Dissertations and Theses @ UNI


Open Access Dissertation


Children with disabilities--Education; Education--Parent participation; Parent-teacher relationships;


The purpose of this study was to examine school-family collaboration for students with disabilities by exploring how communication during Individualized Education Program (IEP) meetings supports or limits parental participation. Research has indicated strong school-family partnerships lead to better educational outcomes for students. The IEP meeting is a critical component of the educational process for a child with a disability. The interactions between parents and school personnel during IEP meetings are complex events that can leave parents feeling frustrated or uninvolved in their child’s education. This qualitative study examined one IEP team meeting through in-depth interviews, participant observation of an IEP meeting, and document analysis of the IEP. The research questions focused on the supports and barriers to authentic parental participation during IEP meetings and the role of discourse during the IEP meeting. This study utilized several theoretical frameworks to examine the perspectives and interactions of the IEP team: Basic Communication Fidelity, Listening Fidelity, Communication Competence, Communication Accommodation Theory, Problematic Integration, and Relational Dialectics. These frames helped develop an understanding of the communication interactions of the IEP team members and how team relationships and expectations impacted communication fidelity during the IEP meeting. Five themes emerged in response to the first research question examining supports to authentic parental participation in IEP meetings: (a) welcoming relationships, (b) shared context of the purpose and process of IEP meetings, (c) adaptability of school staff, (d) empathy for families and (e) parent knowledge of self, child, and rights. The data analysis revealed five barriers to authentic parental participation, including: (a) emotion and perception, (b) prior written goals, (c) the negative influence of outsiders, (d) the disruptive effects of educational jargon and the prescribed IEP process, and (e) the challenge of maintaining relationships. The discourse analysis also revealed that identities and practices enacted during an IEP meeting can influence parental participation.

Several recommendations to address the barriers to authentic parental participation were suggested, including relationship building through frequent positive communication and establishing a shared context for IEP meeting purpose and process that is communicated with parents. Schools must also find ways to educate parents regarding their rights and participation during IEP meetings. Empowering parents will allow for parents to have increased involvement in the IEP process. Suggestions for future research included the need to develop ways to empower parents, examine relationship building strategies for parents of secondary students, and exploring the role of fathers on IEP teams.

Year of Submission


Degree Name

Doctor of Education


Department of Special Education

First Advisor

Susan Etscheidt

Date Original


Object Description

1 PDF file (x, 256 pages)



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