April 3, 2012
I attended an annual IEP review meeting today and it was not what I expected.
At the start of the meeting, the mother had not yet arrived so the district chairperson called her to see if she was on the way or if she would prefer to conference call in. The mother said she was on her way and would be there in 5-10 minutes. The group waited for the mother for about 20 minutes, and when she had still not arrived the session began without her. When the meeting had just about wrapped up, the mother arrived. She was welcomed in and the group summarized for her the purpose of the meeting, what had been discussed, as well as the decisions that had been made. I was surprised at the passive nature of the mother. She did not ask any questions or add anything to the conversation unless a question was asked directly of her. The group talked positively about her son, discussing his strengths and what they had planned to do to improve areas where he is struggling, but the mother did not add any anecdotal comments or anything. I general it appeared that despite the district and school personnel’s effort to make contact with her and inform her, she didn’t feel she had any say it what happened; that she was simply there to be told what the decisions were. I don’t know if this stemmed from the fact that she had been late and missed the meat of the discussion or if this is her nature, but it was a bit disconcerting to me that she simply sat quietly without responding to anything that was said.
With respect to the meat of the discussion, for the most part it was a fairly informal discussion about the strengths, areas for improvement, and necessary services for the student, but there was a slight formal air to the meeting as the chairperson seemed to use carefully pre- selected wording for introducing the purpose of the meeting and when moving from one topic to the next. The meeting began with a brief introduction by the chairperson as to the reason we had all gathered. She mentioned that this was an annual IEP review meeting in which we would discuss the strengths of the child, areas for improvement, the current services, needs for changes to the provided services, and a final determination of whether or not the current special education classification was still warranted. Next the student’s general education teaching talked about the student’s strengths and areas for improvement in the classroom, mentioning the effectiveness of small group work during class time but continued concerns for the student’s low reading level. Through this the general education teacher also mentioned recent improvements in the student’s behavior, noting a few areas in which some work could still be done. With this mentioned the special education teacher described the current behavior intervention plan (BIP) and how well the addition of this plan was working. Since this was a new document, the chairperson said she would add it to the IEP.
The meeting then progressed to a quick discussion of the current services and modifications provided to the students. The chairperson seemed to just read them off and wait for a head nod from the group in order to signify the need to keep that piece. These were things like extended time on classroom tasks, extended test time, tests read, tests administered in areas of minimal distraction. None objected to any of the mentioned services, however the general education teacher did ask for an addition of “directions simplified” for both classroom work and for tests. The group agreed that this would be helpful and so it was added. The discussion of the services, to me, seemed brief and sterile. The members of the group simply listened to the list and nodded when appropriate. There was no discussion of how that service or accommodation had helped the student, how the student might suffer without it or the reason why that was the proper service to remedy a difficulty. I seemed that, although all of the members of the group were certainly concerned with providing whatever the student needs to be successful, they didn’t find it important to discuss the rationale for the services. It is possible that this was implied as all of the members of the group were consistent members of the student’s IEP team, however, it would have like to see a bit more time and effort spent on actually re-evaluating the services.
The meeting ended with the team deciding that the special education classification was still appropriate and should be maintained. This again, seemed to be a formality; something that has to be done at the end of the meeting but that wasn’t given a whole lot of time in the discussion. This was a bit weird to me because, from my limited experience, the giving or maintaining of a label in special education is a big deal! To not give it more apparent consideration seemed odd. Despite the seemingly vague nature of some of the discussions, overall I got the impression that those in attendance had the student’s best interests at heart and that the decisions made were with the intention of supporting the student’s needs and continued growth and improvement.
In general, I was expecting something different. From discussions in classes at Warner I had the impression that these types of meeting were very structured, people bring and present evidence, etc. This was not the case! The special education teacher did bring some progress reports, an attendance record, and a copy of the IEP, but none of these documents were shared with the group or referenced throughout the discussion; they were simply handed to the chair person at the end of the meeting. I guess I was just surprised that it wasn’t a more formal atmosphere and that there wasn’t more to it… Obviously this was one IEP meeting, and they are likely not all the same, but I was expecting a much more structured, formal discussion of all the points of the IEP including comments and concerns from all parties. Lastly, I was saddened by the lack of participation by the parent. First of all, the mother was nearly 40 minutes late. If there was a meeting about my child, I would be there 40 minutes early! But besides that, she didn’t really interact with the group. She simply sat and halfheartedly listened to the comments and decisions without adding anything of her own. She seemed almost bored and put out by having to be there. It is discouraging that parents are either not invested in their children’s education or that the IEP process has worn them out so much that they show up just to sign their name. Neither is good, just sad.
What experiences have other people had with these types of meetings? I would love to hear!