I’ve been to numerous Individualized Education Plan (IEP) meetings as a parent, and at the end of each one the school counselor hands me a little booklet. Inside are parents’ procedural safeguards under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Do you think I ever read that tiny book?
My son is JUST in preschool, I explained to myself. I’m a former educator with a Master’s Degree (like it mattered). I don’t need to read that book. I’ll look up specific questions if I have them, as I tossed it into the trash. It wasn’t until I started a year-long Special Education Advocacy Training through the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates that I realized the importance of the booklet and 3 words found inside.
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I learned that we parents can actually wield a lot of power at the IEP table. It often doesn’t feel like it. Most of the time it feels like the story of David and Goliath; me being the former and the cadre of school officials being the latter. But when things get hot, often parents only need to use 3 words: PRIOR WRITTEN NOTICE.
Parents often think they can shutdown an IEP meeting by refusing to sign the actual IEP. In most states, failure to sign means nothing. In the worst case scenario, an IEP immediately takes effect if you DON’T sign. Your signature doesn’t hold as much weight as you might think. And you can ALWAY revoke your signature… it’s not a permanent thing.
Instead, try using the phrase “prior written notice,” if you disagree with a specific aspect of the IEP process. Prior Written Notice means that when a school district adds, changes, or denies educational services to your child, they must explain to the parent in WRITING why the services are being added, changed, or denied. Now, that’s permanent. If the school district is denying your services, they most likely will NOT provide you prior written notice voluntarily – YOU WILL HAVE TO ASK THEM TO DO IT!
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This came in handy when my own son wasn’t even working on a functional communication goal we had set six months prior. I asked at Parent-Teacher Conference why the goal had yet to be addressed. The speech pathologist and teacher said they still had time. I argued in person and then via email for more speech time in the classroom to work on the skill. They politely pushed back. Then I called a meeting and used those 3 magic words, along with presenting research to make my case for more time.
Suddenly the IEP team took the matter more seriously. We walked out of the IEP meeting that day with more than double the speech time in the classroom. I was actually shocked by the lack of pushback after just threatening the use of “prior written notice” and presenting research. I was creating a paper trail of possible denial of services, and the school didn’t want that.
I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to know your rights under IDEA. Next time your at your child’s IEP meeting and they ask you if you’d like a copy of your procedural safeguards, say “Yes! I like to reread it often.” The tone of your meeting might just change right then and there.