Understand the Process
The IEP meeting is the cornerstone of service provision in public schools for children with disabilities who are eligible for special education. This meeting is meant to be a collaborative meeting between you and the school personnel in order to determine what placement and services your child needs to make progress in school. Make sure you respond promptly to notices attempting to schedule the meeting - if you cannot meet at the time or date specified on the notice, let the school know and give some alternate dates you are available. Make sure you tell the school that you want to be at all IEP meetings and be sure to leave enough time in your schedule for a meeting that may last several hours.
Bring someone with you to the IEP meeting
At the meeting, there will be lots of discussions at the table about your student. Often, side discussions happen and you can miss important conversations and information about your child's program and placement. Also, these meetings can be emotional and having a less emotionally involved person at the meeting can help get your point across for you if your become too emotional. Ideally, the person you bring should know you and your child well and they can be a valuable source of information to the team about your child, as well. Make sure you let the school know you are bringing someone with you, just so there are no surprises the day of the meeting.
Ask for a copy of any Assessments or Reports Prior to the Meeting
In some states, there are laws requiring Assessments or Reports to be given to parents prior the IEP meeting. In other states, there is no such requirement. However, reading and understanding these often long reports while sitting at the meeting can be difficult. I recommend telling the District when you respond to the IEP scheduling notice that you would like a copy of all assessments or reports at least 5 days prior to the meeting and if the reports are not received by you 5 days prior to the meeting, you will need to reschedule. Let them know that the purpose of this is to allow you to properly prepare for the meeting so that you are able to participate in the decision making process. If, after this, you do not receive the reports, send a note telling the District that you need to reschedule the meeting until such a date that you have time to properly review the reports. Make sure you tell the District that you do not want the meeting to occur without you.
Goals and Objectives
After the IEP team makes a determination about the unique needs of your child, goals and objectives are written to address these areas of need. The goals and objectives are important to two reasons - 1) the goals and objectives adopted by the IEP team drive the placement and services ultimately offered to the student. The placement and services offered should be the placement and services necessary for the District to provide to allow the child to make progress towards the goals and objectives. 2) The IEP team will look at the goals and objectives over the next year to determine whether your student is making appropriate progress in their placement. There can be goals in many areas, do not overlook behavior, organization, and peer relationships in addition to academic areas. How many goals does your student need? It depends. In general, I would say somewhere between 5 and 10 is sufficient for most children, although the actual number will depend on your child's specific needs.
Signing the IEP
Often, at the end of the meeting, parents are called over to the person completing the paperwork and asked to sign in several places. You are under no obligation to sign anything at the meeting, except that you were in attendance at the meeting. I recommend signing your name in the attendance area and writing "Attendance Only" next to your name and telling the District that you need to take the IEP paperwork home and review it. Offer to return it in a day or so. Do go home and review the document. Look carefully at the notes taken and if you do not feel they accurately reflect what happened at the meeting, you can write your own version and ask that it be attached to the IEP. Make sure you understand the services being offered. and how progress will be measured. If you agree with the IEP after your have slept on it, go ahead and return the signed document. If you do not, ask to meet again to see if your issues can be resolved informally or you can file for a due process hearing