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Roger N. Meyer "...of a different mind "
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BEING BUSINESSLIKE AT THE IEP MEETING

The Parent Report

(With great credit to Pat Howey, Indiana Parent Advocate)

Copyright 2000 Roger N. Meyer

 

 

     [This article is an edited version of a post sent to a parent requesting information about being a professional participant in the IEP meeting.  This is a draft.  It rambles a bit, but the points may be more important than the organization for parents entering the yearly IEP formation months for the next school year.]

 

     The "parent report" is something you should have ready to hand to everyone at the meeting, and just like the material you expect to receive in advance of an IEP Team meeting, you should extend the same courtesy to members of the team by mailing or making sure they have your report available in advance of the meeting.  This does two things.  It really upsets their apple cart.  More importantly, it gives you a chance to have your material "on the agenda."  Just like everyone around the table, you should be given an opportunity to present and discuss your report.  You may not have time to go into it thoroughly at the beginning, but we'll get back to that below.

 

     Much of what you present depends upon documentation you may already have.

 

     Reports of your child's doctors, therapists, and any other specialists you have seen, and especially their recommendations and evaluations couched in language which educators can understand.  This means you may have to contact some of your specialists and have them write recommendations that connect your child's professionally documented needs with the educational implications involved if those needs are not met.  If your child has delays, not even necessarily "significant ones" in critical areas that will affect his or her ability to benefit from the general curriculum as well as the other activities children engage in at school, now is the time to have those needs highlighted, and in language that a sixth grader can understand.

 

     Remember, if you don't know what a recommendation means because it has been written in the argot of the professional, no one else will.  Half the time, people won't admit they don't understand.  But now is no time to let this happen.  Insist that your professionals make reports that read in common English.  If it is necessary to couch the report using "school-eeze," just make sure you know what the terms mean, and so does your professional.

 

     Observations of your family, relatives, care givers, and anyone else knowledgeable about your child are important additions to professional observations.  These are perceptions that cannot be challenged by the educators because they are perceptions based upon observations of others.  This is called "loading the report at the front end" and you can do it in the same manner the professionals on the other side of the table do it.

 

     With those reports, you can stress how your child behaves in other than school settings.  This may be important if the school claims it does not observe those behaviors while your child is in school, or if they have been observed, they are of no significance.  Submitting these observations in your report puts your child's behavior behavior in context.  Remember that your child isn't in "class" the entire time he or she is under their control.  There are unstructured times during bathroom breaks, hall transitions, lunchroom, recess, physical education, field trips, transportation and extracurricular activities.  All of these fit into the "mix" of "educational impact" because while the child is there, he or she IS under the control of the school, and that IS educational.

 

     Next, organize these documents by areas of functionality or needs.  What your organization accomplishes is the same thing that professional reports accomplish:  you high light each need and substantiate it by alluding to the reports and documents you have.  What you ask for at the conclusion of your report should follow from what you have presented before.  If there is no connection between a professional's finding and what you identify as a need, re-read your material, and edit your work

 

     Be prepared to add "tabs" and other official looking and functional organizing divisions for your report.  This means putting things where you and your reader(s) can find them through the use of tabs, appendices, exhibits, sections, charts, tables, correspondence, and other separate materials.  If you organize your report ahead of time, you will be much better focused at the IEP Team meeting.  Rather than repeating yourself when an item already discussed comes up, smile politely and say, "I have that covered in the 'X' section of my parent report at page 'Z.'"  If you are being deliberately led off track, remind the other person that the item has either been discussed in the meeting, is addressed on such and such a page of your report, or is about to be discussed.  Be polite but firm.  As long as you know where "you are," they know where you are as well.  Knowing "where you are" is very empowering.

 

     If the discussion in the IEP Team gets confused or unfocused, you can open your report, have them turn to the same section, and proceed.  Nothing works better than this approach, because it is "all business" and it indicates you know your stuff.  If you observe people dozing off, coming and going throughout the meeting, or otherwise attending to other things, you can make notes of this, and at the same time call attention to the behavior.  Remember, these are your observations, and the more factual your observation, without sarcasm or snide intonation, the more in charge you will be in a process they ordinarily control.  It is important to document these things because they become a part of a record that you may have to submit for other eyes.

 

     Your documentation may not have its intended effect on the school folks, but it may upon a hearing officer or a judge.  That person is your intended reader.  If you keep this notion uppermost in your mind, it will help you focus on what you need to include, and HOW you state your points.  Nothing looks worse than personal, irrelevant and irreverent comments either in a spoken OR a written record.  By preparing your report in advance, writing things down gives you a chance to cool off between drafts and return for clarity and with a lower state of agitation when you prepare your draft for the final edition.

