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IEP Tips: What to Do at an IEP Meeting
by Anne Treimanis, Esq. and Kathleen Whitbread, Ph.D.

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Do you feel overwhelmed or intimidated at IEP meetings? Are your confused about your parental role? Professionals who attend IEP meetings often provide so many rules, regulations, policies, and assessment results that parents leave IEP meetings feeling overwhelmed and inadequate.

These IEP tips are strategies you can use to be a more effective, advocate participant in the IEP process for your child. The tips offer common sense strategies about how to effectively advocate for your child, while also learning to provide input and build positive relationships with the school personnel who work with your child.

Having friends and being a friend are important for your child's development. These tips are also designed to insure that your child is successfully included in the neighborhood school and enjoys after-school community activities.

These tips are from Chapter 2, “Tips for What to do During the IEP Meeting,” from the book, IEP and Inclusion Tips for Parents and Teachers by special education attorney Anne Treimanis and Dr. Kathy Whitbread.

Send your agenda to the district a few days ahead of time.

Label this “Proposed Agenda.” Bring extra copies of your Agenda to the meeting and politely invite each team member to take a copy.

Bring food, or at least bottled water to the meeting

If your water bottles are large, bring a stack of cups. At the end of the meeting, leave any leftover food for the staff to enjoy. Use plastic or paper plates and trays. Avoid plates that you would want to bring home.

“I used to bring in home baked muffins or cookies, but these days everyone seems to be on a diet. You never know if they are counting calories, trying to eat low fat food, or counting carbs. Now I just bring water, both flat and sparkling, with an assortment of flavors for the sparkling. It’s so appreciated and won’t make a mess of the meeting area. But, homemade goodies are always a good option. Dieters don’t have to indulge if they don’t want to.” - Anne

You are a full and equal member of the IEP team.

Don’t be afraid to take charge, and see your role as equally important as the educational professionals.

Also, be sure that when someone says, ”The team feels . . .” that you do agree with the statement. If you do not, say, “I don’t feel that way, and I am a full and equal member of this team.” Remember that you have a valuable and unique perspective as the parent of your child.

Do not allow yourself to get into a “them versus me” situation.

Be an active listener.

Make sure you make eye contact with people as they are speaking. Give each speaker your full attention. Allow people to finish their thoughts before speaking up. Don’t fidget.

If the school did not provide records, evaluations, or proposed IEP goals ahead of time and you feel your ability to participate in the meeting has been compromised, consider rescheduling the meeting (with the utmost of tact and class).

The law says that parents are fully participating members of the IEP Team. You cannot be a fully participating member if you lack critical information about your child.

Discuss issues your child has that may affect his ability to receive educational benefits in the general education environment.

Focus on the supports and services your child needs to learn and be successful in school. For example, “Due to Tim’s hearing impairment, he requires a sign language interpreter to benefit from the general education curriculum.” Your requests should be appropriate.

Write to the school and request that all reports, evaluations, and proposed goals and objectives to be given to you at least 5 days ahead of the meeting.

To contribute to the IEP Team discussions of your child’s educational program in a meaningful way, you need to prepare for the meeting. Ask that no reports or evaluations be read or produced for the first time at the meeting.

Exchanging information ahead of time gives all parties an opportunity to become better prepared. It also leads to more efficient use of time at meetings.

Make sure your child’s IEP goals are SMART.

In the business world, goals are SMART, which means they are Specific, Measurable, use Action words, are Realistic, and Time-Limited.

Note: This excellent advice originates from the good people at Download the chapter about SMART IEPs from Wrightslaw: From Emotions to Advocacy, 2nd Edition (revised to include IDEA 2004)

Be sure you understand the “prior written notice” provision in IDEA.

IDEA says the school must provide the parent with notice whenever the school proposes to initiate a change or refuses to make a change in connection with the identification, evaluation, or educational placement of the child, or the provision of FAPE (free appropriate public education) to the child.

This notice is required to include several components:

  • a description of the action proposed or refused by the agency;
  • an explanation of why the agency proposes or refuses to take the action,
  • a description of any other options that the agency considered and the reasons why those options were rejected;
  • a description of each evaluation procedure, test, record, or report the agency used as a basis for the proposed or refused action; a description of any other factors that are relevant to the agency's proposal or refusal;
  • a statement that the parents of a child with a disability have protection under the procedural safeguards of the law;
  • if this notice is not an initial referral for evaluation, the means by which a copy of a description of the procedural safeguards can be obtained; and
  • sources for parents to contact to obtain assistance in understanding the provisions of this part.

If you don’t understand what is being said or proposed, ask the Team to clarify.

Do not permit a discussion of your child’s placement until the present levels of academic achievement and functional performance, and the IEP goals and objectives have been discussed.

The law says that a child’s placement is discussed only after the IEP goals and objectives have been developed.

Bring your child to the IEP meeting.

If you feel it is inappropriate for the child to stay for the entire meeting, bring her for part of the meeting.

Consider bringing all your children to the IEP meeting so they can support their sibling.

