Parents: Beware of IEP Meeting Red Flags! (Part 1)

advocacy

The spring IEP season is well underway. This year most parents are being invited to participate virtually, which is actually so much more convenient and working out quite well. 

But beware! There are some potentially harmful IEP meeting practices that are happening just as frequently this year, and I want you to be aware of them. More than that, I want you to know how to respond if they occur. 

Red Flag #1: Imposing a time limit on meetings.

I remember it like it was yesterday. I was accompanying parents to an IEP meeting for the very first time as an education advocate. The director of the private school had just walked us into a conference room and said these words while we were finding our chairs, “We have another meeting right after this, so we only have 45 minutes to talk about Scotty.” [Insert record scratch sound effect.] 

Talk about setting an uncomfortable tone and making a family feel like just another product on the assembly line! I immediately felt my blood pressure rising because I KNEW that there was no such thing as a time limit for IEP meetings. Further, I knew that Scotty’s parents had a lengthy list of concerns that they wanted to address and was quite certain that 45 minutes wasn’t going to cut it. Now, three years and 60+ meetings later, I can confirm that scenarios just like this one happen ALL. THE. TIME. And if you ask me, it’s incredibly unfair. More than that . . . it could very well lead to a violation of the federal law governing special education called IDEA.  

You see, full participation in the IEP process is a parental right that is guaranteed and protected. In Chapter 13 of my book entitled Special Education Savvy, I describe this right and the many others that parents have in much greater detail. The parent resource website Understood also gives a wonderful overview of not only WHAT a parent’s role in the IEP process is, but also WHY it matters so much. It’s definitely worth a read and you can find it here

The essential question is this…if meetings are rushed or come to an end with too many loose ends left dangling, has a parent really been given the opportunity to participate fully? Probably not. If an IEP meeting is wrapped up prematurely, before all questions have been asked and answered, all options have been discussed, all problems have been solved, and all decisions have been made, it’s not okay.  

Behind the Scenes Reality Check

Now, allow me to put on my special education teacher hat for a moment and share that IEP season is cray cray! There is so much paperwork, so many meetings, and daily scrambling to find substitutes to cover classes (Hey–does that person walking by have a pulse and like pizza? Sure, they can teach Italian class for a period!). Meetings are scheduled weeks in advance and there isn’t a ton of wiggle room in between. This is the behind-the-scenes reality. I’d like to remind all of the parents reading this to be mindful of that. 

When a case manager states that they only have until 1 pm to talk about your child, it’s not because they don’t WANT to give parents the opportunity to participate. They don’t WANT to violate your parental rights. If they could, they’d love to spend hours with you chatting about your child and developing a Pulitzer Prize-worthy IEP. But, that’s not realistic. There just aren’t enough hours in the day.    

Putting my advocate hat back on now…being cognizant of how busy school teams are DOES NOT doesn’t mean parents should be content with getting short-changed. Unlike the professionals who have to plow through dozens of meetings each year, this is a family’s ONE meeting for their ONE child about their ONE education that’s impacting their ONE life. It’s kind of a big deal. I’d like to remind all of the teachers and case managers reading this to be mindful of that. You can take a look at 34 CFR § 300.324 to see exactly what the federal law has to say about IEP meetings.

Spoiler alert…you won’t find meeting length mentioned anywhere!   

So What Can Parents Do About It?

  1. Be proactive. Email a list of any specific concerns/questions that you have in advance. This will help the meeting run so much more efficiently. Your efforts will be appreciated by school teams too. They can easily add your list to the meeting agenda and tackle them one by one.    
  2. Request a two-hour meeting slot, especially if your child has a lengthy list of goal areas and multiple related services. In many cases, it’s really hard to cover all aspects of a child’s program in the hour that is typically allotted. If you’ve ever felt time-crunched at IEP meetings in the past, there’s a good chance that it will happen again.
  3. Schedule a continuation meeting. If a meeting is wrapping up, but there are issues that haven’t been resolved or even discussed yet, request a follow-up meeting before you leave. One good thing about having the IEP team reconvene at a later date is that it gives everyone a chance to process the information shared the first time around. It also allows for new strategies to be trialed and data to be collected in the interim.

Does it Really Matter?

Is it possible to have a successful IEP meeting and still adhere to the strict schedule that the school arranges? Absolutely. BUT, a negative impact on the IEP process is also very possible. Do you want to take that chance when it’s your child’s education that’s being discussed? I sure don’t. So now that you’re fully prepared with an awareness of what MIGHT happen, and you’re armed with the law in your back pocket,  you’ll be in a position to respond accordingly.

Happy Advocating!

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.*