IEP Dance

The phenomenology of IEP meetings can leave your head spinning.

Meetings are held early, noon, or late. It’s extra work for several. There are late arrivals, and parents do cancel at the last moment. No two meetings are exactly alike. Members zip in and are thankful for good organization and someone with a cheerful greeting. Parents like a friendly welcome among strangers.

The administrator keeps things rolling, takes notes, and makes sure all papers are distributed and signed. The paperwork is the most important parts of the meeting. Parents are hurriedly told about their rights and light jokes are made about “all those pages.” The facilitator will push the meeting forward toward completion.

The regular classroom teacher has many children and this is only one. She might not say much unless asked unless she wants the child placed in special education. Then she can become an advocate for placement. If the child leaves her room, it makes her day a little easier unless scheduling problems arise.

Small talk oils the process.

The evaluators – PT, SLP, psychologist, OT — make brief reports that signal the direction the meeting will take. Will the child be placed or not? Will the child continue to be placed or not? Members listen to presentations carefully to hear what the data say. Evaluators must speak with some authority, and for some who know little about IEP meetings this carries weight. A good presentation pushing the meeting toward placement is well received.

Special education teachers often have many comments about behavior and performance. Their opinions about placement tend to be stronger than some participants. They play an important role in completing the educational plan, including giving reports on academic performance skills.

Most parents do not say much. Some seem happy for the help. Some want to be heard about the parenting difficulties. Experienced parents might negotiate IEP fine points. A few will be emotional. Not many parents will stand up to the team for what they want. They try to avoid conflict unless they are experienced, confident or well-connected in the community.

There is the impression of team members wanting everything to go smoothly to finish up quickly. Disputes tend to be resolved fast, and when they continue school members tend to support one another. Sometimes teachers lend support to parents. Solidarity trumps originality.

It stands out that there is little in-depth discussion of the child’s true needs, or creative ideas about how IEP goals can be reached. Seldom is least restrictive environment discussed openly. Parents somehow internalize a preference for MOST RESTRICTIVE ENVIRONMENT in their rush to help their children. Stigmatization is is never brought up at IEP meetings.

There is little cross talk. For example, it is unlikely the SLP will say to the special education teacher, “Do you think Angela can spend more time in her classroom this year, considering her reading scores have advanced nicely? Or the teacher to the psychologist: “I’m not sure how we can improve short-term memory for following directions when Casey is taking a test.”

In many cases the IEP team is not really a team. In larger schools each meeting throws together adults who may know each other a little or not at all. Cohesion is rare. And parents are unknown persons.

Efficiency is high, creative problem-solving low. Fear of lost time, disputes and paperwork errors are pervasive unspoken elements of the IEP meeting.

The historic evidence suggests that such teams make errors in their deliberations. Thousands of American school children are improperly placed in special education. It is fair to say that FAPE is a non-issue for most IEP teams except for that which is determined by paperwork formats.

Yet it is true most IEP teams are comprised of wonderful, hard-working cordial people whom one would like to have as neighbors.

Schools have simple cost-free solutions to reduce over-subscription. In August the special education director can write a memo to the staff: “Let’s cut down on the number of non-disabled children we put in special education this year. We’re off the mark. We need to drop about 15%. Let’s try to be more selective and pass the time on to the children who really need us.”

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