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Video Transcript: What is Facilitation?

(Phone Ringing)

MSEMP Intake Specialist: Michigan Special Education Mediation Program, how can I help you?

Karen: Hi, I'm a principal at the middle school, my name is Karen, and I was interested in having a facilitator help us with an IEP meeting that we have scheduled?

Narrator: If you're an educator --

Frank: Hi, I've got some questions about an upcoming meeting with my son's school.

MSEMP Intake Specialist: Does your son have an IEP?

Frank: Yes, he does.

Narrator: Or if you're the parent of a student with a disability, you are probably familiar with IEP team meetings, which are held at least once a year, usually at student's school. These are meetings at which the students' parents, teachers, and others plan the child's education services for the year, or perhaps make adjustments during the year. The plan, of course, is the student's IEP, or Individualized Education Program. 

The key to a successful IEP team meeting is open and respectful communication among the team's members. One way to achieve this is to have the meeting facilitated by a neutral third party, someone who is trained in IEP issues and is skilled in helping team members work together. This process is known as IEP facilitation, and that's what our callers are requesting.

A facilitator can help an IEP meeting run smoothly. He or she can make sure that:

  • Everyone has a chance to speak and contribute ideas to the student's IEP
  • All agenda items are covered
  • The meeting ends on time

This frees up the team to focus on the issues and make better decisions.

A facilitator can also help when participants are not sure what to expect. Tough issues, new team members, past disagreements or a large number of people around the table, particularly when educators outnumber the parents, can add uncertainty to the meeting. A facilitator can provide order, help with introductions, help the team clarify goals or work out differences, and balance the playing field for the purposes of the discussion.

A facilitator, it should be noted, is not a member of the team. Throughout the meeting, the facilitator remains neutral, does not take sides on any issue, and does not advocate for any of the participants. All decisions regarding the student are made by the team.

If a parent or educator believes a facilitator could help an IEP team meeting, they can do what our callers have done and contact the Michigan Special Education Mediation Program. An intake specialist will gather information about the issues to be addressed and provide it to the facilitator. The facilitator will then contact the parent and the school to put together an agenda and ask what type of help he or she should provide at the meeting.

The role of the facilitator is largely up to the team, but it helps to define that role before the meeting begins so everyone knows what to expect. The team's job during the meeting is to understand how the student is currently performing, establish the student's education goals for the coming year, and decide what services the student will need to reach those goals.  The facilitator's job is to help the team conduct an efficient and productive session.

Here, we have an IEP team meeting with Mary and Frank Smith. Their son John is in the seventh grade at Best Middle School, Karen is the school's principal, Rick teaches John's math class, and Jane is the special education coordinator. Karen is running the meeting with Deb as the facilitator.

Karen: Okay, how about if we just jump right into the PLAAFP.

Deb: Karen, can you remind us all what the PLAAFP is?

Karen: PLAAFP is an acronym. It stands for Present Level of Academic Achievement and Functional Performance statement. Now that's the first thing you'll see on the IEP form. It's what John's teachers and his parents all have to say about how he's doing and what needs to happen based on his test results and observations that they've made.  

John is mostly getting B's and C's in school, as we can see. But he has trouble with his textbook work and his independent work. So Rick, could you please tell us and describe how John is performing in your classroom?

Rick: The evaluations show that John knows a good amount of what we expect at his age, but what I see is when he is assigned independent work after the large group instruction, he seems unable to either remember what we talked about or how to apply it to the assignment.

Deb: So is it fair to say that John needs repetition of material for successful independent work?

Karen: Well, what we should do now is just document John's needs. We can connect them to how to meet them later.

Mary: Well, I'm concerned that we may overlook this. I think this goes straight to what he should be getting in class.

Deb: All right, Mary, I have listed repetition of instruction under the general education supports so that we know when to discuss this at the appropriate time. Is this okay with the team?

(Nods of agreement from all team members)

Deb: All right.

Narrartor: Deb's notes enable her to remind the team of its thoughts as the meeting continues. They also help her make sure that issues raised during the meeting are addressed. By summarizing the conversation, she can help the team see where it is in agreement and move to the next point.

Karen: Okay, let's take up Mary's question, which is what John needs in class. Mary, did you have some specific ideas about that?

Mary: Yes. We're talking about repeating the material for him. I was trying to think about different times of the day that could be done.

Karen: Rick, yesterday you said you had some ideas along those lines?

Rick: I'd like to try to move his seat to the front in math and give him the lecture notes in advance. But I can't make sure he's looked at them, though.

Jane: Well, maybe I can help there. Would it be possible to change his schedule so he meets with the resource group during the first hour?

Mary: He's had the schedule he's on for three months.

Jane: He'd have the same classes, except art. I think we can rearrange all the other ones, though.

Frank: Well, we certainly can make sure he reviews his materials at home.

Narrator: As the team generates ideas for John, Deb takes them down. She also updates a checklist to make sure the team is covering all the ground planned for the meeting.

Karen: I think we need to make sure that we have John's goals for next year written down now. Jane, what are your thoughts?

Jane: Here are my suggestions - based on the state's objectives and what we know John already knows.

Deb: Okay, so I'd like to recap what we've discussed so far.

Narrator: As the meeting draws to a close, the facilitator can help ensure that everyone is on board with the IEP, or that those who may not agree with aspects of the IEP are recognized, and have had their concerns addressed. If there are any remaining disagreements the facilitator might suggest that those members of the team who are involved go to mediation.

Deb: We've moved through most of the items on our agenda. Mary, do you feel we've addressed your concerns?

Mary: Yes.

Deb: How about you, Karen?

Karen: Yes.

Deb: Okay, anyone else that we may have missed?

(No responses from the team)

Deb: Does the team feel like ending now? We have 15 minutes left.

(Nods of agreement from the team)

Narrator: Once an IEP is complete, a school district must provide to a parent signed, written notice of any options considered for the IEP but rejected by the district. The notice plus the completed IEP represents the district's offer of a free, appropriate public education to the child. There is no signature page on the IEP.

If there are unresolved issues the participants can make use of the procedural safeguards - including local resolution, mediation, and complaints - to work things out.

IEP facilitation can be used as a way to ensure that all team members have input in to the IEP process. It can be used to help the team focus on the issues, it can be used as a way to resolve disagreements before they escalate, it can be used to manage time. IEP facilitation can be used by team members simply to show that they value each others' participation. The greater the participation the stronger the IEP for the student.

(Closing music)