The IEP has two purposes: (1) to establish goals, and (2) to state appropriate student service needs for the school year. Preparing for the IEP is integral to the process. Suggestions for preparing for the meeting include:
1. Review last year's IEP. Review the plan from the previous year, and highlight areas of success and areas of concern. Generate a list of questions from the review, including questions about the success of particular goals, and whether those goals and objectives remain appropriate.
2. Know the legal rights guaranteed to students being educated under an IEP process. Be familiar with IDEA 2004, and take a copy with you to the IEP meeting. If you do not understand certain policies, ask. Your school district is required by IDEA to give you copies of special education statutes, regulations and policies.
3. Update your advocacy notebook. Have a notebook that maintains student evaluations, old IEP's and correspondence with school personnel, doctors' evaluations, related service providers evaluations or teachers’ notes. Review all prior assessments and evaluations. Maintain a written list of dates, names and phone calls and meeting dates. Follow up any verbal agreement with a letter confirming your understanding of the agreement. Include in the notebook a summary of the student’s strengths, interests, challenges, and abilities, and share that information with the team.
4. Organize “new information” that may be beneficial. Gather and organize any new information that supports the ideal IEP for a particular student, including: teacher statements, independent assessments, statements from medical or clinical professionals, etc. Be prepared to show the IEP team any research or documentation about new strategies you would like to discuss. Prepare information about various programs within your school district (or outside the district) that may be appropriate for the student. This information may be given to the team in writing several weeks before the IEP meeting to ensure enough time exists for team members to review the material.
5. Create a To-Do list of issues that need to be discussed and bring it with you to your meeting.
6. Invite appropriate medical or clinical professionals involved with the student to the IEP meeting. If key people cannot attend the IEP meeting, ask them to prepare a statement to submit at the meeting.
7. Plan for stress. IEP meetings can sometimes be stressful. Plan for and take necessary breaks during long meetings. If necessary, bring a person with you to the meeting to provide emotional support. If the meeting seems to have lost focus or has become too emotionally intense, suggest the meeting be tabled and set a date to reconvene.
8. Request written minutes. Ask that a copy of the minutes and a copy of the draft IEP form be provided to you at the end of the meeting.
9. Follow the understood chain of command. Discuss concerns or issues with the student’s teacher first, and allow time for the teacher to address those concerns and work toward a resolution. If an issue cannot be resolved, find out who has the authority to make the necessary changes and move up, level by level.
10. Make requests in writing, including requests for assessments, IEP meetings, more detailed correspondence, and related services. It’s best to first request an assessment that supports the need for a related service rather than insisting on obtaining the service itself. A certified or licensed professional determines the need for a particular related service, and the assessment is the avenue through which that recommendation is made.
11. Be sure to plan for transition services and extended year services when appropriate. Students at 16 years of age should have Transition Planning evaluations completed and presented to the IEP team at the annual meeting. Ensure all requests for extended school year are provided to the school in writing.
12. Be thoughtful when signing the IEP. If you disagree, write a note below or to the side of your name explaining that your signature does not represent your approval of, or agreement with, the IDP.
Information developed from a variety of sources, including Wrights Law, training provided by attorney Reed Martin, and anecdotal experience.