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How to Handle Disagreements at IEP Meetings
(or Playing 20 Questions with the Devil)
by Sonja Kerr, Esq.

Parents often say that when they go to IEP meetings, school personnel won't answer their questions or respond to their requests.

Here is a good approach that parents can use when caught up in the a IEP meeting quagmire.

1. Take a piece of paper, draw a table with three columns. Label the columns like this:
What Parent Wants School's Response Resolved?

2. Make your list. 

In the first column, make a list of what you want for your child. Don't get mired up on how to word it, just write what you think your child needs. 

For example, "he needs 1:1 reading help" or "He needs counseling once a week" or whatever.

3. Take this paper with you to the meeting. 

As the discussions begin, tell the IEP team that you have a few questions . At various points in the meeting, ask very politely for what you have listed in column one. 

Many times, school officials don't respond to questions from parents.

If you ask a question and the school personnel do not respond or answer, say, "I'll take that as a 'no', then?" or "I'll write that one down as 'no response.'" 

This will confuse them because you are doing something different - you are not arguing, you are just asking questions and taking notes.

4. Before you leave the meeting, read what you have written and ask if they agree or not. 

If the IEP team did not answer your requests and do not agree to provide the services you requested, ask (very politely) if they will send you a letter about whatever they did not agree to. Note this in your written record.

This is like playing 20 questions with the devil

You will not convince most people to see things your way by arguing with them. You may, however, raise enough questions and have enough proof when you leave your meeting to show that your school district is denying your child FAPE.

5. Write your follow-up letter. 

After the meeting, send a copy of your filled-in form to the school along with a short letter that thanks them for meeting with you and says, "I wish we could have answers to these questions."

I have suggested that parents use this approach for years. It is often a great option when you are frustrated with the school members of your child's team and feel that you are not getting anywhere. 

The worst thing that can happen is that the second column reads "no response" and the third column is blank. The best thing that can happen is that the school staff respond to your questions and requests -- so you know where you stand. 

If the team does not respond, this shows that the school is ignoring the parent's concerns. (See xxx) This supports your position that you are not an equal participant in the IEP process. As a result, your child is being denied FAPE.

As one hearing officer said, "More of the same failed approach is not FAPE."

It's essential to include objective means to measure the child's progress in the IEP. In my opinion, it there is no objective way to measure progress, there is no FAPE. If the child's progress is not being measured objectively, it is impossible to determine if the child is actually making progress.  

If it is impossible to determine if a child is making progress under the IEP, the school is denying FAPE, and it is incumbent on the school district to change their approach.

How to Measure Progress

Many IEPs do not include ways to measure the child's progress objectively. Some schools object to testing the child because of the time and labor involved. Some schools balk at using standardized tests because they are not used to use standardized tests to track progress.

Go to the independent specialist or clinic that originally evaluated your child and ask them to tell you what tests can be administered quickly, easily and frequently.

I have a student with autism who has been given the a specific language test for speech. The speech clinician said this test can be given every 3 months.

You can also use a standardized language sample. This is usually a formal interview of the child using language that is scored. The language sample is often tape recorded so this gives you the opportunity to hear your child in the school setting. Videotaping is another option. This can be done on a regular basis.

Second, when school districts balk at using standardized tests, it may because teachers believe that standardized tests are not valid measures of the child's skills because the child has a disability.  

Your Options

The language in IDEA 2004 was changed to xxx.

First, you can measure the child's progress with standardized tests. Second, you can use standardized tests but indicate that it may be of questionable validity because of the impact of the child's disability (many standardized tests have not been normed for kids with disabilities). Finally, you can use standardized testing and structured sampling -- this is likely to give you and the school members of the IEP team a more complete view of the child.

About the Author

Sonja Kerr is

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Wrightslaw: Special Education Law, 2nd Edition, by Pam and Pete Wright
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