When I was preparing for an IEP meeting before my daughter started kindergarten, I will admit, I had no idea what I was doing.
I didn’t understand the goals, or the jargon. I asked people to look at it for me, and I did ask for some meaningful changes. I did know a little bit about my rights, but not enough.
I am fortunate to have a job that gives me time off to attend meetings, take phone calls, send emails and do research, but I know not everyone has that luxury.
So if you have an IEP or 504 meeting in Missouri or Kansas coming up, this article is for you.
IEP meeting checklist
1. Know your IEP meeting rights
According to the U.S. Department of Education, “Each public school child who receives special education and related services must have an Individualized Education Program (IEP).
Each IEP must be designed for one student and must be a truly individualized document. The IEP creates an opportunity for teachers, parents, school administrators, related services personnel, and students (when appropriate) to work together to improve educational results for children with disabilities.
The IEP is the cornerstone of a quality education for each child with a disability.”
When you get a draft IEP, read it over closely before your meeting. for my most recent meeting, I worked with Missouri Parents Act (MPACT), a federally funded nonprofit for parents. And my contact there told me to specifically look at “Present Level of Academic Achievement and Functional Performance,” to make sure you’re aligned with what is there.
I’d say also look for signs of copy and paste — check pronouns and baselines and goals. There could be something from a past IEP that accidentally got copied over into your child’s document and this is supposed to be unique to your child.
Know that you as the parent have the right to request changes. I did.
Know that you can call a meeting at any time, no matter what anyone says.
I talked with other autism parents about their experiences, and how they worked to have successful IEP meetings. I talked with a friend who is a special education teacher and an autism mom. I found out what was possible for my daughter.
Know that you can share the IEP with anyone you want, and you can invite anyone to the meeting. At my most recent meeting, I had a whole girl gang, which leads me to my next point.
2. Take a team to your IEP meeting
My sister was in town, so she came. My private speech language pathologist from Bringing Therapy Home came, my service coordinator with the Center for Human Services came, my daughter’s behavior therapist came, and I invited a few others, but they couldn’t make it. My point is, you can invite anyone, and you should.
In my research, I found a terrific article from The Kansas City Beacon and a source advised parents to build a team. Because you’ll be in the meeting with a ton of school officials and you want to balance the table.
If you can, bring an advocate of some sort, or at least consult with them before the meeting. I was willing to pay an advocate, but the Center for Human Services told me about MPACT.
On the Kansas side, there is Families Together, Inc. Both can give you free information about your child’s rights and help you navigate the IEP process. These services are not income based, they will help anyone.
I also asked for advocacy letters, including from my daughter’s developmental pediatrician.
My contact with MPACT couldn’t be at my IEP meeting, but she reviewed several emails I sent, shared documentation about my daughters rights under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, told me what I could do if the meeting didn’t turn out the way I wanted, offered additional things I could request, etc.
I had an additional reason to take a team. As a Black mom, I have to be hyper aware of other people’s unconscious bias and stereotypes. No matter how angry I get, I don’t have the luxury of going off like a white mom would. There’s an “angry Black woman” stereotype, and I’m not going to play into that and give school officials a reason to write me off.
A good team will fight with you, back you up and say the things that need to be said. We’ve heard a lot about ally ship since 2020. Marena Mitchell, our private SLP since 2021, showed true allyship in a way I have never seen before, through her strong advocacy at my daughter’s meeting.
3. Document everything before and after the IEP meeting
Save. Your. Receipts. This is advice that has served me well in my work experience as a people manager, and it applies to school correspondence as well.
Save every email you send to and receive from school officials, every note you get in writing. I’d also suggest sending out a meeting recap to make sure everyone is aligned on what happened in the meeting. (This is also a good tip for work meetings!)
4. Don’t take ‘no’ for an answer at the meeting
If there’s something you want for your child, do not give up. You do not have to agree to anything on the spot. If your meeting doesn’t go the way you want, say you want to take more time to think things over.
The Beacon article read really said it best, “You will never find a school district that will offer – offer – to do what is right for your child. Because it’s all about money.”
School officials love kids and they are passionate. I know, because my mother was a teacher for 40 years and my sister has been a paraprofessional for over 20. I know school officials are doing their best, overworked and underpaid, often strapped for cash and other resources.
I also know most really want to do what’s best for the kids, and will come to the table with you if you invite them.
But you will probably have to invite them. And you will need all these tools I’ve outlined in the IEP meeting checklist, and more.
For example, if a school says it doesn’t have the staffing to accommodate a request to give your child a paraprofessional to push into general education, look into the law.
“Under IDEA, lack of adequate personnel or resources does not relieve school districts of their obligations to make a free appropriate public education available to students with disabilities in the least restrictive educational setting in which their IEPs can be implemented.”
Boom. Pull out your receipts, know your rights, get info from your team and be your child’s best advocate.
Every child, no matter the ability, deserves the world. Make sure they get it.