Navigating the Annual IEP or 504 Plan Meeting in a Virtual World

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This year, your annual meeting will most likely be conducted virtually. Here are some tips for making it productive.

Under the best of circumstances, attending an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or 504 Plan meeting can cause anxiety for parents and students.

Even if your school district has returned to on-site learning, chances are your child’s IEP or 504 Plan meeting will be conducted virtually to keep everyone involved safe.

While participating in a virtual meeting requires some adjustments, there are benefits to meeting remotely, such as convenience, flexibility, and inclusion. It’s helpful to consider these positives and move toward a future filled with more interactions conducted via screens.

First, a quick refresher

The IEP and the 504 Plan are tools developed to comply with two federal regulations, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. These laws were designed to protect the rights of people who think and learn differently.

The IEP is a detailed program of services uniquely tailored to a student who has been designated eligible under the IDEA. The IDEA applies to all students.

Section 504 is a civil rights law that prohibits disability discrimination only at schools that receive federal funding. More general in scope than the IEP, a 504 Plan makes specific accommodations, such as extra time for test taking, available for eligible students. Its intent is to provide equal access to educational services for all students.

The IEP and 504 Plan processes include an initial evaluation and determination of eligibility, followed by a full education team meeting within 30 days. To remain in compliance with the terms of the laws, the education team must conduct a progress review once every 365 days.

The goal of the annual IEP or 504 Plan meeting is to check-in and reach a consensus with your child’s education team about the best ways to offer ongoing support to your child. It is a vital part of the IEP/504 Plan process.

Make the virtual meeting work for you

Video conferencing is not comfortable for most people. Privacy concerns, lack of human connection, and common technical issues make this a less than ideal way to conduct a meeting about something so serious. Here are some guidelines to make the best of this new reality.

1. Research your district’s policies

First, the meeting may not have to be virtual in all areas. If you are uncomfortable meeting remotely, explore your options. Your district may offer alternatives, based on your area’s COVID-19 status.

Be sure to check your district’s regulations about who should attend the meeting, and if it will be recorded. If you would like to record the meeting (many virtual meeting apps offer that option), be sure you are allowed to under the privacy laws of your state.

What is the norm in your school about including children under the age of 16? Under the terms of the IDEA, your child is allowed to participate. There are arguments for and against including the child in the meeting. By law, only the parent has the authority to make that decision.

2. Pull together all necessary documents

Just as if you were meeting in person, you will need to have access to the following documents:

  • A copy of your child’s IEP or 504 Plan
  • Your agenda or list of issues you would like discussed
  • Reports from any recent evaluations
  • Copies of any documentation your team will be presenting at the meeting, if possible

It may be tempting to do less up-front preparation because you will not be leaving your home for the meeting, but be sure to have everything organized as if you were. You do not want to lose valuable meeting time as you search for reference materials.

3. Prepare your meeting space

Some points to consider as you get ready:

  • Technology: What device gives you the best connection? Is it fully charged? Are you familiar with the platform you will be using, i.e., Google Meets, Zoom, or Skype? If not, testing your device and app with family or friends in advance will help eliminate any potential difficulties. If you are unfamiliar with the mute/unmute feature of your app, locate it before the meeting.
  • Environment: Do you have a quiet, private, distraction-free area to use for the meeting? If you have young children, have you made arrangements for their care during the meeting?

4. Remember, the standard rules still apply

Your virtual meeting should follow the same conventions of an in-person meeting, meaning:

  • Dress appropriately. Just because you’re at home, you may not attend this important meeting in your pajamas.
  • Be sure everyone is introduced. Being aware of everyone present is more difficult in a virtual meeting, especially if some are phoning in. Insist that all participants announce themselves.
  • Follow your agenda and make sure you are heard. Do not be afraid to ask people to repeat themselves.
  • Take notes throughout the session.

5. Follow up

Be sure to review your notes after the meeting and pursue any concerns or questions with the appropriate team members. Remember that the IEP and 504 Plans are intended to be working documents that can evolve as your child’s needs and circumstances dictate.

The Learning Lab can help

Adjusting to new norms because of social distancing is challenging. The Learning Lab is here to bridge the gap between what your student needs and what their school can provide at a distance, including support for your annual IEP and 504 Plan meetings.

At Learning Lab, we provide the insight to support children and their parents who are navigating the IEP and 504 Plan process. We encourage parents to be proactive and understand that you don’t need to go it alone. Find out how we can help your child.

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