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10 Tips for Schools on Avoiding Confrontation with Parents
by Pat Howey, Advocate

successful meeting1.Treat the parents with kindness and courtesy.

People who are treated with courtesy and kindness are less likely to become angry. If they do become angry, they are more likely to focus their anger away from you if you treat them nicely. Parents are much more likely to file due process hearings or complaints if they are treated badly.

2. Make parents feel like they are an important part of the IEP Team.

See that parents have all of the same information as other Team members. Send them copies of all reports and documents a week before the meeting. Parents who feel disenfranchised are more likely to get angry. When their opinions and views are ignored, they will be angry with you.

3. If you make a mistake, admit it.

Parents understand that we are all human. If a staff member drops the ball, acknowledge it and work toward doing better. It is difficult to get angry with someone who admits a mistake and is truly contrite.

4. Don't let the paperwork overwhelm the meeting.

Given a choice, many parents would prefer that schools do the right thing for their child than to do everything right. Don’t get so bogged down in the paperwork that you cannot focus on the child’s needs and IEP.

5. Do not engage in "blame the parent; blame the child" tactics.

Some children are difficult to educate. If you have this problem, remember that it is not always the fault of the parent or of the child. Parents understand that schools have limited resources. They also understand that not all school are able to educate all children in their home schools and in the least restrictive environment. Let parents help you explore all of the resources that are available from your State Department of Education when trying to educate a difficult-to-place child.

6. Do not surprise parents. 

Give a draft copy of an IEP to parents ahead of time. No one likes surprises. You will notice that your meetings are more efficient and effective.

7. Ask the parents to provide information about their child before the IEP Meeting.

Include this information in your draft IEP. You do not have to agree with everything the parent says. But if the parent thinks the information is important, you must value the parent’s beliefs. After all, most parents know the child the best. After all, they were their child’s first teacher.

8. Give parents a copy of evaluation reports before the meeting.

Parents often need time to digest this assessment information. They also need time to think about questions they may want to ask. This is particularly true of initial evaluations when parents are often still trying to deal with the idea that their child has a disability.

9. Don’t adopt the “floodgate” mentality.

Administrators sometimes fear that providing a new or unique service will “open up the floodgates.” They think they will have to provide the same services to all the other children with IEPs. Remember the “I” in IEP stands for “Individualized.” That means not all children need every service. Children are like snowflakes; no two are alike. Providing a service to one child will not open the floodgates to other children unless they have the same unique need as the first child.

10. Remember that every child has strengths.

Often, IEP Teams talk mainly about a child’s weaknesses. This discourages parents, especially when their child struggles with a significant disability. It also demeans and devalues the child. Try opening up IEP Meetings with a discussion about the child’s strengths. This tends to inspire members of the IEP Team and gives parents encouragement and hope.

More Tips

10 Tips about Placement

10 Tips for a Successful School Year

10 Tips for Schools on Avoiding Confrontation with Parents

10 Tips for Parents: How to Listen to Your Inner Voice

10 Tips for Good Advocates

10 Tips for Ending the School Year

14 Tips for Reviewing Your Child's Educational Record

10 Tips on Hiring an Advocate

18 Tips on Filing Complaints

 More Advocacy Resources

Wrightslaw: From Emotions to Advocacy has a companion website at

Getting Started

Part 1 of the book is Getting Started. Go to Getting Started for articles about the basic skills of parent advocacy.

Advocating for Your Child - Getting Started. Good special education services are intensive and expensive. Resources are limited. If you have a child with special needs, you may wind up battling the school district for the services your child needs. To prevail, you need information, skills, and tools.

Assertiveness and Effective Parent Advocacy. Short article by parent and advocate Marie Sherrett describes joys and challenges of parent advocacy.

Planning and Preparation: Keys to Successful Advocacy. Learn why planning and preparation are important; learn about the parent's role as special education project manager.

Advocacy 101

The second section of Wrightslaw: From Emotions to Advocacy is Advocacy 101.

In Advocacy 101, you learn about gatekeepers, special education teams, and one-size-fits-all (OSFA) programs. When you learn the rules of the game, you will be a more effective advocate and negotiator for your child. (Wrightslaw: From Emotions to Advocacy, page 21). Here are a few articles from Advocacy 101:

Learning the Rules of the Game - Learn why parents and schools have different perspectives, what to do when disagreements turn into power struggles, how to use your power wisely, the dangers of making threats, how to deal with IEP meeting frustrations, and more.

From Emotions to Advocacy: The Parent's Journey. Classic article about dealing with your child's disability and how to manage your emotions.

Special Education Advocacy

You will find dozens of useful articles about special education advocacy on the Wrightslaw site - click here.

9 Ways to Boost Your Child's Attitude Before the Bus Arrives - What can you do before your children leave for school to help them feel that they can conquer anything? These no-nonsense pointers from Jackie Igafo-Te'o will help you eliminate a large portion of last-minute stress that comes with every weekday morning.

Parent Advocacy: What You Should Do - and Not Do. Good advice from attorney Leslie Margolis about steps parents can take to get quality educational services for their children with disabilities.

When Parents & Schools Disagree. Educational consultant Ruth Heitin describes common disagreements between parents and schools and offers suggestions about how to handle these disagreements.

Meet Pat Howey

Pat HoweyPatricia Howey has supported families of children with disabilities since 1985. She has a specific learning disability and became involved in special education when her youngest child entered kindergarten. Pat has children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren who have a variety of disabilities and she has used her experience to advocate for better special education services for several of them.

Pat is a charter member of the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA), serving on its Board of Directors from 2000 through 2003. She has been a Commissioner on the Tippecanoe (County) Human Relations Committee, a graduate of Leadership Lafayette and Partners in Policymaking, and a member of the Wrightslaw Speakers Bureau. She has been on the faculty of the College of William and Mary Law School’s Institute of Special Education Advocacy since its inception in 2011.

Pat has an A.S. and a B.A. in Paralegal Studies from Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, where she graduated magna cum laude. She is an Indiana Registered Paralegal and an affiliate member of the Indiana Bar and the American Bar Associations.

Pat began her advocacy career as a volunteer for the Task Force on Education for the Handicapped (now InSource), Indiana’s Parent Training and Information Center. In 1990, she opened her advocacy practice and served families throughout Indiana by representing them at IEP meetings, mediation, and due process hearings.

In 2017, Pat closed her advocacy practice and began working on a contract basis as a special education paralegal. Attorneys in Indiana, Texas, and California contracted with her to review documents, spot issues, draft due process complaints, prepare for hearings, and assist at hearings. In January 2019, she became an employee of the Connell Michael Kerr law firm, owned by Erin Connell, Catherine Michael, and Sonja Kerr. Her duties have now expanded to assisting with federal court cases.

"Changing the World -- One Child at at Time.

Contact Information

Patricia L. Howey, B.A., IRP
POB 117
West Point, Indiana 47992-0117

Revised: 06/25/19

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