Totally new to this world of IEPs and have even more questions? No problem! Make sure to click the hyperlinked title in each paragraph below to get an even more in-depth look at the many aspects of IEPs.
What is an IEP?
An Individualized Education Plan (IEP) is a written plan that spells out the specific types of help that a student will receive. With an IEP, your child will get individualized instruction that focuses on improving specific skills, including accommodations and modifications. Having an IEP gives you and your child certain legal protections, too. This process allows you to be involved in decisions that impact your child’s education and learning goals. The IEP usually is written for one year, at which point a new one is done. But meetings can be called by the parent or other team member at any point during the school year to change, update, or review progress.
Who gets an IEP?
IEPs are a part of public education. They’re given to eligible students who attend public school (including charter schools). Private schools don’t have to offer IEPs, however, students in private schools may be able to get special education through what’s known as a service plan (also called an Individual Services Plan). Even before they attend school, babies and toddlers can get services through early intervention. Once children age out of early intervention, they can get an IEP through their local public school district. There are no IEPs in college, but eligible students often can still get accommodations through college disability services, though they must advocate for themselves.
What is the difference between an IEP and a 504 plan?
Both an IEP and a 504 Plan can offer formal help for K-12 students, but do have notable differences. An IEP is a specific and detailed plan for a child’s special education experience during school. A 504 Plan is a plan for how the school will provide support and remove barriers for a student with a disability. Additionally, a 504 Plan has a broader definition of “disability,” stating that a disability must substantially limit one or more basic life activities, such as learning. Because of this, a child who has needs, but doesn’t qualify for an IEP, will likely still be able to get a 504 Plan so that they can still be supported in school.
What is the difference between accommodations and modifications?
In short, accommodations change how a student learns the material, and modifications change what a student is taught or expected to learn. For example, a child might have an accommodation for a teacher to read science test questions out loud for him when other children read it themselves. A modification would be that the child is only responsible for 50% of the science vocabulary instead of 100% of the words. How do accommodations and modifications impact different aspects of your child’s education, like classroom instruction, tests, art class, and more? This link includes a chart that provides some samples to better help you contextualize what an accommodation or modification might look like in different scenarios.
Who attends IEP meetings?
You and your child’s IEP team should attend every IEP meeting. Your IEP team should include:
- You, the parent/caregiver. Parents take an active role in all IEP meetings.
- At least one of your child’s general education teachers.
- At least one special education teacher or other special education provider.
- A school district representative knowledgeable about general education and special education. This representative has the power to commit school resources for your child – usually a principal or vice-principal.
- A school psychologist, diagnostician, or other specialist who can interpret your child’s first (or most recent) evaluation and test results.
- Any support personnel who work with your child directly or indirectly – OT, PT, SLP, Reading specialist, etc.
- Your child, when appropriate or when the IEP team begins to develop the transition plan for life after high school. This plan will be part of the IEP that goes into effect when your child turns 16. (Your child may attend meetings even earlier if you think it is appropriate. Early participation can help build self-advocacy skills.)
- A team member can be excused if both you and the school agree to it. Otherwise, the team should reschedule the meeting for a time when everyone can be present.
- Your choice of a support person (advocate, family member, friend, etc.).
- Anyone who can’t attend in person can participate by conference call or video chat. Be sure to tell the IEP team leader in advance if you or a guest will need a phone or video connection.
What happens at an IEP meeting?
IEP meetings should be open discussions with the child’s best interest in mind. During each IEP meeting, the IEP team will discuss a few key IEP components such as related services, present levels of performance, annual goals, and supports and services. The IEP developed during the meeting is considered a draft IEP. Some schools create this in advance and then share it at the IEP meeting. If your child’s school creates the draft ahead of time, ask them to send it to you well before the meeting. The draft is a work in progress. You have the right to suggest changes during the meeting. You also have the right to request an IEP meeting any time you have a concern, outside of the regular meetings the school schedules.
What happens after an IEP meeting?
The IEP team leader will read a written summary of all services included in the IEP that the team has discussed during the meeting. This will become a draft version of the new IEP that requires signatures from the whole team to finalize. If you’re not ready to sign all or part of the new IEP, you have the right to take it home to think about it. You can also ask when the new IEP will go into effect and how long you have to make a decision. Once everyone has signed the IEP, the parent is given a copy of the entire document. When the meeting is over (or when you agree to the new IEP), don’t simply file it and forget it. The IEP will guide your child’s day-to-day education for the next year. Get ready to monitor how it plays out.
Where do I get started in advocating for my child?
As a parent, your responsibility is to ensure that the decisions made are what is best for your child – but how do you know where to start? This guided worksheet from Understood.org can help you organize your thoughts about what your child should be receiving through the schools. Writing down your thoughts prior to the meeting can help you clear your head and keep a record of everything you want to say during the meeting.
Do I need an advocate?
The IEP process can be stressful or confusing, so many parents seek the support of an educational advocate. Unlike an attorney, there is no formal licensing or certification for an advocate, but there are organizations and schools that offer training and a certificate of completion showing they have completed the training. So what are the things you need to consider when seeking out an advocate? Most importantly, your advocate should be well-versed in your child’s primary disability and your state’s specific special education laws and interpretations. See this link for more detailed information and additional questions to ask potential advocates.
Should I do a private or a school evaluation?
Before you can put an IEP in place, your child must go through some evaluations to determine eligibility for services, and what support they may need to be successful in school. So, should your child be privately evaluated or evaluated by the school? There are pros and cons for considering who should evaluate your child so you should review your options thoroughly before deciding. Know that a school district is not required to accept recommendations from a private evaluation.
What if my child’s teacher isn’t following the IEP?
It’s a good idea to meet with the teacher as soon as possible, and make the meeting conversational rather than confrontational. If your meeting with the teacher is unsuccessful, you should document what has happened and raise your concerns to the school administrators. Since an IEP is a legal document that staff must follow, there is some accountability for those who do not follow it. If the teacher, IEP team, and administrators continue not to follow your child’s IEP, there are further steps you can take.