By Amanda Dodge • October 12, 2022

How to Involve Parents in IEP Development and Beyond

Students who qualify for special education services will receive an individualized education program (IEP) through the school. These programs are based on the idea that no two students are the same. One student with developmental disabilities might need different services than another, which means the school can’t make assumptions based on specific diagnoses or previous students with similar conditions. 

IEPs are good news for parents. They are allowed to be part of the recommendation process and can advocate for the specific needs of their kids. However, some parents disagree with the recommendations of the school. They know what their child needs and what resources should be provided to them. 

There are multiple ways to involve parents when setting IEP goals. Here are a few best practices for your school.

parent helping student

Focus on the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE)

The concepts of IEPs and LREs were developed under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). This law ensures students with developmental and learning disabilities receive a quality, free, and public education that is tailored to their individual needs. Focusing on the least restrictive environment is one way to align yourself and parents with IEP goals. 

In most cases, the LRE for students is the general education classroom. Students with disabilities can learn, play, and eat alongside students without disabilities. A more restrictive environment might mean spending time in a special education classroom for part or all of the day. Furthermore, a student who spends an hour in a special education classroom to improve their reading is in a less restrictive environment than a student who spends all day with their special education peers. 

Consider how students can learn in the LRE for their specific needs. Not every student needs to leave the classroom, especially if there are other ways to provide accommodation. Some schools can provide learning aids that sit with students in the general classroom. This allows students to learn alongside their peers while still receiving assistance. 

Both students with disabilities and their peers benefit from sharing a classroom. Students with disabilities can improve their social skills and feel connected to their peers. Students without disabilities can learn that people with learning and developmental differences are just as welcome in their friend groups, workplaces, and other communities.

Review the Progress the Student Has Made Over the Year

Schools and parents review IEP goals annually. During this time, the school and teachers will evaluate the current accommodations provided to students and consider whether anything needs to be added or removed. IEPs are goal-oriented. This means all parties involved hope the student makes progress to continue learning in a new LRE. 

Start your IEP meetings by reviewing the goals set during the past year and how the student worked toward them. These could range from common core goals (advancing a reading level) to self-sufficiency goals related to self-regulation. If a student is able to use self-regulation techniques more each year to avoid overstimulation and prevent self-meltdowns, this may be considered progress which leads to fewer necessary accommodations. 

Parents are understandably protective of their students. They might be wary of any changes and unsure why you would recommend them. They might take offense to reduced accommodations if they are caused by a lack of resources in the school. Parents also might not accept additional accommodations if teachers feel like the student needs to be in a more restrictive environment. 

These discussions may get heated. Start by looking back on the past year and then reviewing the new goals you want to set. How can both parties agree on an IEP to reach these goals? 

Let Parents See Different Accommodations in Action

IEP descriptions can sometimes be vague and full of jargon. It’s hard to understand what accommodations students are receiving and what their options are. This whole world of special education services can be overwhelming for parents of newly-diagnosed students, who might be experiencing the IEP process for the first time. 

Consider inviting parents to visit the school ahead of an IEP meeting to see the different accommodations that your school offers. Because no IEP has been proposed, this is not an official appointment. During this time, parents can compare the general education and special education classrooms. They can meet school aids. They can have a hands-on experience with different resources. This process will make parents more informed about their options and empowered when setting IEP goals. 

Consider Involving the Student in Discussions of IEP Goals   

There are multiple ways to involve students in IEP meetings, whether they attend in person or not. Yes, students can attend their own IEP goals meetings. However, it is up to the parents to determine whether this is appropriate. Here are a few additional ways to involve students:

  • Encourage parents to talk to their kids. What do students like about the general education classroom? Do they feel like they have enough support? Student input is key when setting IEP goals. 
  • Bring work from their portfolio. Select some of their best pieces and highlight non-academic achievements and hobbies during the meeting. 
  • Ask the parent to bring a framed photo of the student. This reminds all parties about the focus of the meeting and who they are discussing. 
  • Invite the student to attend. If the student can’t sit through the entire meeting, ask them to attend for 5-15 minutes, either to introduce themselves to the administrative team or provide feedback on changes to the IEP plan. 

In a large school, it's easy for administrative teams to get caught up in multiple IEP meetings and tasks. These steps remind everyone that there is a child behind the IEP recommendations who wants to learn but needs a little extra help.  

Provide Resources to Parents

Before you schedule a meeting to review IEP goals, make sure parents have the resources they need to become advocates for their kids. First, send home a packet with IEP guidelines and rules. This packet can also include an IEP worksheet for parents to fill out that describes their accommodation goals for their students. Parents can review all of this information before the meeting so they arrived ready to contribute to the discussion.  

Additionally, let parents know that they can legally request a facilitator or moderator for the IEP meetings. These are objective third parties that walk everyone through the discussion process. Facilitators ensure everyone has a chance to be heard and that the IEP is reviewed in detail, without skipping any sessions. 

Some IEP meetings will become heated – especially if parents and schools disagree on the needs of the student. A moderator can help both parties reach an agreement.  

Set IEP Goals Without Parent-Teacher Conflict 

Parents, teachers, and admins need to work together to set IEP goals for students that need accommodation. The right learning environment can be challenging for students without overwhelming them. This can be rewarding for all parties as they watch students grow. Follow these steps to assure parents that you are on their side. You can help them secure resources for their child while creating a positive classroom environment for all students. 

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