How to Stop Getting Ignored at IEP Meetings

Do you find that you get ignored at monthly team meetings or IEP meetings? If so, consider these quick tips to help you get the opportunity to be heard and your efforts to be heard documented.

At the cornerstone of the IDEA is FAPE and with it comes the opportunity for parents to participate in the IEP process in a meaningful way. All team members, especially the parent, should have an opportunity to be heard and discuss their concerns and ideas with the rest of the IEP team.

Yeah…right. Your experience as a parent might be a little different.  Although the strict meeting protocols of Robert’s Rules aren’t usually necessary at school meetings, on the other extreme it may seem that some school meetings fringe of the border of chaos and disorganization. Ideally, the school meeting should fall somewhere between Robert’s Rules and Lord of the Flies and provide a relaxed, yet civilized and productive gathering.  You can help.

For better flow and documentation, you may wish to request (in writing) these few easy changes to your child’s IEP. In my experience, school teams readily agree to these changes to the IEP to help communication flow more smoothly between the parent and the school team about what takes place at meetings. You can contact your child’s case manager (in writing) to request the changes and that you’d like the changes to go into effect as soon as possible.

A MEETING AGENDA shall be distributed to all team members no fewer than 3 business days prior to an IEP or team meeting. (Sample IEP language)

An agenda is helpful if (1) team members have a chance to add items to the agenda (2) the agenda is distributed in advance of the meeting so everyone has a chance to ponder and prepare, and (3) it is actually written. The only way to ensure all of the above is to have it added into your child’s IEP.

Your responsibility:

  • Once in place in the IEP, be sure to send in a timely request to have your agenda item added to the upcoming IEP or team meeting. Request that the item be added to the top of the agenda and specify the amount of time needed to cover the topic.
  • Prior to the meeting, be sure to prepare and make note of the salient points that you would like to discuss and bring your points to guide you during the meeting. Don’t repeat yourself.
  • Make sure to leave enough time for discussion after presenting your issue.
  • During the meeting itself, be sure to stick to the agenda and be respectful of the time allotted to each agenda item.
  • In fairness to everyone at the meeting, avoid “time bombs” by bringing up a topic that is not part of the agenda, unless you make the request of everyone at the beginning of the meeting and stick to the time allotted.  You can always request another meeting and that the topic be added to the next agenda.
  • Be respectful of everyone’s time.

DETAILED MINUTES shall be distributed to all participants no more than 3 business days after an IEP or team meeting. (Sample IEP language)

Detailed minutes of meetings are important documents that show which items were discussed (or omitted), what decisions or action plans were made by the team (or not) and who was (or wasn’t) present at the meeting. The only way to ensure that minutes are taken and distributed in a timely manner is to have it added into your child’s IEP.

Your responsibility:

  • Once in place in the IEP, it is very important that parents take the time to read the minutes and make note of anything that is incorrect, missing, misleading, too subjective (“mom’s issue was discussed ad nauseum”) or simply not what you recall of the meeting.
  • Note if the minutes include late arrivals or early departures by staff.
  • If anything isn’t quite right, it is important to send a written notation to the drafter of the agenda to request a change (amendment) in accordance with the your recollection of the meeting. Even if there is disagreement as to what really was discussed, you have documented your recollection of the meeting.
  • Do not ask for amendments to reflect new topics that weren’t discussed for whatever reason. However, an amendment can note why an agenda topic was not discussed (i.e. not enough time, but topic will be on next meeting’s agenda).
  • Keep copies of the agenda and minutes in a safe place.

Remember, she who has the best documentation, wins.

The goal of these small changes to the IEP is to make sure you have had an opportunity to be heard and the issue that is important to you discussed. By documenting what is to be discussed (agenda) and what actually was discussed (minutes), a pattern would arise and may show a deprivation of FAPE if the parent’s request to discuss an issue was habitually ignored. If this pattern isn’t documented, it didn’t happen.

Don’t be discouraged if your request for a new course of action isn’t readily accepted by the team the first time. Sometimes it takes people time to open up to new ideas or they may have other fundamental reasons to disagree. Be sure to take into consideration what the rest of the team is saying about your requested course of action before moving on to another approach. A skilled attorney can help with the negotiation process. As always, you should discuss your child’s specific situation with a special education attorney licensed in your own state.