We’ve all been there.

You’re in that room the school uses for ARD/IEP meetings.  All these people you don’t know are crowded in there.You just want to crawl under the table and the meeting to be over.

They talk really fast, use a lot of acronyms , and they make it sound like you’d be crazy not to agree with them.

So, you nod your head and ignore that bad feeling in your stomach that something is wrong with their plan.

You struggle to get them to listen, but they just smother you with, “We do this with all our kids.  We do this anyway.  He’ll be fine.”

When they ask you to sign, you sign agree.

Then you flee the room, feeling

  • like you’ve failed your child,
  • frustrated that they won’t listen,
  • trapped into only agreeing to what they offer
  • and mad at yourself for not being able to do more for your child.

If you have social anxiety, this problem is even worse.

ARD/IEP Meetings are Hard

Let’s face it. . . .ARD meetings are hard (I’m in Texas, where, unlike the rest of the country, we call the IEP planning meetings ARD meetings).

A big part of my job as a special ed advocate is to help parent’s voice be heard at the ARD meeting.  So, I want to share a few of my tried and true mama bear warrior tips to make your voice heard to get your child the services and supports she needs.

Bring Back Up

You are allowed to bring people with you to a meeting.  It’s anyone that has knowledge of the child and can help.

One person, or a couple of people.

It doesn’t have to be someone you pay, like me.  It could be

  • your mom, or other relative
  • a neighbor who watches your child sometimes
  • your pastor from church
  • a mom friend from a local support group who has a child with a similar issue

There is safety in numbers.  Sometimes just knowing you have a friend in your corner will help you feel braver.  Added benefit:  your backup can validate your feelings if the school is trying to bully or intimidate you.

Just let the school know you are bringing someone on the invitation form that you get before the meeting.

I have found it enormously helpful to bring my husband.  I don’t know why but having a guy on my side in the meeting, really shifts things in my favor during the discussion.

It didn’t matter that all he said was, “I agree with her.”

Or that he dozed off in some portions of the meeting.

I found that when my husband attended the meetings, the staff gives more weight to what I have to say.


Know your rights.

The most important right you have is to contribute to the IEP—that means that IDEA (Individuals with Disability Education Act, the law that governs special ed) gives you the right to have your input written into the IEP (Individual Education Plan).

You have the right to disagree.

That’s correct.  Even though the school is pressuring to sign agree, you can sign disagree.

And guess what.

The world will not end when you say disagree.  They won’t kick your child out of school.  They won’t ban you from school.

In fact, you may be surprised how accommodating they suddenly become.

One client reported that after she signed disagree, the school staff followed her out to the car, asked her what she wanted, and then made the changes that she wanted.

All signing disagree means is that the school is legally required to have another ARD meeting within 10 school days to resolve the area of disagreement.

Read Your Procedural Safeguards. 

These things are all spelled out in the procedural safeguards.  The language often isn’t parent friendly.  If you have one or a stack of them in your child’s paperwork, get it out.

Open it and read through it.

If you don’t understand it, contact me, your local PTI (parent training information center), or disability support group and ask them to explain it to you.

I have NEVER, in over 18 years of advocating, seen the school do anything other than hand the document to a parent and ask them to sign a piece of paper saying they got it.  And they are the ones who are supposed to be explaining it to you!

Meet with the teacher ahead of time.

Sometimes, the issues can be dealt with when you directly speak to the teacher.  Also, if you and the teacher agree on an approach or goal ahead of time, she will be supportive in the meeting.

Create a written list of the issues that you want to address at the meeting.

This has been one of the best ways that I found to make sure I bring up what I want to say at meetings.

I still use this with every one of my clients.

I have created an ARD Meeting Planner that follows the outline of the IEP document:

  1. Evaluation
  3. Goals
  4. Related Services
  5. Accommodations
  6. Schedule of Services
  7. Testing
  8. Supplements

Then under each section, I write the issue that I want to bring up.

So, for example, say I want to request an evaluation.  I write that under the evaluation section.

Then, when we get to the evaluation portion of the meeting, I bring that issue up.

Ever been told, “Oh, it’s not time to address that. Or we’ll talk about it later.” And then by the time that you get to that part of the meeting, you forget to bring it up?

This tool solves that problem.

If, for example, I think a student isn’t receiving enough speech time, I write that under PLAAFP, goals, and related services.  Remember that all related services address needs that are listed in the PLAAFP and have goals that they help implement.

Attend a friend’s ARD meeting as their back up.

Practice makes perfect.

Sometimes, the easiest way to practice is to attend a friend’s ARD meeting.  That way, you can be more of an observer.

When the meeting is about your own child, we have so many more emotions to deal with in addition to trying to make our point with the school.

Part of what makes ARD meetings hard is that we can feel very vulnerable in front of all these people that we don’t know very well.  We might feel ashamed by thoughts that

  • We feel we are bad parents,
  • There is something particularly wrong with our child
  • We are embarrassed at our child’s struggles, or
  • We feel that the school is blaming us or our children for their struggles.

When you attend a meeting for someone else’s child, you don’t have those feelings and can focus on the process.  It will build your confidence to observe without being on the spot.

At the Meeting

Ask for a break

At the meeting, you can always take a quick break.  Don’t let the school pressure you because of time.  A meeting takes as long as it takes.  Period.

Schools try to limit the time by only allowing 45 min or 2 hours.  In my experience, an annual ARD meeting  for a child with more complicated needs like autism, intellectual disability, cerebral palsy, Down’s Syndrome etc.  should take at least 3 hours.

If you run out of time, you can always continue the meeting on another day.   These continuance meetings are required to be within 10 school days.

I’ve had meetings that had to continue on 4 other days because they ran so long and the issues that we were discussing were so involved.

If you are having this level of meeting extension, it may be time to bring in an advocate.

Don’t sign.

At the end of the meeting, tell the school that you don’t want to waive your 5 day to consider the program, and you will sign the document at the end of those five days.

You can use this time to make sure that everything you talked about at the meeting actually made it into the document.

Sign Disagree.

If you know that you don’t like some or all of what the school is proposing, sign disagree.

This triggers the conflict resolution process outlined in the procedural safeguards.  It requires the school to hold another meeting within 10 school days.

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