When you receive a call, letter, or email inviting you to an IEP meeting, does your mood change? Do you get a knot in your stomach? Anxious? Confused or inadequate (the “I’m just a parent” syndrome)?
Do you have a clear sense of your role in an IEP meeting? Do you have questions about what you should say? Not say?
If you are like many parents, you don’t realize that you have an essential role in developing your child’s IEP. It’s time to give this idea a second look.
Your Parental Role
First, you are the expert on your child.
Think about it. You spend hours every week in your child’s company. You observe your child in hundreds of different situations. You notice small but significant changes in your child’s behavior and emotions that others will likely overlook.
Teachers, therapists, and aides only observe your child in the school setting so they have a more limited perspective.
Second, you represent your child’s interests. You speak for your child at school meetings. You are your child’s voice.
You are a Negotiator
If you are like most parents, you didn’t realize that you negotiate with the school members of your child’s team for special education services and supports.
When you attend meetings about your child’s educational program, you represent your child’s interests. You speak for your child. You are her voice.
You say, “I don’t know how to negotiate.” You have more experience as a negotiator than you realize.
You negotiate with co-workers about work schedules and with your employer about your salary. You bargain with family members about housework and money. When you buy a car or house, you will negotiate with salespeople.
When you negotiate with the school, you have an advantage — you can prepare.
5 Rules for Successful IEP Meetings
There are five rules for successful IEP meetings. Keep these rules in mind as you prepare for IEP meetings, especially meetings held during the COVID -19 pandemic.
Rule #1: Know what you want.
“I told the team that I was worried about Joachin’s loss of skills since his school closed in March. The chairman said, ‘What do you want us to do?’ Why did they ask me that question? I’m not a teacher. I’m just a parent. Don’t they know what to do? I think they wanted to make me feel stupid.” – Marie at a parent training session.
Did the team intend to make Marie feel stupid? We don’t know. Was the school’s request unreasonable? No.
When you attend an IEP meeting, you need to share your observations, difficulties, and requests in clear, simple language. If the meeting’s purpose is to consider compensatory or recovery services, use facts, not feelings. Be prepared to answer these questions:
- What do you want?
- What action do you want the school to take?
- What facts support your request?
Rule #2. Do not blame or criticize.
When you negotiate, you are dealing with people. Stick to the facts. Don’t blame or criticize.
Assume you plan to discuss your child’s problems or you want to request a change in your child’s program or placement. Although you don’t intend to criticize, some team members may get defensive. They may disagree. Disagreements can take many forms.
- Denial: team members insist that the problem you reported is not a problem, despite evidence that it is.
- Minimizing: team members acknowledge the problem but insist it is not what it seems.
- Blaming: team members deny responsibility and claim that the problem belongs to someone or something else.
- Diversion: team members change the subject to avoid a topic that they view as threatening.
- Hostility: team members feel defensive when you bring up a problem, incident, or event, so they get angry, hostile, or irritable.
- Procrastinating: team members say they will take action on an issue you raised tomorrow or “later”.
Rule #3. Understand the school district’s position.
When you negotiate, you need to know what motivates the people on the other side of the table. You need to be able to answer questions like these:
- What are their perceptions? How does the school see the problem?
- What are their interests? What does the school want?
- What are their fears? What is the school afraid will happen if they give you what you want?
How can you find out what the school wants and what they fear? Ask questions and listen carefully to the answers.
How does the school perceive parents? How do the staff view parents of children with disabilities? How do school staff view you?
Do school staff perceive you as demanding? Do they think you a complainer? Do they believe you are passive and uninvolved?
What is important to your school district? What do they want?
What does your school district fear? What keeps the school superintendent up at night? If the school gives you what you want, will this mean they failed? Will school personnel have to admit that they were wrong? Will people have to do things they don’t want to do?
When a team develops a win-win solution to a problem, the team members will be committed to its success.
If the district gives you what you want, are they afraid the floodgates will open? Does the school fear losing power? Do they fear losing face?
Rule #4. Seek win-win solutions to problems.
Make a list of possible solutions to resolve the problem. During the meeting, let the team know you’ve given serious thought to solutions. If the school ignores or belittles your ideas, you can document this in your after-meeting follow-up letter.
Suppose you answered the questions about different perceptions, interests, and fears. In that case, you’ll find that it’s easier to devise solutions that meet your and the district’s needs and wants.
Rule #5. Protect the parent-school relationship.
Are you prepared to remove your child from the public school forever? No?
View your relationship with the school as a marriage without the possibility of divorce. When you make this shift in your thinking, you will be able to focus on the essential issues.
When parents and schools negotiate, their personal relationships often get entangled with problems. You need to separate your relationships with people from the problems. If you view people as the problem, you are setting yourself up to feel angry, bitter, and mistrustful.
Remember: When you negotiate, you have two interests:
- To solve problems, and
- To protect relationships.
You will negotiate again!
Contributed by Pamela Wright (www.Wrightslaw.com)