 

     When taking notes at the meeting, note the words of the other party or yourself and/or the action, then tell them that you are writing it down.  By doing this, you are letting them know that you expect your notes to be included in your child's special education folder.  You can say this in a non-threatening manner, but in a factual manner by saying something to the effect:  "I notice that you have have said _____ and _____.  It seems we [are inagreement] or [we disagree].  I'll note that in my memorandum of this meeting and submit it for the record."  By doing this you will have done three things.  First, you will have written down what was said or done by yourself and others.  If you don't write it down, "it didn't happen."  Second, in announcing what you are recording, you are providing them a chance for correction or clarification, and not a few differences of opinion can be resolved right at this point.  Third, and most importantly, you have memorialized the event and will submit it for inclusion in your child's special education records.

 

     At the beginning of the meeting, if others haven't done so, you should place an attendance sheet out and have every person in the room sign it, indicating the time they signed in, their title, and if they leave early, to indicate the time they left.  This becomes your "official" record, and in a pinch, may have more probative value than something the school folks cobble together.  Each meeting should be considered a business meeting.  Certainly the special education representative considers it so, though it may not seem that way to you.  That person is the person authorized to speak on behalf of the district and is the person with the authority to "cut the check."  If you don't have such a person at your team meetings, the IEP Team is not properly constituted.  If someone comes to the meeting from the office of the decision maker and has to check "outside" or "later" with the decision maker, you will want to record that fact.  The "district representative" as such persons are called, must be in attendance at each IEP meeting.

 

     By now you should not be surprised to realize that a poorly facilitated meeting represents disorganization and general administrative incompetence.  If your prior meetings have been characterized by disorganization and power plays, there is a way to stop it.  They may be either used to it or know no difference.  You DO know the difference, and if you have left each prior meeting dissatisfied or worse, now is the time to do something about it.  One way of reversing the trend is for you to appear prepared and businesslike.  Using neutral behavior may be very difficult at first, and may require that you bite your tongue, but down the road you will be thankful for that temporary bit of discomfort.

 

     The same is true for what you say and how you say it.  Remember, people are like sponges, and some sponges take a long time to dry out.  Words or gestures thrown out in haste and in the heat of the moment will often come back to haunt you later.  Come dressed as the professional and be prepared, despite inclinations otherwise, to act like one.  Believe me, it gets easier with each meeting.

 

     In your own notes that you record at the meeting, do not report what people "think."  Instead, report what they say and do.  When it comes down to he says she says later on, your advance preparation and business-like record keeping may sway the decision of a hearing officer or judge.

 

     Remember, "if it isn't written, it didn't happen."  Get used to saying this to yourself as a mantra.  Try to keep this thought in mind every time you have a conversation or a telephone call.  Be prepared to record everything in writing.  By doing that the first time, you won't find yourself stumbling around last minute with a distracted memory trying to recall what was said a week ago, or even an hour ago.  Here I'm adopting exactly the same orientation of of Pat Howey.  I am trying to train you to write.  In the end and in every way, it's the written record that counts.

 

     Divide your report by your child's needs and by subject area.  If there are modifications required to the curriculum because of his needs, your report should show the relationship, starting with the documentation from others, a restatement of his needs, the school's category of core and secondary activities where that need must be addressed, their proposal, and the final outcome.  Have a place in your report for a summary which charts or tracks "progress" with respect to the addressing of each of the issues you bring in.  Before the team meeting is adjourned, you will want to take the time to summarize your "issues", the progress made, and note the things not addressed or not agreed to at the meeting.

 

     Do this in a matter of fact manner, with a straight face.  (Playing poker helps a lot.)

 

     About "issues."  Just as with everything else, you can't bring the kitchen sink in with you to every meeting.  They don't, although they may try in efforts to confuse you by adding one thing after another before closing discussion on issues.  You don't have to feed into that one by responding "off track."  It's a well-worn ploy, and it works every time the parent isn't prepared to "stay on track."  Your report will help you stay on track.

 

     Come prepared with a list of priorities, and work before hand to agree with your spouse and your child about what is most important.  The list of priorities starts with the critical needs as documented, identification of measurable and quantifiable goals to identify performance towards meeting those needs, and shorter, intermediate benchmark steps that are also objective and measurable.  Don't forget language in the report relating to regular reports on progress.  (This is a separate topic, but important to at least mention here.)  Stick to that list.  You will find that other members of the team will try to impose different items and assign their view of what is important.  This is to be expected.  Because you are an equal partner to the rest of the team, it's important that your agenda and priorities be identified, stated, and documented.  If you don't do that, you'll never have a sense of what went on in the meeting.  You have time before the meeting to determine your sequence of priorities.  Track what happens with each one as the meeting progresses, and try to keep the team on beam by addressing only one issue at a time.  It's obvious to you what things have to be accomplished first before other things fall into line.  Write them down.  In the hurry-burry of the meeting, these things have a way of getting "lost." Have your report and your list right in front of you and stick to it.

 

     If things get out of hand at the meeting, and they often do, be prepared to ask for a recess or a break.  They already have "taken" their breaks, mentally.  That's the advantage of having so many people at the table from their side.  You don't have the luxury of doing that while the meeting is in session, so ask for it, formally.  In fact, for the first few meetings if you haven't already done it, take off your watch, put it on the table right next to your report, and use that as your "timer."  Mentally note the time you think it takes for you to become oversaturated, and then anticipate that time by five minutes, and call your break then.  By doing this, you will always be "ahead of the game."

