How to Prepare for an IEP Hearing
Disagreeing with an IEP
If you disagree with your child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP), you can try to negotiate with the IEP team to reach a compromise. You may reject the proposed compromise if you feel that it does not serve your child’s best interests. If negotiation fails, the next step is to file a formal complaint with your state’s Department of Education. Assuming that the state agrees to hear your complaint, you will have the opportunity to present your argument before a due process hearing. It’s recommended that you retain an attorney for the hearing.
Preparing for the Hearing
Expect to spend hours preparing for the hearing. Preparation is critical for a favorable outcome for your child. Official hearings can also be intimidating; the knowledge that you are well-prepared can help lessen any anxiety you may experience.
You don’t need to show up to the hearing to argue your case alone. You can – and should – subpoena any witnesses that you feel can help your argument. Make a list of potential witnesses. These will likely include your child’s speech therapist, pediatrician, teachers, and possibly childcare workers. Once you have a list of those who might testify in your favor, write a list of witnesses that the school district may call.
For each person on both lists, write down brief descriptions of that person’s training, credentials, and knowledge of your child and his speech disorder. Choose witnesses that are likely to give strong testimony in your child’s favor. Whenever possible, it’s always preferable to call witnesses that are willing to testify.
The information that you write down regarding the witnesses that the school district will call can help to shape the supporting documents that you use. For example, if the school’s speech therapist might testify that your child does not require one-on-one speech therapy sessions, you need to present evidence that argues otherwise.
Submit your witness list within the time period specified by your state – it is likely five business days before the hearing.
Preparing Yourself As a Witness
As you work to prepare your witnesses, remember that you are likely to be a witness as well. You may be questioned, perhaps by your partner or attorney, or you may read a comprehensive statement. If you are concerned about getting all of your key points into your testimony, reading a statement may be the best route.
Organize your written statement around your key points and remain objective. Use simple sentences to describe your child, his speech disorder, and any secondary complications that his speech disorder causes. Discuss how his speech disorder affects him and his academic progress. Discuss your observations from watching him during speech therapy and while he interacted with his peers and with adults. Discuss each point in contention in the IEP and describe the outcome that you feel is best for your child.
Preparing Your Witnesses
After developing your written statement or a series of questions and answers for your own testimony, prepare the witnesses that you plan to call. Write down a list of questions that you will ask each one. Be sure to write down questions about the witness’ credentials and relation to your child first. Then, move on to questions regarding your child’s speech disorder and his therapy needs. Sample questions may include:
- Which tests did you use to diagnose Johnny’s speech disorder?
- What were the results of your evaluation?
- As a speech therapist, what are your recommendations for Johnny’s treatment?
- As Johnny’s teacher, how has his speech disorder affected his academic progress?
Meet with your witnesses before the hearing to practice the questions and answers. Remind them that they will be cross-examined. Remember that the school district will also call witnesses. Consider what their testimonies will cover (notes from the IEP meeting will help with this) and consider what questions you might ask them that will help prove your case.
Gathering Supporting Documents
Expect to haul a mountain of paperwork to the IEP hearing. The burden of proof is on you, not the school district. You must bring all supporting documents that prove that the school district is failing in its obligation to provide a free, appropriate public education.
Any evaluations of your child from private speech therapists or SLPs in the public school must be submitted to the hearing officer at least five days prior to the hearing. This also includes any recommendations that the SLPs made as a result of those evaluations. Bring your own copies of all evaluations and recommendations with you to the hearing.
In addition to the evaluations and recommendations, other documents that may help prove your case include the proposed IEP and written notes from your child’s physician and teachers that discuss his speech disorder. Bring samples of your child’s classwork and sound recordings that demonstrate his difficulties. Bring along scientific studies and articles about your child’s speech disorder and the generally recommended treatment methods. All of these supporting documents must also be submitted as exhibits at least five days prior to the hearing.
In the days leading up to the hearing, thoroughly review every supporting document. If your partner will take part in the hearing, he or she should do the same. Organize the documents in a logical manner so that you won’t have to fumble for the right paper during the hearing.