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Preventing Conflict During the IEP Process: Julie Weatherly, Esq.

Every quarter, CASE’s In CASE publication shares news with members about the organization, as well as important trends and topics in the special education field. In the July-August-September issue of In CASE, special education legal expert Julie Weatherly, Esq. wrote an article for the Legal Update section titled “Avoiding Adversarial Relationships with Parents of Students with Disabilities: A Few Tips to Consider.

In the article, Weatherly references her experience creating the “LEArn & LEAd” special educator training program to provide tips to educators to help reduce legal disputes with parents while increasing IEP development and implementation compliance. Although the LEArn & LEAd program itself was created for educators who serve as LEA Representatives at IEP meetings, the three tips Weatherly provides in the article are useful for any educator involved in the IEP process. They are:

Make a good first impression: Schools must provide prior written notice of any IEP meeting to the family, so the first notification, often called an “invitation,” is the very beginning of a school’s special education relationship with the family. If a school makes a bad first impression, it may set an unfavorable tone for the relationship, which could lead to increased conflict and potential litigation. To make sure this first impression goes smoothly, Weatherly suggests contacting the family for their availability prior to sending the formal meeting invitation so they feel more involved from the very start, and then, when the school does send the invitation, try to make them look more “parent-friendly” and less legal in nature. When a family needs to reschedule a meeting, agree to all reasonable and legitimate requests, even if they agreed to the original date and time.

Show up prepared: Being unprepared comes off as uncaring or disinterested, which could increase a family’s feelings of distrust and anxiety and thus increase the likelihood for conflict. To prevent this, make a “meeting preparation checklist” for all involved individuals including parents, make sure all mandatory school participants make plans to attend the meeting with all necessary information, and train all members – especially general education teachers – on their role and importance in the IEP process.

Properly lead IEP meetings: Ensuring that meeting process leaders are properly trained to use appropriate prevention and intervention strategies is crucial to the productivity of the meeting and makes all parties feel like valued members. Weatherly lists many examples of prevention and intervention strategies such as:

  • Use appropriate visual tools like meeting agendas or student data
  • Use physical prompts such as positive body language and eye contact
  • Remind parties of any previous agreements made
  • Make process suggestions
  • Use open-ended and clarifying questions
  • Apologize
  • Deflect or ignore attacks
  • Recognize non-verbal cues
  • Suggest breaks during the meeting

In addition to these three tips, Weatherly reminds educators to always view things from the parents’ perspective. The IEP process can be intimidating and confusing for family members, so remembering that they may feel this way should help drive all decisions. Understanding a family’s emotions during the IEP process is almost as important as the process itself. Helping them understand the process and feel involved will greatly ease their concerns, which helps educators do their jobs and better serve the child.

To read Weatherly’s article in its entirety, click here and scroll down to page 9. If you’re interested in more from the legal perspective, check out the webinar Weatherly hosted with PresenceLearning called “Julie Weatherly, Esq. on Staying out of Due Process in Special Education” or download the free “5 Legal Dos and Don’ts for Staying Out of Due Process in Special Education” white paper and infographic today!

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