Parent input statements are one of the cornerstones of parental advocacy, but too often parents fail to bring one to an IEP meeting or do not include necessary information. The following will provide some guidance based upon my experiences as a parent and an attorney for developing parent input statements that will drive your advocacy efforts. Remember in real estate the three main principles are location, location, and location, and in the realm of special education advocacy it is-- documentation, documentation and documentation of which the parent input statement is the centerpiece.
1. Individualize your child through educationally relevant narrative, written anecdote and specific data that bears on the IEP, even if it is subjective. I once met a parent of a young child who described her son as a "spastic quad" [a type of CP]. She had so assimilated the medical jargon that she had lost sight of her child as a little boy who had high tone in all four limbs. Telling your anecdotes in writing avoids spending precious time at meetings telling stories that may be relevant and often are emotionally precious, but can get the meeting hopelessly off topic; as time runs out important issues like ESY and transition planning which often come at the end of the meeting are not properly addressed. Finally even if your data is subjective it is worthwhile and much of the school's data is also subjective.
2. Track the sections of the IEP in your input statement. There is an order that most IEPs follow. At annual reviews the old goals are updated and closed out. Student's needs and strengths are reviewed and recorded. Present levels of performance are stated. Goals are written. Accommodations and modifications are reviewed. Issues relating to district/state testing are considered. Related services are assigned. Placement is determined. ESY and transition planning are made part of the IEP if relevant. These sections are a good template for your input statement. Following the IEP sections will keep you organized and on topic, and you are more likely to have "input" to all the sections that are of concern. It may be that the placement is not an issue, but you want to have a lot of input into goals and present levels. Also following the school's order will make it more understandable and easier to follow for the school personnel.
3. Organize your statement for maximum brevity. Bullet points and short statements that are well written and to the point count for much more, than page long paragraphs that can become indecipherable. Very long input statements can be used against you when the district tries to portray you as an unreasonable micro manager who only wants his or her own way--which seems to be a popular defense these days at due process.
4. Write the statement as if you are already in due process. The lavish praise that you heap on the school people can come back to bite you, as can the sharp sarcasm and bile; keep it child focused and professional.
5. The main purpose of the input statement is to "make your record" for the present and for the future. In the present, the purpose is to get your point across, and to claim your place at the table in a thoughtful and credible way. For the future the input statement documents your objections, issues and concerns that will serve to possibly prove that you were treated like a potted plant not a participant, if this issue comes up at a due process. As always avoid words like best and optimum, instead use words like appropriate and educationally necessary. The former are killers at due process and the later can be very helpful.
6. I always tell parents "if you are going to define the problem, also define the solution." Simply pointing out all of the flaws in the current placement, for instance, is important, but it is even more important to name the solution (e.g. the other preferred placement), or to detail the criteria which define what an appropriate placement or other solution would look like.
7. Incorporate data from outside evaluators or even from school personnel into the input statement. It will be more forceful and authoritative with professional documentation to support your positions.
8. The input statement is part of a historical record. Be sure to date it and to have it included as an attachment to the IEP, or at a minimum into the student records. As your child moves from school to school, to different communities, or when you go to seek out legal help the input statements will provide a historical context and continuity that is vital.
9. Avoid personal attacks (see point 4 above); it diminishes the effectiveness of your document.
10. If possible give your input statement with supporting documentation to the case manager a few days ahead of the meeting. Even if the school regularly sand bag you with last minute reports that are "in the word processor" until the very moment of the meeting, I always counsel clients to give the school staff more courtesy that they show to you. It increases your "reasonableness quotient", and the unfortunate fact is that school people do not think well on their feet. You need to give them time to process and hopefully assimilate the information and your reasons for the positions you are taking.