Beat the IEP Uptights by Being Prepared

Wait a minute. You’re probably saying to yourself that you have prepared. You have done your three-ring binder with all of the education records carefully placed into the right category. Each page in the binder has highlighted sentences, lots of sticky notes, statements that are sure signs of mischief on the part of the school district are carefully underlined – and double underlined .

Ok, but do you get a tight feeling in your throat, boiling blood, maybe a sagging feeling as you stick the keys in the ignition to drive to the school for an IEP meeting?

What else, you ask, is there to getting ready for an IEP meeting?

The Three Rs:

Respect for yourself;

Respect for Others; and


Respect for yourself

Why is it that most parents, in any setting other than an IEP meeting, have a tremendous amount of self respect? Why is it that their confidence and self respect seem to slide down the tubes the moment they get into the car to go to the IEP meeting?

“They make me feel stupid,” parents say.

Once, an attorney mother of a disabled child told me that she felt “stupid” at IEP meetings for her own child. How is that possible?

Simple: The special education language, the laws, the regulations, the school policies, and all of the other stuff that go along with special education administration seems so complex that learning how to navigate through it for a parent – any parent – seems impossible.

Here is the good news: Not only can you learn how to wend your way through it, you can also get results when results are justified. It is not easy, but it’s also not nearly as difficult as we first think. Cut this next sentence out and paste it on your bathroom mirror. Look at it every time you brush your teeth:

You are just as smart as anyone else sitting around the IEP table.

Respect for others;

Treat everyone with dignity and respect even when you think they don’t deserve it.

There are scads of explanations for why the method works. Most of us are familiar with phrases such as “what goes around comes around,” “Vibes,” “Good Karma-Bad Karma,” and so forth. Each of the phrases have something in common.

We human beings tend to treat others as they treat us. And, I might say, that treating others with dignity and respect begins long before you lay eyeballs on the school folks at the IEP meeting.

Maybe you have those mind bending one-sided phantom arguments in your head before the meeting. If you do, then you spend a lot of mental energy having a conversation with the folks on the school team – before the meeting even starts..

You might mentally call them ignorant, liars, or other colorful nouns and phrases. Do that, and you will have yourself whipped into a frenzy and ready for a fight by the time you arrive at the most important meeting you can ever have that will – I repeat – will affect your child’s ability to get an education for the rest of his or her life.

Ask yourself: Is it more important to “shove it up the other side’s nose,” or is it more important to get what your child really needs? I know what some are already saying: “I’m not going to kiss up to anybody,” or something to that effect. Treating another with dignity and respect has nothing to do with kissing up or bending over. It has everything to do with setting the stage for discussing your child’s education on a logical and reasonable basis.

Watch Court TV sometime. Notice how adversary lawyers address one another as Ms. Blah, Blah, Mr. Blah, Blah, Learned Counsel, and so forth. You should know that each of the attorneys would sell their own mother just to win an important case – and they ain’t kissing up to the opposition. They are using protocol and words as tools to win.

School folks count on you being hacked off when you arrive. That is the most common way they easily defeat parents and eventually get them out of their hair.

An old and true saying: The person who can make you mad is the person who can control you. On the flip side of that, the person you treat with dignity and respect is a person who cannot make you angry easily: you remain in control.

Responsibility for your child and your own actions.

Relying completely on someone else, or some entity, to provide what your child needs puts you in the weakest position you could possibly imagine. Your strongest position comes from deciding that you are responsible for your child’s education and your child is going to get whatever is necessary even if you have to pay for it yourself or develop creative ways of getting the needed services.

One mother I know in Oregon ran into a stone wall with the school system. Her son is autistic. She barely had enough income to survive. Each day her son was without services was a day forever lost to that boy’s chance at becoming independent. That mother beat the agency doors until she crafted a full program, including respite care, apartment rent, transportation, assistive technology, physical therapy, occupational therapy, ABA therapy, and too much more to mention here. The services were provided by Medicaid, other federal and state agencies that the school either did not know about or did not want to spend the time developing.

After more than a year of providing on her own, this mother again tackled the school with renewed confidence because she knew that regardless how the school acted, her son would get needed services. I cannot say that she met with 100% success with the school district. I can say that she was able to get a lot more from the school for her son than she ever did before.

Coordinating agency referrals and keeping all of the people continuing with her son’s services was not easy. This mother simply looked at it as the price she had to pay to see that her son had a decent shot at becoming an independent adult. Does she still get frustrated with the system? Yes, but she does not give in to frustration.

What she knows is that frustration can lead to passivity, and passivity leads to accepting “what is,” and accepting what is, leads to giving up.

“So,” you ask, “What is the magic? Is there a sure-fire way to get a good IEP – and get it implemented?”

No, because we are constantly dealing with human beings.  If you use the Three Rs formula, though, you will immediately increase the odds in your favor.

Author: Brice Palmer, Benson, Vermont.

