“Should Your Child Attend His IEP Meeting?”
It depends. There are pros and cons. This in-the-know parent’s guide will help you decide whether to include your child in school meetings or save the IEP conversations for home.
Should my child go to his IEP meeting?
This was a common question that I used to field as a special education administrator. The question does not have a straightforward “yes” or “no” answer. However, there are several elements to consider before you decide on an appropriate answer for your child.
Before we dive in to those elements, let’s discuss the legal side of things. Your student is legally allowed to attend his or her IEP meeting at any age. Once a student turns 14, though, the school is legally obligated to invite a student to his IEP meeting. This means that the school must include the student’s name on the “notice of conference.” The parent, or the student, can still elect for him to not attend, though. Essentially, the parent determines if a student is going to attend the IEP meeting.
For many students, middle school is an appropriate time to begin attending IEP meetings. However, there are several factors that parents should consider as they make this decision.
Age or Maturity. How developmentally mature is your student? If your student is in middle school, that doesn’t mean you should automatically invite him to join an IEP meeting. Most elementary school students, and some middle schoolers, may not be emotionally or socially mature enough to attend a meeting. Younger students can usually get the information they need through an informal meeting with a teacher, parent, or both. If your middle-school child is more developmentally advanced, cognitively and emotionally, then you might consider allowing her to attend. A parent should consider a student’s ability to advocate for herself, as well as her cognitive and emotional capacity, when determining if the student should attend the meeting.
Knowledge about his IEP or disability. How much does your student know about his disability and his IEP? Is this meeting going to reveal new information to him? If so, then it’s probably not appropriate for him to attend. If students understand their disability and that they have an IEP, then it makes sense that they should be at the meeting. Otherwise, they won’t understand the purpose and the process of the meeting. This makes it more likely they will be confused or upset by the meeting, and less likely you will have the opportunity to have a productive and informative discussion. If you’d like your sixth-grade student to attend an IEP meeting for the first time, make sure you explain what it means, how it works, and what he can expect before the meeting takes place.
Type of meeting. The type of meeting that’s occurring can dictate whether or not a student should be there. Is it an initial evaluation or a three-year reevaluation? If so, it may contain some sensitive, uncomfortable, or confidence-shaking information for a student. A seventh-grader doesn’t need to hear the details of how he is performing at a third-grade level in reading and a second-grade level in math. In the majority of cases, this will not benefit the student.
On the other hand, if this is an annual IEP meeting, when the school staff will review present levels of performance, accommodations, and goals, there is less of a risk that your student will become upset or privy to an in-depth conversation that might be best addressed without her there. Regardless of the type of meeting, it is important to make sure that you understand the context and content of the meeting, and that you use that knowledge to decide if your student should attend.
Your agenda and tone. As a parent, you know what you are thinking and how you are feeling before you head into a meeting. As you prepare to attend a meeting, use your best judgment to estimate the anticipated tone of the meeting. I have worked with enough parents to know that some come in with a score to settle, some are frustrated and ready to vent, and others want to have a productive meeting. Depending on your agenda, your student might or might not benefit from being a part of it.
In general, an IEP meeting is not a zero sum game or an all-or-nothing decision when it comes to student attendance. You can pick and choose which parts of the meeting make sense for your child to attend. Most parents want their students to hear the accommodations and goals portion of a meeting, and often, schools will work with parents on this. There might be other portions that you think aren’t helpful for your student to hear — a discussion of his present levels of performance, for instance. In addition, if a student attends, teachers or other school personnel may water down these parts of the meeting to avoid hurting his feelings or dampening his confidence. There may be elements that you want to be able to discuss with school staff with complete openness and honesty. It makes sense to have the student nearby during the meeting, so you can pull her into the meeting room for the particular sections that you would like her to participate in.
By considering all these factors, you can make the right decision of if, and for how long, your student should attend the meeting. The intention is that it will be informative and productive for your child. So it is important that the student understand her IEP, her accommodations, and which goals she is working toward in school. In turn, having a firm grasp of these concepts allows her to become an advocate for her own learning and helps strengthen the relationships between the student and her teachers.