“STOP the IEP Meeting, I Want to Get Off!”

Published on June 26, 2009 by Jennifer Laviano


As I near the end of a brutal IEP “Season,” I am humbled, once again, by how my clients do it.  It is one thing for me, whose job it is to represent them at these meetings and to make sure their rights are being protected, to feel overwhelmed and frustrated by how unfair the system is.  It is quite another when it is your own child!

Those who are professionally connected with special education must remember that their interest in an IEP Meeting for a student can not compare with the stake in the meeting that his parents have.

No matter how seriously one takes their career as a special education administrator, teacher, related service provider, or even advocate or attorney, the bottom line is:  this is not your child.  This is why I find it so offensive when I hear a school-based member of an IEP Team state:  “we care as much about her as you do.”  I’m sorry, but no, you do not!  Believe me, I care a lot about how IEP Team meetings turn out for my clients; I wouldn’t be in this line of work if I didn’t.  But that is very different from how I would feel if I were attending a meeting about one of my own children.

There is nothing wrong with that; in fact, very often my clients hire me because they need the support of somebody who is NOT emotionally invested in their child.

I actually represent and have represented many children whose parents are lawyers over the years, because these attorneys realize that they are not only unfamiliar with special education law, but that it is ill-advised to try to represent your own child in litigation.  Same goes for doctors and special educators.  I have had these professionals sit down with me and comment that they can’t believe how they have overlooked or forgiven or misunderstood their child’s needs, even though they should know better, simply because they can not see things clearly when dealing with their own children.

It is expected and responsible for parents to be emotional about their children!

Unfortunately, a week doesn’t pass in the months of April, May and June in my Connecticut law practice where I don’t see or hear a parent of a child with disabilities reduced to tears.  The end of the school year is miserable for my clients.  It’s hard enough juggling the responsibilities of parenting a child with special needs, but when you then have to gear up and prepare for their annual IEP meeting, especially if you are not in agreement with your district about what is appropriate, it can become overwhelming.

IEP Meetings can become “old hat” if you attend dozens of them in a year, but we should never forget that, for this family, this meeting is anxiously anticipated.

It seems trite to remind people that they should put themselves in another person’s shoes; but the reason this is an old saying is because it remains true.  As this particular school year nears an end, I think of all the IEP Meetings I attended where gamesmanship, pettiness, and resentment was on display among the school district employees, administration, or even counsel.  How much more productive those meetings could have been if some compassion for the family had been infused into them, and if the staff did not take a parent’s legitimate concerns about their child’s progress as a personal affront.

I believe many Annual Review IEP Meetings would go much more smoothly if everyone sitting around that table who is NOT the child’s parent asked themselves how they would feel if they were.

No doubt the tenor would change.  And probably the services offered in the IEP as well.

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