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5 Tips to Help with IEP Negotiations

Parent IEP negotiating for childIf your child qualifies for special education services, you will be a member of your child’s IEP team.  You and the rest of the IEP team will attend at least one meeting a year – an IEP meeting – to devise your child’s IEP – or Individual Education Program.

Your child’s IEP team will include a special education teacher, an administrator and, if your child receives instruction in a general education setting, one general education teacher.  Other professionals that may be on your child’s IEP team include additional general education teachers, school psychologists, school counselors and learning specialists.

As the parent representative at the IEP meeting your role is single in purpose:  to advocate for your child.  This becomes especially important if you believe what the IEP team proposes is not in the best interest of your child.

If you disagree with recommendations presented during an IEP meeting, you have now entered into an IEP negotiation.  When this happens, as difficult as it may be, your role as your child’s advocate requires you to negotiate on their behalf.  Negotiating may not be something you do often, certainly not under the pressure of something as important as your child’s education.  If you find yourself in this situation, here are five things you can try to help you be successful during an IEP negotiation.

5 Tips for Successful IEP Negotiations

Move Your Thinking to a Position of Positive Strength

You are may be the only layperson in a group of professionals that specialize in working with children, and that can be intimidating.  What you need to remember is you are the only one at the table that specializes in – your child.  What you may lack in professional training, you more than make up for with personal experience with your child and your unique ability to have your child’s best interest as the only motivation of your negotiating stance.

However, because it is your child, your stakes and your emotions may run higher than the other IEP team members.  This can be a disadvantage.  Controlling your emotions becomes critical when you enter and IEP negotiation.

If you cannot contain your emotions and re-frame your thinking, ask to reschedule the meeting.  You need to do this not only to negotiate successfully, but to protect your relationship with the other IEP member.  These are the people that will work with your child on a daily basis.  You don’t want to jeopardize these relationships.

If you feel too emotional to calmly resolve differences of opinion, let the IEP team know you need some time to get your emotions under control so you can be a productive IEP team member.  Only when you believe in your strength as your child’s negotiator and have acknowledged and controlled your emotions will you be ready to negotiate your child’s behalf.

Listen

As your child’s negotiator you first need to be a detective.  Ask open ended questions, stop talking and listen.  Why have they made the recommendation?  This is a group of professionals experienced with the IEP process.  Be open to their ideas and work to understand the thinking behind their recommendations.  In addition to gaining a better understanding of how the IEP team views your child and your child’s needs, listening first does two key things: the IEP team feels respected because their professional opinion has sought out and heard and it helps build their trust in you as a person willing to understand their point of view in order to find a solution.

Look for Common Ground

Listening first should have supplied insight into the IEP team’s motivations which hopefully has areas that align with yours.  Make a mental note of those items so you now have your list of “gives”.  This becomes important in negotiating a final solution.  You will need to give in order to get.  Having a list of gives that you are comfortable with increases your chances of negotiating the best possible outcome for your child.

Move Toward a Win-Win Situation

You now know why the other IEP team members want what they want, and you also know where you can give consent to the IEP team without hurting your own position.  Now is time to counter offer and when you do make sure you ask broadly.  Your goal here is to give the other IEP team members opportunities to find common ground with your position and a broader ask makes this easier.  It also set you up to trim down what you have asked for as you move toward a final solution.  You are working toward an outcome you both can agree with that still meets your child’s needs.  Broader thinking can give you negotiating room and depending upon the IEP team dynamics, may even move the group toward a creative and mutually agreeable solution.

You Can Get Up and Walk Away

No parent wants to be “that” parent.  That difficult parent.  We all want to be liked and we appreciate the professionals that work hard for our children.  Unfortunately, there are times where the best interest of an individual child and the best interest of the educational system do not align.  If you are unable to negotiate an agreeable compromise, as your child’s advocate it is your responsibility to become “that” parent – you can respectfully end the meeting – you can literally get up and walk away.

If this happens your best course of action may be to seek an outside professional to assist with your IEP negations.  When an IEP team hits an impasse it becomes difficult for all IEP members.  An impartial third party who is an expert on the IEP process should be able to help protect your child’s interests while also helping your child’s IEP team move to a resolution.

However your IEP negotiations progress, protecting your relationships with the professionals that work daily with your child is almost always your best course of action.  Being respectful and fair to all IEP team members, including yourself, helps the IEP team work in good faith to find the accommodations and support your child needs to fully realize their academic potential. And that is truly the biggest win-win situation of them all.

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