Why the Parent shouldn't be the Expert in the IEP meeting

I know you are already thinking that you ARE the expert in the meeting. This may be true, I don't doubt it, but here's why you don't want to be in that position. If this is where you find yourself and you're spinning your wheels, here are some tips to the reinvent the way you advocate for your child's educational needs. Consider the points and if you have been designated as the know-it-all parent by your IEP team.

You are in the parent role on the IEP team

One fact I share with clients is that advocates hire attorneys and attorneys hire advocates- to represent their child with a disability. Is this because they are not good at what they do? No, it's because they are viewed as "the parent" by the school personnel. Remember that the team is: the parents, a regular education teacher, a special education teacher, a representative of the district, someone who can interpret evaluation results at a minimum (there may be related services providers that are necessary). Reasonable questions that you ask about any part of the IEP process can be seen as a challenge by the school team - which is, individuals who represent their roles. The school psychologist may not appreciate you disputing his/her findings and recommendations. This is so unfair you say, and no-one listens to your contribution at meeting after meeting. What's next?

Empower your IEP team

So how do you work from this disadvantageous position? How can you empower people who seem to hold all the power in the first place?

1) Ask powerful questions OF them

If you are telling the school what to do, you are not asking them to own the solutions to problems with your child's IEP. If you ask why your child is not making progress, an IEP team member will formulate an answer that shows the rationale behind the response. Sometimes, they do not have an answer, or any reasons prepared, which is a great opportunity to brainstorm on the solution.

2) Have a third party attend and ask the questions

This strategy may be too emotionally charged for you to follow through, but it can work very well if the third party understands the issues at hand. Have a friend, neighbor or relative attend a meeting with you. You may bring individuals that have special knowledge about your child. Take the pressure, and the focus, off your disagreements. I have seen very effective grandmothers secure services!

3) Assemble a team of private providers

Establish an alternative narrative when you are in disagreement with the IEP. An advocate can ghost write emails for you. Advocates can also advise on crafting effective letters, to be provided by physicians, that support what you are asking for. These providers can also participate by phone or any other virtual means if they agree to participate. This parent information becomes your "team of experts" and again deflects from you making requests. Now you have credentialed and licensed individuals making requests. Additionally, all parent information has to be considered for IEP construction.

4) Give credit where it is not due

One story that I like to share is when my son was transition age. His transition plan was inadequate so I talked with Disability Rights Texas and they helped by providing me with resources to write an appropriate plan. I wrote and shared the plan with his ARD committee (IEP team). They were not willing to incorporate it into his IEP, but offered to consult with the Regional Center transition expert. After she assessed what I had written, we reconvened the meeting. The ARDC showed me "what they had come up with." it was the same transition plan I had written with a very small graduation tweak. I thanked them for their hard work and we implemented the transition plan!

Remember that your end goal is the secure the most appropriate education for your child. These tips are not easy to execute, but give them a try before you hire someone. If you need help reach out.

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Virginia Spencer,  M.Ed.,


(630) 251-5658

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