Be a More Effective Advocate: Drafting Written Opinions - A How to Manual
It's IEP meeting time and you are thinking about your child’s plan for the next twelve months.
The IEP meeting is an important business meeting where the business at hand is your child’s education. Prepare for and document IEP meetings carefully. The success of your child’s education may depend on how well you document what happens during the IEP meeting.
IDEA 2004 specifically allows you to submit your concerns to the IEP Team. One way to record your concerns is to use a written opinion.
Your written opinion ensures that the IEP team understands what you think happened at the meeting. Tell the team that you will be sending a written opinion later. You do not have to be an expert on “the law” to write a written opinion. In fact, it may be best not to quote or interpret the law in your written opinion.
Your written opinion can include:
Listen to your little inner voice. If something does not seem right, write it down. Your little inner voice is right most of the time.
Stick to the facts and you will maintain your credibility. Do not make personal attacks.
Assume that your written opinion will end up as an exhibit in a future due process hearing. You cannot know what facts might be important in the future so include as many relevant facts as possible in your written opinion.
Correcting Facts with Your Written Opinion
Successful IEP meetings require preparation. Be prepared to begin your written opinion during the IEP meeting. At the top of the page write “Written Opinion.” Below that, write “Page 1.” Write your child’s name and the date in the top right hand corner of the first page. During the meeting you may see that there are disagreements. When this happens begin the notes for your written opinion.
Even if you think your written opinion is complete at the end of the meeting, do not turn it in. Promise to send it no later than a week after you receive the IEP.
When you receive the IEP, you will compare your meeting notes or tape recording of the meeting to the facts included in the IEP. If the facts don’t match up, you will correct them in your written opinion.
Here are some examples of types of statements you may want to use in your written opinion:
Be concise. Each point in your written opinion should be only one or two sentences. This is not the time for reason or argument. If you provided each team member with a Parent Report or Parent Agenda before the IEP meeting, you already gave your reason and argument. You do not have to argue your position again. Your written opinion just includes the facts.
Use clear language that is easy to understand. Be factual, not critical. Your written opinion may provide the facts that persuade the IEP team Johnny really does need more services. You may use your opinion later as a tool for negotiation and persuasion.
Include the following in your written opinion.
1. A brief/short cover letter that includes:
2. Important facts the IEP does not include.
3. Corrections to facts included in the IEP.
4. Decisions with which you agreed and those with which you did not agree.
5. Things the team did not discuss.
6. Things that you asked on which the team made no decision.
7. Items that you asked to be included the IEP but were omitted.
8. Page numbers on each page.
Plan to draft a written opinion following every team meeting. If you do not record your opinion, the IEP team may think you agree with all of the decisions and the IEP. No one will hear your voice.
The written opinion is an effective document that tells the IEP meeting story from your viewpoint as a parent. Think of it as a tool, not a weapon. To avoid disappointment understand that it may not force the school to do anything. However, it may prove to be the evidence you later need to prove your case.
Meet Pat Howey
Patricia 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 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.