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Top 6 Reasons Parents are Important to the Special Education Team


Updated July 13, 2011

Parent participation in the special education decision making process is vitally important. The most important way parents can ensure they are involved with the Individual Education Program (IEP) team. This group is charged with making educational decisions for students with disabilities. Parents are a critical part of this team, which addresses issues such as eligibility, evaluation, program development, and placement of a child in special education programs.

1. Parents may Underestimate Their Importance to the IEP Team

Despite their importance in education decision making, parents sometimes feel overwhelmed by the IEP team process. They may believe team members perceive them as:
  • Less knowledgeable about teaching;
  • Less important than the educators in the meeting;
  • Devalued as members, especially if they are stay-home parents;
  • Obstacles to the decision-making process, especially if they disagree with the educators; or
  • Unrealistic in their expectations of the school.

2. Parents Provide Critical Input that Only They Can Bring

  • Parents know their children better than anyone else;
  • Parents have the most complete understanding of a child's physical, social, developmental, and family history;
  • Parents are the only adults in the educational process who have been and will continue to be deeply involved throughout the child's school career; and
  • While they may not be educators themselves, they bring their years of experience in other professions and aspects of life to the process.

3. Parents Work More Closely With Their Children Than Other Adults Can

While kids attend school about six hours a day, they only have a few minutes of teachers' undivided attention in a class. Parents have the opportunity to sit side-by-side with them, working through homework and other learning activities for extended periods.

Parents may be the only adults who closely observe students' work and get feedback from their children. Consequently, no one else has the perspective of a parent in a meeting. Parents should strive to attend meetings to ensure participation in decision making and to provide input on all aspects of their children's programs.

4. When Parents' Rights to Participate are Limited or Terminated

In Rare Instances, Parents Cannot Participate in IEP Team Decisions. Parents' rights can be limited or terminated when:
  • A judge terminates parent rights. This is rare, usually resulting from charges of abuse, gross negligence, or mental incompetence;
  • A divorce awards educational decision making rights to the other parent;
  • The child is 18. The parent must have the child's consent to be involved; or
  • The adult child marries. The parent would need the child's written consent to continue to participate in the child's education.

5. The Role of the Parent on the Team

Parents are vital to the IEP team process. They provide:
  • Information on the child's strengths and weaknesses at home;
  • Background information on the child's history and development;
  • Information on any family factors that may affect the child's learning;
  • Commentary on whether current strategies and instruction are helping the child learn;
  • Suggestions for change and improvement based on their knowledge of the child; and
  • Parents chart the future for their children with every step they take.

6. Parents Provide Comprehensive Insight for Transition Meetings

Transition meetings are held to discuss movement from one school level to another, from one program to another, or to a postsecondary program, job, or assisted living program. Only the parent accompanies the child throughout these important school and life transitions. The parents' input at each transition can ensure that appropriate services and supports are in place and increase the chances of the child's success in the new program.

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