Innocent Until Proven Guilty – Putting the Team in IEP Team

11 Mar

Today at the monthly meeting of all the speech pathologists in my school district the Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) specialist for our district came to give us information about the process. Basically, the ADR process kicks in whenever an IEP team and a student’s parents have come to a standstill and cannot agree on some aspect of the IEP. Then the ADR team reviews all the information and meets with the parents to try to resolve any issues. Not every district has this type of a process and those that do probably have different methods so I won’t go into detail but the topic made me think of how to avoid the need for an ADR in the first place!

In my career, I have been involved in many IEP meetings with the vast majority being very positive and constructive. I think there are a few keys to setting the stage for positive IEPs where both parents and educators feel like equal members of the team.

  • Remember you are all on the same team – opinions and ideas may differ but everyone’s goal should be what is best for the student, do not get caught up in personal agendas
  • Maintain open communication about the student all year long – springing surprises on teachers or parents about a student’s progress or possible changes is never a good idea
  • Remain open to ideas and solutions – both sides need to maintain an open mind and be flexible, one of the best thing about having multiple IEP team members (including parents) is that they can all bring their own knowledge of the child to the table to help come up with the best plan
  • Solicit input on possible IEP goals prior to the meeting – educators and parents can both provide ideas for areas of priority or concern so that the most important areas are sure to be addressed
  • Educators provide reports to parents ahead of the meeting and parents take the time to review reports prior to the meeting – this allows for parents to identify questions they may have and soak in some of the information instead of having oodles of jargon and numbers thrown at them in the meeting
  • Do not wait until the annual or triennial IEP date to address problems (or positives!) – if something is not working do not wait months and months to address it; in the same vein if things are going really well don’t wait until the next IEP date, meet again to make new goals or make changes (and celebrate!)

Unfortunately, these ideas are often much easier to say than do. As educators, we have to walk a fine line between what our compliance departments require (shouldn’t be the case but that’s how things are in public education these days) and what we might do outside the constraints of public education. Despite that I feel that it is a very realistic expectation to have the IEP process be a positive experience for both educators and parents if both sides work together as a TEAM!

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