 

     Anticipate that things may get out of control.  The best way to do that is to recall the behavior of everyone you have met with in the past that you expect to be at the meeting.  Take the time before the meeting to make a thumbnail sketch of how you expect them to behave based on their past behavior, including that OUTSIDE of the meeting environment, and strategize, for each person, how you will counter that behavior, if it irritated you or kept you off balance.  In making such a list, you may discover that you've had allies in that room you haven't really noticed under the pressure of the event.  Now is the time to think of how to cultivate such persons, even if you haven't had one up to this point.  You don't have to "play" to that person, because they may not be the person speaking or in power, but it is important to note who that person is.  He or she may be useful to you in your in-between meetings and huddles, and may also be of use in a mediation or a hearing.  By documenting what each person says and does at a meeting (every important thing, that is), you will be preparing your attorney, if things come to that, for the process of deposing people and identifying witnesses, even hostile ones.

 

     Prepare a list of proposals based on the ordered sequence of writing your report.  Some things may "leap out" at you, while others may be more difficult to identify.  Enlist your child and other family members in the process.  Brainstorm in advance about the kinds of things you have found helpful at home or elsewhere in addressing behaviors or learning situations for your child, and carefully winnow down the list, coming up with options for each behavior or situation.  Use a genuine brainstorming process to come up with ideas:  allow the brainstormers to work without criticizing their contributions.  Don't arrive at the meeting with only one solution to any one problem.  That sets you up for the "My way or the Highway" confrontation, and you don't want to be there.

 

     Listing several options impresses yourself (to say nothing of others) that there are more ways than one to address an issue.  This means you have come there prepared to negotiate.  In such a list, always include "throw aways."  These are things which are nice, but not necessary.  They should be genuine, not phoney, but they should be available to cast on to the table as bargaining chips, perhaps as early as the beginning of the negotiating phase of the meeting.  Such behavior prompts others to realize that even if the process is a bit like bartering, they have to put something out of like value.  If they don't do it at all, or throw something out that obviously has little relevance, their own side will cringe at the patent stupidity of the "bargainer," and there may be a move to substitute another player in the first person's place.

 

     I've seen it happen.  They don't want to look foolish before their own kind, and they will often rearrange the players before your very eyes.  Having an advocate or friend in the room to observe this is very helpful, because you may miss it in the heat of the conversation and continue directing your attention to someone who has become a "non-player."

 

     Getting out of control:  It happens.  It probably has happened to you regularly which is something they are primed for and actually count on.  Don't let it happen.  Before the meeting, try to recall just what it is that pushes your buttons, and LIST this.  Put as many things on that list as you can, and if you have trouble thinking about them (and many 400% parents do), get your spouse or someone who knows you well to work with you on this list.  Once you have all of your buttons identified, think of ways to either protect them or wear zippers, if you know what I mean.  The whole trick to handling yourself is not to provide handles to other people.  This takes some advance thinking, but the time you take will pay off when you are under stress at the meeting.  You can be slick but palpable at a meeting, and if you pull this off, they'll find it harder in each succeeding meeting, to "get to you."  By remaining business like and coming in prepared to the meeting in as professional a manner as they do, you will gain respect not only from them, but from yourself.

 

     There are the table pounders and the red-facers.  We've all seen them.  Put on your sweetest face, and like a mom with a tantruming kid, think about what you do when you want your out of control kid's attention, and want it to stick.  Then imagine yourself in a church supper.  Think like a mom, but act like a diplomat.  It's perfectly OK for you to make a slightly dramatic gesture such as quietly putting down your pencil or closing your notebook, and face the fool.  In as sweet a manner as possible, such as you use when addressing a respected but tipsy relative at a family reunion, comment on the person's behavior:  "Now, now Mr. _________.  You seem to be getting upset about this.  Would you like to take a minute to collect yourself?  We can wait."

 

     Talk about taking charge.  Something like this really stops the train, because you've held your cool while their "leader" has lost his or hers.  You are the calm one.  You are the professional.  Perhaps not at this meeting, but afterward, there will be knowing smiles from directions you may least expect it, and you know you are then on your way to remaining in charge for each succeeding meeting.

 

 

Copyright Issues

 

This article is copyright, all rights reserved by the author, Roger N. Meyer.  It may be reproduced in single copy once for personal use, and in no more than ten copies total for educational purposes.  Fair Use is authorized for all purposes and under conditions established by US Statute and the International Copyright Convention, to which the United States is a signatory nation.  No person shall publish, distribute, copy, or by other means make this material available to others for purposes of personal gain or professional self-aggrandizement.  Individuals wishing permission to exercise other than fair use or limited distribution as outlined above must contact the author, in writing, and receive explicit written permission from the author prior to engaging in further use of this material.

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