Children Attending Their Own IEP Meetings: It is NOT Mandatory

As children get older, particularly when they enter middle school and high school, the school may start inviting your child to their IEP meeting. BE CAREFUL! I don’t think it’s always the wisest move to invite a child into an IEP meeting. Think about it: Most adults are intimidated by IEP meetings, what makes us think a child wouldn’t be as well?

Actually, it could be worse for a child because they don’t understand the terminology or the context of the discussion. As one middle schooler told me, “It was horrible. The principal and all my teachers sat there and told me how I could do better, how I wasn’t working hard enough and I was a behavior problem. They pretty much told me I was a bad kid.”

Your child does NOT have to attend their IEP meeting. The school has to invite them to participate, but they cannot force them to attend. It is your decision whether or not they participate. My recommendation? Only under extreme circumstances, and only in a very well controlled environment, should a child attend a meeting. Make sure the questions for the child are predetermined and the amount of time the child is in the meeting is minimal – 10 to 15 minutes – and then they’re out.

Be Careful About Giving Permission For The School To Contact Your Child’s Medical Professionals

Many times the school will present you with forms for you to sign giving them permission to contact your child’s pediatrician, specialists, or therapists. They may tell you they would like to talk to these professionals to better understand your child’s diagnosis, behavior, or therapy care plan. Their intent to help may be genuine, but when you give others permission to talk to medical caregivers, you could be giving them permission to get information you really don’t want them to have. Here are a few real life examples:

When one mom gave her permission to the school personnel, they called the child’s psychologist to get information. During the discussion the doctor told the principal that he felt “the mom needed psychiatric help…not the child.” Yikes!

Another time, the parent gave permission for the school to contact the doctor’s office but only for information in one subject area. Well, the new medical receptionist who took the records request was so glad to be able to help, that she copied everything in the file – including the child’s drug history the parent did not want the school to know about! The receptionist sent all the documentation to the school.

Yes, what the doctor and receptionist said/did was wrong on so many levels, but the fact is this stuff happens. What should you do? Do not sign the forms. Instead, try to get the the school to give you a list of the information they want, and YOU can contact the doctors and get the information from them. When you get the documents you can review them before you turn them over to the school and you stay in control.

The Importance of Prior Written Notice: Know Who’s Coming to Your IEP Meeting

The school must tell you in advance who is coming to your IEP meeting. The titles of attendees should be listed on the meeting notification form that the school is required to send you within a reasonable timeframe before the meeting. If the actual names of the individuals are not listed on the form, I would send the form back and ask to know who specifically is coming. Technically, the school does not have to tell you the actual names of the people attending, just their titles. However, don’t let that stop you from asking. For example, it’s not enough to know “Area Administrator” – you want to know that it’s John Smith, Area Administrator.

Similarly, if the form states “Occupational Therapist” don’t assume your child’s OT will be the one in attendance.  Sometimes the actual therapist cannot make the meeting so another therapist will come in their place and read the therapy notes. As a parent, I want to talk to the actual therapist who is treating my child, not a substitute.  Make sure you make this known when the meeting day and time is established.

If someone comes to your IEP meeting and they were not listed on the meeting notice, you do not have to allow them to stay in the meeting. There have been cases where a parent walks into an IEP meeting and there is a table full of people the parent never expected.  You do not have to allow them to stay.  You can ask them to leave and they have to leave.  

One final note: While the school must inform you of who is coming to the IEP meeting, you do not have to tell the school who is coming with you. If you are bringing an advocate or a child’s private therapist, you don’t have to let the school know. Some parents like to tell the school in advance, others don’t. It’s up to you.