Be prepared and confident for your child's IEP meeting
1. What is an IEP?
An IEP is an individualized education plan/program for a public-school student who cannot access general education without the supports and services of special education. The IEP is a legal written statement detailing how those supports and services will look.
2. How do I get an IEP?
Each state has defined criteria for disability categories based on IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act—the law that provides educational rights for students with disabilities). Having a disability label does not mean a student automatically gets an IEP. The disability has to substantially impact a student’s ability to access general-education curriculum.
3. Who is on the IEP team?
The team comprises people who know the students and/or have expertise in the student’s area of disability. It must include parents; a special-education teacher; at least one general-education teacher; specialists, as needed; and a school-district representative (can be a school administrator). Parents can invite family members, private therapists, or an advocate. (Always bring someone to the IEP meeting, especially if you are a Solo Mom!
4. What is my role on the IEP team?
You are the expert on your child. Your input and perspective are critical and as important as (if not more important than) assessments and professional opinions.
5. What information is in an IEP?
IDEA lays out specific information that starts with present levels of academic achievement and functional performance. Once the present levels are well documented, goals should address the deficit areas. The goals must be specific, measurable, appropriate, realistic, and connect to the general-education curriculum and standards. There is a page for accommodations and/or modifications, including during standardized testing.
The IEP will also have statements about how many minutes per week the child will receive special-education supports and services, and if those will be provided in or out of the general-education classroom. There is a section for parent input in the IEP; all parents should write up their input statement and provide it to the case manager (usually the special-education teacher) before the IEP meeting.
Every year, you will have an annual review of goals and progress, provide input, and create new goals. Every three years, your child will be assessed to determine if he or she continues to be eligible for special-education services.
The IEP should make sense to someone who does not know the child and there should be a direct line between present levels, goals, and service delivery. Parents also get regular progress reports on the goals (the timing of the reports varies by district but usually coincides with when grades are given).
6. How do I prepare for the IEP meeting?
Create a “parent report” that includes what is working and what is not (from your perspective and the child’s), your child’s strengths, and what your priorities are for the coming year. Priorities can include academics but may also include social-emotional needs. Write down your questions so you remember to ask them! Request a copy of the draft IEP at least five days before the meeting. It is not a legal requirement, but it is a recommended practice.
7. What happens in an IEP meeting?
After scheduling a time that works for you (and not just for the school team), there should be an agenda so everyone knows what to expect. Typically, present levels are discussed first (including any formal or informal assessments) along with progress on goals and then the team decides new goals, who is working on those goals, and when and where they will be worked on.
8. What are related services?
They are specialized services or supports that reduce barriers/limitations that arise from the disability; these include speech therapy, assistive technology tools, physical therapy, behavioral supports, transportation, or mental health services.
9. Can my child’s IEP be changed?
Yes. It will change every year at the annual review meeting, and parents can ask for an IEP meeting at any time. If you feel your child is not making progress or there are new issues, request a meeting. Write down your concerns, and provide any documentation you have (homework log, tutor notes, a psychologist report, etc.) with your request.
10. What does “placement” mean?
Sometimes a student’s needs require specialized supports, training, or expertise. District options vary but can include regular classes, special-education-only classes, special schools, hospitals, institutions, or even home. The level of support and time needed to provide that support are usually the main factors in deciding placement. The majority of students who have IEPs (about 10% of all public-school students) are served in a regular school accessing regular education.
IEP meetings have a reputation for being contentious and stressful. Yours doesn’t have to be. Ask team members to talk about your child’s strengths and gifts, not just his or her areas of weakness. The team is there to support your child. Keep asking questions to get everyone on the same page so your child is successful.
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Anna Stewart is ESME’s Kids with Special Needs Resource Guide and the Solo Mom of a daughter and two sons on the brink of adulthood. She’s a champion for the rights of people living with disabilities and those who love them.
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