Parent guide: Writing and implementing an IEP

So my child has been found eligible for special education, and I agree. What’s next?

The next step is to write and implement what is known as an Individualized Education Program — usually called an IEP. After a child is found eligible, a meeting must be held within 30 days to develop to the IEP.

What’s an IEP?

The acronym IEP stands for Individualized Education Program. This is a written document that describes the educational program designed to meet a child’s individual needs. Every child who receives special education must have an IEP.

Parent guide: Writing and implementing an IEPThe IEP has two general purposes: (1) to set learning goals for your child; and (2) to state the supports and services that the school district will provide for your child.

What type of information is included in an IEP?

According to IDEA, your child’s IEP must include specific statements. These are listed below in italics. Take a moment to read over this list.

Your child’s IEP will contain the following statements:

Present levels of academic achievement and functional performance. This statement describes how your child is currently achieving in school. This includes how your child’s disability affects his or her participation and progress in the general education curriculum.

Annual goals. The IEP must state annual goals for your child, what you and the school team think he or she can reasonably accomplish in a year. The goals must relate to meeting the needs that result from your child’s disability. They must also help your son or daughter participate in and progress in the general education curriculum.

Special education and related services to be provided. The IEP must list the special education and related services to be provided to your child. This includes supplementary aids and services (e.g., preferential seating, a communication device, one-on-one tutor) that can increase your child’s access to learning and his or her participation in school activities. It also includes changes to the program or supports for school personnel that will be provided for your child.

Participation with children without disabilities. The IEP must include an explanation that answers this question: How much of the school day will your child be educated separately from children without disabilities or not participate in extracurricular or other nonacademic activities such as lunch or clubs?

Dates and location. The IEP must state (a) when special education and related and supplementary aids and services will begin; (b) how often they will be provided; (c) where they will be provided; and (d) how long they will last.

Participation in state and district-wide assessments. Your state and district probably give tests of student achievement to children in certain grades or age groups. In order to participate in these tests, your child may need individual accommodations or changes in how the tests are administered. The IEP team must decide what accommodations your child needs and list them in the IEP. If your child will not be taking these tests, the IEP must include a statement as to why the tests are not appropriate for your child, how your child will be tested instead, and why the alternate assessment selected is appropriate for your child.

Transition services. By the time your child is 16 (or younger, if the IEP team finds it appropriate for your child), the IEP must include measurable postsecondary goals related to your child’s training, education, employment, and (when appropriate) independent living skills. The IEP must also include the transition services needed to help your child reach those goals, including what your child should study.

Measuring progress. The IEP must state how school personnel will measure your child’s progress toward the annual goals. It must also state when it will give you periodic reports on your child’s progress.

Integration & inclusion

It is very important that children who receive special education participate in the general education curriculum as much as possible. That is, they should learn the same curriculum as children without disabilities — for example, reading, math, science, social studies, and physical education. In some cases, this curriculum may need to be adapted for your child to learn, but it should not be omitted. Participation in extracurricular activities and other nonacademic activities is also important. Your child’s IEP needs to be written with this in mind.

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For example, what special education and related services will help your child participate in the general education curriculum — in other words, to study what other students are studying? What special education, related services, or supports will help your child take part in extracurricular activities such as school clubs or sports? When your child’s IEP is developed, an important part of the discussion will be how to support your child in regular education classes and activities in the school.

Who develops my child’s IEP?

Many people come together to develop your child’s IEP. This group is called the IEP team and includes most of the same types of individuals who were involved in your child’s evaluation. Team members will include:

  • You, the parents
  • At least one regular education teacher, if your child is (or may be) participating in the regular education environment
  • At least one of your child’s special education teachers or special education providers
  • A representative of the school system who (a) is qualified to provide or supervise the provision of special education, (b) knows about the general education curriculum; and (c) knows about the resources the school system has available
  • An individual who can interpret the evaluation results and talk about what instruction may be necessary for your child
  • Your child, when appropriate
  • Other individuals (invited by you or the school) who have knowledge or special expertise about your child. For example, you may wish to invite a relative who is close to your child or a child care provider. The school may wish to invite a related services provider such as a speech therapist or a physical therapist.
  • With your consent, the school must also invite representatives from any other agencies that are likely to be responsible for paying for or providing transition services (if your child is 16 years old or, if appropriate, younger).
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So I can help develop my child’s IEP?

Yes, absolutely. The law is very clear that parents have the right to participate in developing their child’s IEP. In fact, your input is invaluable. You know your child so very well, and the school needs to know your insights and concerns. That’s why IDEA makes parents equal members on the IEP team.

The school staff will try to schedule the IEP meeting at a time that is convenient for all team members to attend. If the school suggests a time that is impossible for you, explain your schedule and needs. It’s important that you attend this meeting and share your ideas about your child’s needs and strengths. Often, another time or date can be arranged.

Can the meeting be held without the parents participating?

Yes. IDEA’s regulations state that the school may hold the IEP meeting without you if it is unable to convince you that you, as parents, should attend. If neither parent can attend the IEP meeting, the school must use other methods to ensure your participation, including video conferences and individual or conference telephone calls.

If, however, you still can’t attend or participate in the IEP meeting, the school may hold the IEP meeting without you — as long as it keeps a record of its efforts to arrange a mutually agreed-on time and place and the results of those efforts. This can be accomplished by keeping detailed records of:

  • telephone calls made or attempted and the results of those calls;
  • copies of correspondence sent to you and any responses received; and
  • detailed records of visits made to your home or work and the results of those visits.

If the school does hold the meeting without you, it must keep you informed about the meeting and any decisions made there. The school must also ask for (and receive) your written permission before special education and related services may be provided to your child for the first time.

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What should I do before the IEP meeting?

The purpose of the IEP meeting is to develop your child’s Individualized Education Program. You can prepare for this meeting by:

  • making a list of your child’s strengths and needs;
  • talking to teachers and/or therapists and getting their thoughts about your child;
  • visiting your child’s class and perhaps other classes that may be helpful to him or her; and
  • talking to your child about his or her feelings toward school.

It is a good idea to write down what you think your child can accomplish during the school year. Look at your state’s standards for your child’s grade level. It also helps to make notes about what you would like to say during the meeting.

What happens during an IEP meeting?

During the IEP meeting, the different members of the IEP team share their thoughts and suggestions. If this is the first IEP meeting after your child’s evaluation, the team may go over the evaluation results, so your child’s strengths and needs will be clear. These results will help the team decide what special help your child needs in school.

Remember that you are a very important part of the IEP team. You know your child. Don’t be shy about speaking up, even though there may be many people at the meeting. Share what you know about your child and what you would like others to know.

After the various team members (including you, the parent) have shared their thoughts and concerns, the group will have a better idea of your child’s strengths and needs. This will allow the team to discuss and decide:

  • the educational and other goals that are appropriate for your child; and
  • the type of special education services your child needs.

The IEP team will also talk about the related services your child may need to benefit from his or her special education. The IDEA lists many related services that schools must provide if eligible children need them. Examples of related services include:

  • occupational therapy, which can help a child develop or regain movement that he or she may have lost due to injury or illness; and
  • speech and language services, which can help children who have trouble speaking.

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