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8 steps to a successful IEP meeting

Page 2 of 7

GreatSchools Blog

By Wayne Steedman

Step 3: building your own team

Parents are often at a disadvantage in IEP meetings because they have to rely on the reports and expertise of school personnel and school system representatives far out number them. To the extent that you can afford private assessments I strongly recommend them. Speech/Language assessments and neuropsychological evaluations are often extremely valuable for children on the autism spectrum. Some private health insurance plans will cover a portion of the costs of the assessments.

If you disagree with the school district’s evaluation, you may request an independent evaluation at public expense and the law requires the school district to either agree to pay for the evaluation or file for a due process hearing to defend its evaluation.
Private evaluations provide parents with an unbiased view of the child’s strengths and needs. Be sure the private evaluator has the expertise and skill to conduct the evaluation you need. Also be sure the evaluator meets your state’s certification and licensing requirements. The private evaluators you choose should be respected and known for their objectivity in the community.

The private evaluation alone will often not be enough to change the position of school personnel. That is why you need to build your own team of experts. Have the private evaluators attend the IEP meeting and explain as well as defend their evaluations. It is much harder for the school team to ignore the findings and recommendations of a private evaluation if the evaluator is sitting there before them. Your team should consist of experts in the areas of greatest need to your child. That may be a Speech/Language Pathologist, Neuropsychologist, Occupational Therapist, Educational Consultant, Behavioral Therapist, etc. Any private evaluation should include feedback from school personnel, including the child’s teacher(s). It is highly recommended that at least one member of your team conduct in-school observations of your child. Parents should also do observations.

Be sure to give the school a copy of the private evaluations so they have time to review them prior to the meeting. If you wait to give the evaluations at the meeting or just prior to the meeting, you run the risk of having the school postpone discussion of the evaluations to a later meeting. Be sure your experts have seen and reviewed each other’s reports as well as school reports and your child’s IEP. Schedule a conference call with all of your experts at least a few days prior to the IEP meeting. You want to ensure that your experts are aware of all the issues that may be discussed at the IEP meeting and address any differing viewpoints prior to the meeting. Your experts must also be aware of what you hope to accomplish at the IEP meeting.

Scheduling an IEP meeting with outside experts involved can be difficult. Schools sometimes set meeting dates and times without conferring with parents in advance. Keep in mind that the IDEA requires schools to schedule IEP meetings with parents on a mutually agreed upon date. Be sure to inform the school of all individuals you intend to bring with you to the IEP meeting. You should offer several dates in writing to the school that are available for you and your experts. If the school refuses to cooperate with you in scheduling the meeting, it runs the risk being found in violation of the IDEA’s strict requirement of parent participation in the decision-making process. Once a mutually agreed upon date has been established, the school is required to send written notice of the IEP meeting, That notice is extremely important and should be reviewed carefully. It should include not only the date, time and place of the IEP meeting, but the purpose of the meeting and who will attend. Be sure that at least one purpose of the meeting is to review and discuss the private evaluations as well as review and revise the IEP as needed.

Wayne Steedman is a co-founder and President of Callegary & Steedman, P.A., a law firm located in Baltimore, which primarily focuses on disability law. He is a graduate of the University of Maryland Law School and the School of Social Work, and has practiced law for 19 years with his primary focus on special education. Wayne has represented his clients in due process hearing, state and federal court, and the Third and Fourth Circuit Courts of Appeals. He is admitted to practice before the United States Supreme Court. He has presented nationwide on special education law and written numerous articles which have been published on-line and in print journals.

Comments from readers

"My wife and I were victims of an IEP system and a school system that cared more about covering their collective backsides than helping my child. Am I mad? YES! This system was run as a for profit prison that used my child to collect money but only cared about what was best for the school. Once my child reached middle school the "teaching" never materialized and the caretaking began. I eventually had to remove my Autistic child from the system due to lack of concern over my Childs welfare. These people (I won’t honor them with the title of teacher), should quit this line of work and go into something more commensurate with their skill level. Mopping floors and scrubbing toilets would probably be just about Wright. EFMP, what a joke. IEP and special Ed what a joke. "
"Shiela, our doctor's diagnosis trumped the school psychologist in our case. Our Primary Care doctor sent us to a Child Neurologist for a full neurological workup. She sent us to the Children's National Medical Center, Children's Center on Autism Spectrum Disorders for extensive evaluations. Fantastic Team. John's Hopkins also has a great team, I'm told. It's not all about what happens at school, as you know. The right team of doctors can help parents learn about their child. The advice we received at Children's has helped us as a family for over 8 years because we understand our son better with their help. School? Well, we're still working on that. Early intervention is key. "
"My nephew has not been diagnosed with autism but it is apparent that he has the symptoms. We would like to find out more to get him diagnosed. The school has tested him but we feel we need other testing entities. We have friend that have an autistic child 10 years old and the school tested him and their test was negative and eventually he was diagnosed with severe autism. If he doesn't have autism he has something. He is 5 and acts like he is 3. He talks ok but communication is not there. He has a 3 year old sister who treats him like he is a baby. His parents are going crazy and we need to get something started now. His favorite thing are spinning tops. Thanks for listening, Sheila "