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7 Responses to “Beat the IEP Uptights by Being Prepared”

  1. Kelly Casagrande says:

    My son went for his testing and was put on a 504 plan. We worked very hard together to get his grades up. He ended up failing Language Arts. I asked for help on more than one occasion and have the emails to prove so. I want the school to pay for his summer school which they have not even informed me that he is going to yet. I can’t dedicate this much time to his school. It’s hours and hours every day. I feel they need to start fulfilling there end of the agreement. I would like to know what my rights are?

  2. Brice Palmer says:


    The time to start planning to get a student ESY or a summer program through the school is during the middle of the school year. Why? Because doing it then will put your student on the “top of mind” list with the school people.

    That doesn’t mean you will get a summer program or ESY. What it does mean is you begin to prepare for the talks with the school long before the meeting is scheduled. ESY and summer programs are getting cut around the country. Yes, I know there are arguments about what the law is and so forth. But arguments based entirely on the law are not nearly as powerful and using the law as a tool, and not your only tool.

    Have you tried getting your son eligible for an IEP instead of a 504 plan? You didn’t mention what your son’s disability is. Too, I suggest that you look at the latest revisions of Section 504 and the Americans With Disabilities Act. You can find a lot of information about the changes on the Internet.

    Do you have an advocate who can help you with the ESY and summer program issues?

    I wish you well.

    brice palmer
    Benson, Vermont

  3. Jennifer Meyer says:

    I am looking for help with RTI and IEP and some other things. I have a daughter who is 13, going into 7th grade and not only do we have the IEP meeting but we also have the transitional meeting. I am having a hard time because I dont know all the laws and have been requesting a parent mentor and dont know which way to go to get her what she needs. She’s behind in every subject especially math. HER ETR updates are in the fall. I need some help. Thanks

  4. Brice Palmer says:

    The first thing to do is get a copy of your state’s special education regulations. You can probably download a copy from your state department of education website.
    Have you tried finding a mentor or volunteer from a parent information center near you? Generally speaking, the school your daughter attends should be able to give you a list of free and low cost advocacy help.

    I apologize for not being able to be more definite about giving you some direction for getting ready for your daughter’s IEP and Transition meeting. Your message does not have enough information for me to answer with specific suggestions.

    Thank you for your comment.

    brice palmer

  5. Dedicated Mom says:

    Hi. My son has had an IEP (for reading and math) since 1st grade and is now in 5th. Although he has certainly made progress, he is still way behind and I am very concerned we are running out of time; I feel if we don’t get him caught up by middle school we will ‘loose him’. I’d hate him to loose faith in school. I am looking for someone who can help me determine if his public school is doing the right thing by him. Should we simply add a private tutor? Change schools? Home school him? Who can I talk to that is impartial and can help me make the best choice for my child’s success?

  6. Brice Palmer says:

    Dear Dedicated Mom,

    It is difficult to say anything specific without being able to see your son’s IEP and see the latest evaluations. Do you know how to systematically analyze your son’s IEP? What kind of trouble is he having with reading, and what kind of trouble is he having with math?

    What category of disability did the school assign to your son when it found him eligible for an IEP? Is your son getting specialized instructions for reading and math? Is he receiving any related services?

    You didn’t say which state you live in so I’ll give you some general guidelines for finding someone impartial and who can help you make good choices for your son’s education and success.

    First, find an experienced advocate. By experienced, I mean one with at least 10 years of continuous experience working with parents and special education. It is also helpful to have an advocate who has experience working with Section 504. Ask any potential advocate for references. Talk to some of the parents the advocate has worked with.

    If you haven’t already, get familiar with the articles and help at Wrightslaw is the go-to place for information about all aspects of special education and advocacy.

    Thanks for your comment and question.


  7. Amanda Scott says:

    I have a 15 yr old daughter that has had an IEP since starting school. She is in the 10th grade now and per the school she is working on a 3rd grade level. Before starting this new high school she has always been A-B honor roll. She has always been in resource classes and had modified assignments and now this school says they don’t have resource classes nor do they modify the kids work when they get into high school. My daughter starts her homework as soon as she gets home in the afternoons, which is at 2:30, she stops just long enough to eat supper and get her bath, then she is back doing work until time for bed. She never gets finished with her homework, so it carry’s over to the next day. My husband and I have gone to her IEP meetings, spoken with the Principle, teachers and Counselors and have gotten no where. The school said to us, well the laws have change and she can be in school until she is 20 and that she can get a certificate for graduation but not a diploma. None of this is exceptable to us as her parents. She has been going to school since she was 4yrs old and to say well she can stay in school until she is 20. Totally unreal. We want the school to see that she gets what she needs NOW, we want her assignments modified to where she is able to complete them. We live in the state of Louisiana now, my husband is in the USAF so she has had to change schools a few times over the years but only once during the school year and we made sure that this was done between semester so that she wouldn’t miss anything. Please, Please can you tell us what to do for our daughter to get what she needs. We feel like we are beating our heads against a brick wall. Also the school says they have a room that she can go to if she needs extra help but it is not a full time resource class it is just for some extra help.

    Thank you
    Amanda Scott

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