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Appropriately Ambitious:

A Special Education Legal Blog 

“But [the student’s] educational program must be appropriately ambitious in light of his circumstances …. The goals may differ, but every child should have the chance to meet challenging objectives”

Endrew F. v. Douglas Cnty. Scl. Dist. RE-1, 137 S.Ct. 988, 1000 (2017).

  • Writer's picturePatrick G. Radel, Esq.

4 Quick Tips for a Better IEP Meeting

2021 is well under way, for better or worse! In the special education world, we are about to enter “CSE Season” or the “IEP Zone.”

This is the time of year when the school’s Committee on Special Education (CSE) meets to develop an Individualized Education Program (IEP) for the upcoming school year. These meetings involve critical conversations concerning placement, program, and services.

Here are four (4) quick tips to help make this year’s IEP meeting better for your student with a disability (and better for you!)

Write it Down.

IEP meetings can be emotional and stressful. You may receive reports of significant “deficits” and behavioral “challenges” and you could find yourself at odds with the school team on important issues. It is natural, and common, to feel overwhelmed, frustrated, and even angry. This makes it difficult to be an effective, organized advocate for your student.

It is crucial to prepare for the meeting in advance, when you feel calm, clear-headed, and focused. What are your goals and objectives for the meeting? What are your questions and concerns? What actions would you like taken?

When preparing, I recommend asking these four questions: What am I concerned about? What are some specific examples that illustrate why I have this concern? What questions do I have for the school team? What do I think should be done? Write down your answers, being as concrete as you can. Try not to rely on your memory in the “heat of the moment;” but enter the meeting prepared to raise, and hopefully resolve, your questions.

Here’s an example: I am concerned about my student’s social skills. I have this concern because she is never invited to her classmate’s birthday parties and when asked who her best friend is, she identified her teacher’s aide. What has the school team observed in terms of peer relationships? What services and supports might the school offer to build social skills and peer relationships? I would like to see a social skills goal added to the IEP and supports/services added to the program to address that goal.

During the meeting, check off each concern as it is discussed. Verify that all of your concerns have been addressed before the meeting ends.

I also recommend creating a “next action” list, to make sure everyone is clear about decisions, have established what follow-up actions will be taken to implement those decisions, have determined who is responsible for taking those actions, and have established the expected timeline is for completion.

Tell A Story.

The IEP meeting is deeply personal – make it so. Share your hopes, dreams, and fears for the student. Make your presentation personal, powerful, and visual (photos, a video).

Consider whether the student can appropriately attend some or all of the meeting to have her voice heard.

Celebrate a success from the past year and express appreciation for the person (people) who made it happen. Share a challenge or disappointment and explain (as gently and graciously as you can) why you think it happened and how we might do better in the future.

Consider Inclusion.

Although the placement discussion may not end in general education, it should always start there. The law presumes that students with disabilities should be educated alongside their typical peers “to the maximum extent appropriate” and that removal should occur only when educational progress with supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved.

The placement conversation should therefore always begin with the question: Can this student be successfully supported in general education with supplementary aids and services? If not, why not?

The fact that a student needs modification to the general education curriculum and/or cannot learn at the same rate as his peers is not a reason for removal from general education. If the student needs supports and services to be successful, ask whether those supports and services can be provided in general education and, if not, why not?

When making placement decisions, schools are legally required to consider the unique benefits that can only be obtained in general education, including the ability to interact with, and learn from, typical peers, who model age-appropriate behavior, communication, and social skills.

Even if the final decision is for a “special class” placement, the school must still seek opportunities for inclusion during the course of the student’s day (morning time, specials, lunch/recess, extracurricular activities).

Don’t Forget Supports for Adults.

Special education includes supports and services provided to the student and “on behalf of” the student.

So, when developing the IEP, the conversation should not be limited to the supports and services the student needs, but should also include a discussion of what the adults supporting the student might need. This could include professional development related to the student’s disability, training regarding assistive technology, and/or consultation from an outside or in-house expert to address challenging behavior, communication, or curriculum needs.

One last bit of advice – please do not think you need to “go it alone.” Reach out to a fellow parent, local support group, on-line resource, lay advocate, or special education attorney. Be informed about your student’s rights; receive support from others who have faced similar challenges; and seek advice about effective strategies for a better CSE meeting and a better IEP. As they say – Knowledge is Power & there is Strength in Numbers. We are stronger (and better) together.


For legal education only.  This does not constitute legal advice or establish an attorney-client relationship.

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