“Why did I bring Eva’s brothers to her IEP meeting beginning in the second grade? Did they understand the meeting? Well…not entirely. However, they knew I was always attending meetings and I wanted to take away some of the mystery.

I wanted my children to see how I advocated for their sister. I wanted them to witness how one individual could stand up for an idea, even if everyone in the room disagreed. I am preparing them be co-advocates with their sister, who I am grooming to become a self-advocate. It’s okay with me if they attend the IEP meeting to escape going to science. It’s okay with me if they attend the IEP meeting just because I am feeding them chocolate milk and bagels.” - Anne

Consider inviting other students to the IEP meeting.

Kids often have great ideas on how to support other students. Of course, your child needs to be okay with this.

If you are curious as to what happens to a boy who goes to his sister's IEP meetings, this is how the story may unfold.

"In an effort to continue advocacy training, I brought my son to a disability related rally in Washington, DC. He knew the purpose of the rally, but admittedly I had to sell it as a day off of school with some sightseeing. He agreed to go, knowing that the rally was something he had to put up with. This is how transformations occur!"- Anne

Don’t go to an IEP meeting alone.

The person you bring does not have to be a trained advocate. The person can be someone who cares about your child and family. If you think this is necessary, ask them to not speak.

Just having someone there, taking notes, will let the district know that you take your rights seriously.

Tips on advocates

  • When you choose an advocate, make sure that he or she is prepared.

  • Make sure the person presents him or herself in a professional manner.

  • Make sure that the advocate shares your views on your child’s education.

  • Some advocates bring their personal anger to the table. Choose an advocate who is strong but diplomatic.

  • Do not forego preparation for the IEP meeting because you “trust” your advocate to do this.

  • Prepare for the meeting WITH your advocate. The advocate must represent your point of view but their job is not to take over. This is YOUR child and YOUR meeting.

  • When preparing with your advocate, identify what is not negotiable, and what you are willing to compromise on. Prioritize your issues.

  • Make sure your advocate has a copy of and has read all of your child’s records.

  • Do not hire an advocate one day before the meeting. This will not give the advocate enough time to read the records and prepare properly with you

If your district allows it, record your IEP meetings.

When you tape a meeting, you have a completely accurate record of the meeting and you will be free to listen and participate in the meeting rather than trying to write notes when several people are talking. If you encounter resistance from the team, note that the district cannot refuse to allow you to tape if this is an accommodation for the parent (for example, if the parent is hearing impaired or has an auditory processing problem). Read IEP Tips: Taping Meetings by Anne Treimanis and Kathy Whitbread

Debrief with your advocate, spouse, and any other person who accompanied you immediately after the meeting.

Write down what you remember, and then add your own impressions and opinions.

Write a thank you note to the IEP Team for the time people spent meeting with you about your child. Use the thank you note to document key decisions made and to review issues that are still unresolved.

Wow, all these tips are just part of one chapter!

Remember - Students with the best educational programs (and outcomes) are usually those with the most empowered parents. Read this book to empower yourself with the information you need to advocate for your child.

Other chapters in IEP and Inclusion Tips for Parents and Teachers are:

  • Getting Prepared for IEP Meetings
  • Ensuring Access to the General Curriculum
  • Tracking IEP Progress
  • Friendships
  • Handling Disagreements
  • Forming Effective Family/School Partnerships.

For more tips, check out IEP and Inclusion Tips by special education attorney Anne Treimanis and Kathy Whitbread, Ph.D., now available in the Wrightslaw store.

About the Authors

Anne Treimanis is a Connecticut special education attorney who limita her practice to inclusive education. Anne presents nationally, together with Kathy Whitbread, on the topic of least restrictive environment for students with disabilities.

Anne served on the board of directors of the CT Down Syndrome Congress. Anne is also a founder of SPED*NET New Canaan, a monthly forum in Anne’s community focused on special education issues. She also created and maintains the website, which received a Media Award from the CT Coalition for Inclusive Education.

Anne’s daughter Eva has Down syndrome and was fully and successfully included in New Canaan High School in New Canaan, CT.

Eva’s education over four years at Saxe Middle School was so remarkable that Saxe was featured in a Connecticut Public TV television documentary called “The Challenge.” This article was picked up by educators in the Netherlands, translated into Dutch, and widely distributed to inspire educators to include students with disabilities in general education settings.

Co-author Kathleen Whitbread has provided training and technical assistance to school districts, families and community organizations for more than 35 years. Dr. Whitbread specializes in evidence-based educational practices for students with significant disabilities, with specific expertise in literacy instruction for students with intellectual disabilities.

Dr. Whitbread has extensive experience in creating meaningful, legally correct Individual Education Programs (IEPs).

Dr. Whitbread maintains an active Comprehensive Special Education teaching license for K-12 and earned her Associate level certification in Orton Gillingham reading methodology from the Academy of Orton Gillingham Practitioners and Educators. For additional information about Dr. Whitbread’s background and training, please see her Curriculum Vitae.
Revised: 05/21/22

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