9 Tips for Parents to Prepare for IEP Meetings

By Audry Gagnon

As we move into spring, planning for the next school year is in full swing. For many parents, this includes the IEP meeting, which may feel like an overwhelming process. Individualized Education Program meetings, or IEP meetings are intended to tailor your child’s education to their unique learning needs. Your child’s IEP team is responsible for creating a plan for your child’s education to design supports and provide services to help your child succeed. This team is typically made of up of the student’s parent(s) or guardian(s), the student’s general and special education teacher(s), a school or district representative, and other related service providers. Under IDEA students receiving special education or related services must have an IEP and that IEP must include certain information, however there is no one-size-fits-all method so your child’s plan will be the best fit for your child.

It can be overwhelming as a parent new to the IEP process to jump in and feel like you are making valuable contributions to a successful plan. However, it takes all voices involved in the student’s education to create a plan where the child is fully supported and on track for success. After all, you are the one who knows your child best. Here are some tips to help you prepare for the IEP meeting and help the process run more smoothly!

Before the meeting:

  • Get to know the other members of your IEP team. As a parent, it is important to get to know your child’s teacher to help ease any worries about how your child is supported while in class. Your child’s teacher might not know your child as well as you do, but they have their best interest at heart and a positive relationship can ensure that your child’s needs are being met. The same goes for other members of your child’s team. Teachers only see the child while they are at school and a parent’s perspective would provide other helpful information into their background and life outside of school that could the team find a perfect fit when it comes to the education process.
  • Plan ahead and write down any notes you might need for the meeting. It does not hurt to familiarize yourself with the purpose and format of the IEP process to make sure nothing gets overlooked. You will want to make sure you don’t forget to mention anything important that the team might not have thought of otherwise.
  • If you have any private evaluations or other paperwork you would like shared with the rest of team, send copies of the reports to the team ahead of time to give them time to familiarize themselves with the information. If you can, bring extra copies with you to the meeting as well to be able to refer back to any information included within them. You should also expect to receive a draft IEP and any relevant assessments or evaluations from the school ahead of the meeting. Check with your school to review their policies on when these documents are expected to arrive!

During the meeting:

  • Remember as a parent you are an integral, and legally required, part of the IEP team. As a parent it is important to be comfortable in the meeting to ensure that you can more actively participate. As a teacher, it can be extremely important to help create that welcoming atmosphere so everyone can fully understand and develop the plan together. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or have someone explain any terms or processes you might not understand. Remember educators sometimes have their own language that others outside the education field are unfamiliar with. You will appreciate being able to fully understand any ideas you are trying to convey and it will help to create a more positive environment.
  • Find a way to ensure the discussion stays focused on your student. As a parent or teacher, it can be frustrating when a team member only refers to your student in terms of data or the limited observations they have during the school day to support their opinions. It is important to take in what they are saying but also share your own perspective. Their opinions are just as valid as your own and it is important to see the big picture as assessments contribute to the overall measures of success on your plan.
  • Do not be afraid to ask questions or seek clarification on what is being said. You can ask to bring a friend or advocate with you to the meeting to not only support you but be another set of ears to understand what is being said. You should inform the school if you intend to bring anyone with you ahead of time. The school will tell you if they have any specific policies in regards to these meetings. You can also take the IEP home with you and review it later to see if you have any more questions.

After the meeting:

  • Talk to your child about what was discussed during the meeting in terms they will understand. Depending on their age, they may have attended the meeting with you. Federal law requires that the child be included whenever transition services are being discussed, usually beginning by the time the child has turned 16. Discuss any goals or objects for the coming year and review the progress they have already made. This will help the child understand the process and will be able to continue to make decisions about their education as they grow into adulthood.
  • Keep the IEP in a place where it can be referred to if any concerns should arise. Keep track of any important dates and when you should expect to receive reports on the child’s progress. If any concerns should come up either after the meeting, write them down and return that with the unsigned IEP so the team can meet again and address those concerns. You can also revisit any information on the IEP at a later time with members of the team to reevaluate the plan.
  • Do not be afraid to keep in touch and develop a relationship with the team members and anyone else who regularly interacts with your child. They can share their observations with you and offer tips to help reinforce at home the skills and strategies they are being taught in school. They will also be aware of any discrepancies in your child’s plan.

Most importantly, don’t forget to breathe. The IEP process itself might seem daunting, but it is important to remember that your child’s team has your child’s best interests at heart. They want to see your child grow and succeed just as much as you do. It is important to always presume positive intent when it seems like the team is saying something that you do not feel will be beneficial to your child. Your voice matters in this process. Your vision for your child matters in the process. Your knowledge about your child matters too and it is important to share what you know with the team. Speak up when you feel like your opinions, your culture, your voice is not being heard and help the team to craft an IEP that will give your child the most success.

For more about the process and your child's IEP visit