Planning and Prevention Strategies
Reduce Problems at IEP Meetings
by Judith Greenbaum, Ph.D. from
CEN's Focus on Results, September 2005
For more articles like this
Many parents and educators approach
an individualized education program (IEP) team meeting with a
certain amount of caution. Parents and educators feel this way
even though evidence shows that most IEP team meetings proceed
rather quickly and quietly. IEP team participants may worry that
some-thing will go wrong or that participants will disagree, or
they may feel unprepared.
The Individuals with
Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires that a team of
individuals prepare a student’s IEP (see
Figure 1). By requiring
a team approach, lawmakers hoped to ensure that each student
would have the benefit of several good minds working together to
create a quality student IEP. It’s not that lawmakers thought
they could prevent disagreement among team members; they
actually thought that some disagreement among people with
different perspectives might result in a better IEP.
In other words, disagreement can be
good—if it is handled respectfully. This can result in an IEP
team meeting far richer than one in which no one voices an
opinion. Differences of opinion about what is best for the
student are part of the problem-solving process, and problem
solving is the heart of IEP planning. Disagreement that is
thoroughly discussed and results in consensus, usually produces
a more appropriate, effective IEP for the student.
Communicate for Student Success
Many factors can interfere with a
full and productive discussion of what is best for the student.
Lack of information or
Differing expectations of schools
Lack of understanding of teacher
roles and responsibilities.
Differences in communication
Differing interpretations of the
Non-compliance with the law.
Shortage of resources or
Lack of trust due to broken
promises, lack of success in the past, gossip, and innuendo.
Direct or implied blame.
Little or no preparation for the
Figure 1: Who should attend an IEP meeting?
The Individuals with
Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) calls for the
following people to participate on the individualized
education program (IEP) team:
education program team.--The term ‘individualized education
program team’ or ‘IEP Team’ means a group of individuals
(i) The parents of a child
with a disability;
(ii) Not less than 1 regular education teacher of such
child (if the child is, or may be, participating in the
regular education environment);
(iii) Not less than 1 special education teacher, or where
appropriate, not less than 1 special education provider of
(iv) A representative of the local educational agency
(I) Is qualified to provide, or
supervise the provision of, specially designed instruction
to meet the unique needs of children with disabilities;
(II) Is knowledgeable about the general education
(III) Is knowledgeable about the availability of resources
of the local educational agency;
(v) An individual who can interpret the instructional
implications of evaluation results, who may be a member of
the team described in clauses (ii) through (vi);
(vi) At the discretion of the parent or the agency, other
individuals who have knowledge or special expertise
regarding the child, including related services personnel
as appropriate; and
(vii) Whenever appropriate, the child with a disability.
Source: Individuals with
Disabilities Education Act (2004). Final Enrolled Bill, Sec.
or Lack of Information
Problems caused by misinformation,
misunderstandings, or lack of information can cause
disagreements where none actually exist. IEP team members can
prevent many of these problems from occuring in the first place
or from going further, by listening carefully, speaking
accurately, and correcting misunderstandings as early as
possible. Paying careful attention to the accuracy of others’
and one’s own statements, and providing clear, corrective
explanations can enhance communication and understanding. School
staff members have a major responsibility for keeping themselves
informed and up to date about the IEP process as practiced in
their particular school district. They also have the
responsibility of ensuring that parents fully understand the
process. Parents have the responsibility to ask questions if
they don't understand something. Parents should also correct any
misunderstandings school staff may have about their child or
themselves as early as possible.
Differing Values, Expectations, and
Other communication problems arise
from the differing values, expectations, and communication
styles of the different members of the IEP team. Staying aware
of these differences, and bridging the gaps, can lead to sound
decisions. For example, some parents expect more than schools
and teachers can deliver. Differences in expectations need to be
uncovered and clarified.
Differing Interpretations of the
Law or Suspected Non-Compliance With the Law
It is better to leave differing
interpretations of the law or suspected non-compliance with the
law to compliance officials and legal authorities, rather than
constantly rehashing them at an IEP team meeting. IEP team
members, however, do need to acquaint themselves with the law,
how their district is interpreting the law, and administrative
procedures their district has put in place to serve children.
Resource Shortages and Financial
Shortages of resources, financial
constraints, and the extra-high case load of a particular staff
member are generally not good topics to discuss at an IEP team
meeting. These topics should be discussed by administrators and
staff in other settings.
Lack of trust on the part of a
parent, stemming from a difficult history with the schools, can
be very hard to overcome. Lack of trust can be the strongest
barrier to successful completion of an IEP team meeting. The
school members on the IEP team should do all in their power to
impress upon the parent that this year can be better for the
student, while presenting compelling reasons for their belief.
They should encourage all participants to consider each new IEP
team meeting as a fresh start.
Teachers, too, need to approach
each meeting professionally and without preconceived notions
based on old “war wounds.” In order to prevent the past from
getting in the way of current discussions, both parents and
school staff can try to develop and implement a new belief
system, such as the one that follows:
Everyone wants the student to be
successful in school, including the student.
The student is not happy when he
or she is behaving badly.
Everyone needs encouragement,
praise, and thanks.
The student is not lazy,
controlling, or unmotivated; the student’s educational program
may need adjusting.
The student can be taught new
ways of thinking and behaving.
Parents, teachers, and students
prefer to work well together.
Parents, teachers, and students
can work through their problems.
There are creative solutions to
Many heads are better than one.
Prepare for Student Success
Often, parents—and students—don’t
know how to prepare for an IEP team meeting. School staffs are
generally prepared to present information but may be caught off
guard by misunder-standings, misinformation, and lack of trust
on the part of parents—and students. If school staffs, parents,
and students prepare for the IEP meeting using a standard set of
guidelines, the meeting will proceed more quickly, easily, and
IEP team members can use the
check-list in Figure 2
to gather information in advance and prepare themselves to
discuss the pros and cons of various suggestions that can arise
at the team meeting.
In order to keep the IEP team on
track, remember a few simple rules:
Communicate honestly, directly,
and to the point.
Make sure that everyone is
prepared to discuss student needs.
Teams that follow these rules are
more likely to end up with an effective and appropriate IEP for
If IEP teams can address problems
related to the factors that can interfere with full and
productive discussions, they can eliminate many of the things
that can go wrong at IEP team meetings. With these issues
resolved, the team can focus on the student’s IEP.
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