Do you want to be able to walk into your IEP meeting composed, confident, and feeling assured by the knowledge that you know what you what to say under any circumstance? It is possible to do this, as well as to strike the right tone, and end the meeting on your terms.
You don't need to feel at a loss for words or afraid to say the wrong thing There is no reason to feel like you are walking on eggshells at your own IEP meeting. Often it is not what you say, it is how you say it - in terms of both phrasing and tone - that makes the difference. Below is a guide to help you tweak your message, so you get your point across strongly and accurately, yet tactfully and cooperatively.
Say this, not that
Instead of: "I only want what's best for my child," say: "I want my child to get what he/she needs."
School districts are only required to provide an appropriate program, not the very best program. When in doubt, stick to your child's evaluation (as long as you think it is an accurate representation of him or her). Use that as the guide for what he or she needs.
Instead of: "He gets x,y,z at his private school, this program won't give him those things," say: "He needs x, x, z to make progress and that is not included in this program."
School districts are also not required to give you the same thing or a better version of what your child is receiving privately. They are, however, required to provide a student with the services he or she needs to make progress, so phrasing your statement that way, and leaving the private program out of it, is the way to go.
Instead of: "I will sign this for now, but if I change my mind later, can we have another meeting?," say: "I need to sleep on this/consult with my partner before signing anything."
Don't sign anything at the meeting itself except the attendance page. Even if you think the district is giving you everything you want, still run the documents by your attorney first!
Instead of: "I disagree with this completely and I'm not going to send my child to any of your schools," say: "I have serious concerns and reservations, but I would like to see the final version of the IEP, and I am willing to look at any schools you recommend."
Under the worst case scenario, you should leave the meeting agreeing to disagree, but still remaining willing to consider the offered schools. This allows you to put your concerns on the record without ignoring your duty to cooperate with the district. You also never know what you might be offered, and if you might like it.
Other Important Points not to Miss
If there is even the slightest possibility you will want a bus for your child, ask for transportation to be included on the IEP.
Don't fall for the school district's argument that your child has to "try" a less restrictive setting before they can get more services, a more restrictive program recommendation, or approval for a non-public school. The case law says otherwise, and you should remind them of that!
While the district can agree to fund your child's tuition at an approved non-public school, they cannot agree to fund a private school or services, or include them on the IEP.
Ask questions! Even if you think the team won't know the answer, still ask. The answers aren't as important as the fact that you inquired in the first place, and if you're feeling put on the spot, turn the tables with a question about the district's program. Possible questions include:
What teaching methodologies will be used in the classroom?
What will the classifications/ages/diagnoses of the other students in the class be?
What type of training do the teachers/paraprofessionals have?
Will he/she move classes throughout the day or stay in the same classroom/class?
How will the related services be delivered?
Will he/she be pulled out of academic classes to receive them?
Is there a sensory gym at the school?
How are less structured periods of the day (lunch, recess, gym, passing periods,...) handled?
How much experience does the school have with _____________ diagnosis?
How much social/emotional support will the school provide? What form will it take?
Finally, it's OK to say "I'm not sure" or "I don't know." You aren't expected to know everything. Refer to your child's teacher or evaluator in those moments.
For additional questions about IEPs, IEP meetings, or any other inquiries contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or 646-741-3030.