Participation in the IEP: The Parent's Important Role

As a special education advocate and attorney, I am frequently asked “What is the most important thing I need to know about my child’s IEP?” My answer is that the IEP must be individualized to meet your child's unique needs. But the only way to assure this is through parental participation.

Education is one of the most important experiences in your child’s life. Education is the foundation that will foster your child’s continued growth long after she has completed her school experience. Participation in your child’s IEP gives you the opportunity to help shape your child's future in positive ways. Congress deemed this right so important that the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”) guarantees you equal participation in your child's IEP. This means the law empowers you to contribute to the educational decisions that affect your child.

You are your child’s best and natural advocate. The law recognizes you have a special expertise when it comes to your child’s needs, interests, strengths, and weaknesses. This special expertise must be carefully considered by the rest of IEP team.

The school district has limited experience working with your child. Your child attends school for only part of the day. Over time, your child's teachers and schools will change. Because the people working with your child change, your child’s educational records (such as grades, progress reports, teacher's comments, etc.) may be the only source of information for the new IEP team. But your child's written record does not tell the whole story about your child. School records frequently miss information about your child's true strengths, weaknesses, likes, dislikes, how he or she learns, etc. Therefore, it can be very difficult for the IEP team to determine how to best meet your child’s needs unless you are there to "fill in the gaps."

When you get involved in your child’s IEP, you increase the probability that your child’s unique needs will be met through proper programming and services. How? Because as an equal participant, you are in the best position to identity problems as they develop and catch mistakes before they have a negative impact on your child's education. Active involvement also leads to positive results because you build healthy relationships with your child's school.

You can help the IEP team create the goals, programs, and services that will ensure that your child grow to his full potential. If you’ve hesitated to get involved in the past, now is the time to start. It’s never too late to participate. If you’ve felt like an outsider in the process, remember that you’re an equal partner in the IEP team! You will never regret the positive impact your participation will have on your child’s future.