First, never forget you are part of your child’s team. Who Is On Your Child’s Team? When you walk into an IEP meeting about your child, it may not always feel that way. Sometimes, it may seem like everyone else on the team has had conversations about their expectations for the meeting and you are feeling less than confident in your knowledge. If a draft IEP was created for your child, those prior conversations are very necessary. The only problem is that often, the parent is left out of these conversations. As the meeting progresses, you realize that you wanted a service, or goal, or accommodation that others on the team did not. In an ideal world, everyone on the team would give input and a consensus would be reached. A consensus is when, after hearing all of the information, everyone re-adjusts what they think is best for the child and everyone comes to an agreement. Please know there are people and places where this occurs. Where every adult puts their agenda to the side and really considers what is best for the child. However, more often, parents call us letting us know that a decision was made and they feel they had no input. We have even heard parents say that the other members of the team skipped entire sections of discussing their child’s IEP. If a decision was made with you in the meeting and you do not agree with it, you have several options.
Advocacy- If you know you are walking into a situation and you feel like you will not be heard or that you will not understand the lingo, bring an advocate. Someone who can listen to what is being said and help you navigate the meeting. This person should never make your decisions for you, but instead guides you and explains in parent friendly language what is being said.
Facilitated IEP- You can request a third, neutral party come to an IEP meeting. The school will fill out paperwork and submit it the state. A new IEP meeting will be scheduled and the facilitator will make sure the child is considered and not adult agendas. http://ec.ncpublicschools.gov/parent-resources/dispute-resolution/facilitation
Formal Written Complaint- You have the right to file a formal written complaint with the Department of Public Instruction. They will notify the school that you have done so. The investigator will encourage the school to come to a signed agreement with you. They will also conduct an investigation of all your complaints. The investigator will review all documentation regarding the complaint, hold interviews with those involved and could do a site visit. If the school is found non-compliant, a corrective action plan will be established. The school will be required to follow the corrective action plan or could face further sanctions. http://ec.ncpublicschools.gov/parent-resources/dispute-resolution/formal-written-complaints
Mediation- Anyone on the team can request mediation. A mediator will be assigned and will work to make sure everyone feels heard. They will work towards a written agreement on which everyone agrees. This is an informal meeting where everyone has the chance to be heard regarding the child’s education. http://ec.ncpublicschools.gov/parent-resources/dispute-resolution/mediation
Due Process-You also have the right to file Due Process. This will initiate a hearing based on your complaints and the resolution you would like to see. Both sides will be allowed to present evidence to an administrative law judge. More details, including a time line can be found here http://ec.ncpublicschools.gov/parent-resources/dispute-resolution/due-process-hearings
If you do not agree with a decision being made and you decide to move forward with any of the formal due process options (mediation, formal written complaint, or due process) “stay put” is invoked. This means the decisions made prior to the point of complaint must be followed. For example, if the Team decided to change your child’s placement from regular education to a separate setting, and you disagreed and started a formal due process, then your child’s placement will continue to be “regular” education.
As you consider which approach is best for your child’s education, always try to keep the lines of communication open with your child’s school. The first avenue recommended is to have an open and honest discussion with your child’s educators. Sometimes, just feeling heard and hearing their thoughts and opinions is all that is necessary. If you feel like you are not comfortable with the lingo, we recommend hiring an advocate to help you navigate the meeting. We also recommend the book, “From Emotions to Advocacy” https://www.amazon.com/Wrightslaw-Emotions-Advocacy-Education-Survival/dp/1892320096/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1476899427&sr=8-1&keywords=from+emotions+to+advocacy
Wendy and Christina