out to your child’s case manager via email. List any questions/concerns you have about the Draft IEP in bullet point format. Would you like to discuss something with the team in more detail? Would you like clarification about something that’s written in the Draft IEP? Is there something that you disagree with? Is there a specific request that you’d like to make? Or a solution that you’d like to suggest?

It doesn’t need to be too long and involved, but it could be, depending on your level of concern. The blog A Day in Our Shoes gives an extremely thorough explanation of this advocacy technique. You can click here to read more. There are also 5 sample letters to give you an idea of the language and tone to use. 

By mentioning your concerns and adding them to the meeting agenda, it sends the message that you desire to problem-solve together. This is exactly what special education and IEP team meetings are all about! There is nothing quite like having parents and educators gathered together with the singular focus of designing an appropriate education plan for a student. You absolutely want to make the most of the opportunity. 

Alerting the rest of the team to your concerns in advance also enhances the likelihood that they will come prepared with relevant data and a variety of possible solutions. The meeting will be so much more productive. If you wait until meeting day to raise concerns, the school staff might be caught off guard and not prepared to strategize as effectively. “I’m going to have to look into this and get back to you,” is a response that you’re likely to hear, making the precious time spent together somewhat of a time-waster. The advocacy strategy of writing a Parent Concern letter is one way to avoid that.

Ask how the district plans to assess the need for Compensatory Education.  

The very last paragraph of your Parent Concern letter this year should include a statement like this:

Lastly, I would like to discuss the district’s plan to determine the need for compensatory education services as a result of pandemic-related school closures and virtual learning. Specifically, when and how will a determination be made?

While the concept of compensatory education does not appear anywhere in IDEA, it is a remedy that the courts have used to make up for a school district’s failure or inability to provide a student with an appropriate education. Essentially, a student would receive additional hours of instruction (or money to pay for services outside of school) to compensate. The goal is to bring the child’s skills up to where they should have been had the lack of instruction never occurred. This is an extremely simplified explanation, but if you feel like your child might be eligible, I encourage you to take a much deeper dive. In August 2020, the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA) put out a resource entitled FAQ on Compensatory Education in the time of COVID-19. This is an excellent place to start!

Compensatory education is an extremely hot topic in the special education world right now. In March 2020, when schools first started closing, a memo issued by the US Department of Education included this line:  “If a child does not receive services during a closure, a child’s IEP team (or appropriate personnel under Section 504) must make an individualized determination whether and to what extent compensatory services may be needed, consistent with applicable requirements, including to make up for any skills that may have been lost.” There was a general consensus that a determination couldn’t really be made until schools resumed normal operations. Many families, advocates, and attorneys have been waiting patiently to see if the students who were impacted the most, would be offered additional services and instruction. Now that more schools are starting to open back up again, some states have started issuing additional guidanceFor example, this memo was issued by the New Jersey Department of Education on 3/3/21.

Ultimately, final decisions about “Comp Ed” should be made by the IEP team and on a student-by-student basis. Your child’s Annual Review meeting this year is the perfect time to get the conversation started. Any data that you collected and can contribute will be extremely important.

1 day before 


All of the IEP meetings that I’ve attended this year have taken place virtually via Zoom, Google Meet, or WebEx. I was skeptical at first, but I can now report that the experience has been just as good or even better than traditional in-person meetings. While there are still a few drawbacks, my clients report that looking at faces on a screen doesn’t feel quite as intimidating as physically walking into a room with a dozen people and feeling like you’re in the spotlight.

Give yourself a pep talk.

Remind yourself that you’re an important and equal member of the IEP team. You have the right to participate by asking questions, requesting clarification, offering suggestions, and making requests. You are the best advocate that your child will ever have. You were made for this. Many of us spent more time directly engaged with our children as learners than their teachers did this year. Our input has never been more valuable and our voice at the virtual IEP table has never held as much weight.

Lean fully in.

You’ve got this!

The IEP Parent's Guide
to the BEST School Year EVER!

A month-by-month checklist of Best Practices 

This is the guide you need
to step up your advocacy game. 

Simple, monthly action steps to keep busy parents on track all year long.
*Relevant for all grade levels and disability categories.*