IEP meetings can be stressful unto themselves. However, there is a difference between stress where everyone is working together for the good of the student and broken stress where the team is on one side and the parents and parent advocate are on the other side separated both mentally and physically by the table. This type of meeting is never fun!
The typical root cause of broken meetings
has to do with the way the team interacts and how many skeletons have been collected in the closet. These skeletons represent unresolved issues that have not been dealt with openly and honestly. The IEP team is much like a marriage where each member must have shared trust and respect along with good open and honest communication.
Note: The names have been changed and the story altered to share a point.
Scenario 2: The Ambush IEP Change
What is an Ambush IEP Change? An Ambush IEP Change is when one member of the IEP team suggests a radical change in placement, programming, accommodations, services, etc., for the special needs child in the first 5 minutes of the IEP meeting. Ambush IEP Changes are used by school district personnel or by parents and their advocates to catch other team members off guard and to push through whatever individual agenda is behind the suggested change. We use the word ambush to describe a situation where changes have not been even casually discussed prior to the IEP meeting and where the party hearing the suggested change for the first time is uncomfortable about the surprise request, or maybe even mad.
Alice and her husband Bob attend an IEP meeting for their 13-year-old daughter Jean. Alice had requested that Jean be moved to an alternative middle school program. The new program called for Jean to take one intensive class at a time and complete 90% of her work at home rather than attend school in a campus setting with five classes per day. The IEP meeting took place at the alternative program classroom, and Alice and Bob had looked forward to meeting the new IEP team members.
In the first five minutes of the meeting, the district representative said, “We need to remove the Special Factors/Accommodations pages that are attached to your daughter’s IEP. These factors and accommodations don’t apply to a home-school setting, OK? Can we agree on that?”
Shocked and surprised, Alice and Bob were not sure how to respond. The new district representative, someone they had just met, was requesting the elimination of 2 pages of hard-won special factors and accommodations for Jean.
What Alice is feeling:
Are you serious? I’m just supposed to agree to throw out Jean’s Special Factors/Accommodations pages because of a new placement? These things work for Jean, and she still attends a classroom. And yet, wait a minute, let me think for a second . . . she does complete the bulk of her work at home now, and maybe some of the accommodations don’t apply anymore. I’m just not sure. Should I go over each and every accommodation and special factor now? We have so much else to talk about at this meeting. The whole thing makes me uncomfortable. Why is the district doing this? And what if Jean needs to return to the middle school she just left? I have no guarantees of anything here. At least I can request that the pages be re-inserted if Jean needs to return to the campus. I don’t know what else to do and I don’t appreciate this big surprise.
What the district representative is feeling:
I just came out of a meeting about Jean with other district personnel and the district’s attorney. They are uncomfortable with the accommodations as written in Jean’s IEP because unless the home school program teacher implements the specific approaches, the district has some legal exposure. The home school program teacher has his own methods of reaching and helping kids like Jean. Plus, we really do believe the Special Factors/Accommodations pages are no longer valid because of Jean’s alternative placement. Jean isn’t in a classroom five days per week. She now attends a class only once per week and only for a short time. I need to get the parents to see the district’s point of view.
Alice and Bob agree that their daughter is in a new setting, but they are concerned about the wholesale elimination of accommodations that have helped Jean. How could this possibly benefit Jean? They make a request: If Jean needs to return to her previous campus setting, the Special Factors/Accommodations pages must then be re-inserted into Jean’s IEP. The district representative writes their request into the IEP notes. Alice and Bob are relieved they can move forward, but they have a lingering feeling of discomfort about how the meeting has progressed so far. They can’t help but wonder: Will they get ambushed again? Plus they know that their request to have the special factors and accommodations re-inserted in the IEP at a later date, if needed, is still open to negotiation. IEPs are fluid documents for both the parents and the schools.
First of all, Alice and Bob should ask the district representative a direct question: “How will this help my child learn?” or “What is the benefit to Jean’s education to eliminate her Special Factors/Accommodations pages?” Listen carefully to the response (or in some cases, lack of a reasonable response). The next day, Alice needs to write a letter to thank the IEP team for their time and include a recap of issues discussed/decisions made in the meeting. A short description of the reasons given for this radical IEP change and a description of any benefit (or no benefit) to the child documents the district’s reasoning for the change.
Second, a parent could move that the IEP team “table” (or put off the discussion until the next meeting) the suggestion to eliminate the Special Factors/Accommodations pages. If a parent does this, she needs to be clear that she felt she had no other choice. A parent might say something like: “I’m uncomfortable with this suggestion. This proposed radical change to Jean’s IEP was not even mentioned to me before the meeting, and had I been given time to prepare, I might have been able to discuss this with you now. I was not given time to prepare. I need to research this proposed change, so I move that we table this discussion until the next IEP meeting. Can we please move on?” Ask that the IEP notes reflect the team’s decision to table the discussion for the next meeting. Then do your homework and be prepared for the next meeting.
Let’s imagine that most of Jean’s IEP is finished, but Alice and Bob are still uncomfortable. They do not have to sign the IEP at that exact hour. Parents are well within their rights to take photocopies of the original IEP pages home and spend a few days going over them. A parent could say, “We’ve discussed so much here today. Please give me a photocopy to take home. I’ll go over it closely by myself. I need this extra time to be sure the program is appropriate for my child.” Plus, a parent can agree to some parts of an IEP while still negotiating on other parts.