Understanding My Child’s IEP

A city map

An IEP is a map

The Individual Education Plan (IEP) is a legal document that spells out what your child’s special education services will look like on a day-to-day basis. It is essentially a roadmap guiding the team to provide your child with the help that he or she needs in order to be successful in school. Your input is incredibly valuable to the team in creating your child’s IEP.

What are the requirements of an IEP?

IEPs from different school districts may look different; however, the main components of an IEP are dictated by federal law. Here are the nine requirements that all IEPs must contain (34 CFR § 300.320).

  • A statement of your child’s present levels of performance including strengths
  • Measurable annual goals
  • A description of how your child’s progress will be measured
  • A description of how you will be informed about your child’s progress
  • A statement of the services that will be provided to your child
  • An explanation of the extent your child will be educated away from their typical peers
  • A statement of accommodations necessary during state or district assessments
  • The projected beginning date as well as the frequency, location, and duration of services
  • A transition plan (This is only required if your child will be turning 16 during the duration of the annual IEP. It is not needed for younger students.)

Who is on the IEP team?

IDEA specifies that the following individuals must be involved in developing your child’s IEP (34 CFR § 300.321).

  • The parents of the child
  • A general education teacher
  • A special education teacher (also referred to as your child’s case manager)
  • A representative of the public agency (often an administrator or school psychologist)
  • An individual who can interpret the instructional implications of the evaluation
  • Other individuals who may have knowledge about your child’s skills (such as related service providers)
  • Your child (if appropriate)

Some of the individuals on the IEP team can serve more than one role. For example, the special education teacher may also be the individual who can interpret the implications of the evaluation. As a general rule of thumb, you can expect your child’s classroom teacher, special education teacher, and representative of the district to be in attendance at your child’s IEP meeting.

Can a member of the IEP team be excused from attending the meeting?

A member of the team may be excused from attending the IEP meeting under two circumstances (34 CFR § 300.321(e)).

1. If you and the school agree in writing that the individual’s attendance is not necessary because the individual’s area of curriculum or related service will not be modified or discussed at the meeting.

2. If you and the school agree in writing that the team member may be excused and the individual submitted written information for the development of the IEP prior to the meeting.

How and when is the IEP meeting scheduled?

The case manager will schedule your child’s IEP meeting with you. Federal regulations indicate that you should be notified early enough so that you have every opportunity to attend. In my experience, most meetings are scheduled approximately two weeks in advance. The meeting should take place at a mutually agreed upon time and place (34 CFR § 300.322(a)). You should be provided with a written meeting notice indicating the purpose, time, and location of the meeting, as well as who will be in attendance at your child’s IEP meeting.

If this is your child’s first IEP, the team has 30 days from the eligibility meeting to develop the IEP. Most teams complete the IEP much sooner than 30 days.

How often will my child’s IEP be reviewed?

Your child’s IEP must be reviewed at least annually (34 CFR § 300.324(b)). Additionally, your child’s IEP should also be reviewed and revised under any of the following circumstances:

  • Your child is not making progress toward the annual IEP goals
  • A reevaluation has been completed
  • You provide the team with new information about your child
  • Your child’s needs change

Remember that your child’s IEP is a working and fluid document. It can easily be revised so that it contains the most current and useful information.

What happens to my child’s IEP if I move?

Because your child’s IEP is a legal document governed by federal regulations, it must be adhered to anywhere in the United States.

If you move to a different public school district within the same state, the new district must provide comparable services to your child until they either adopt the previous IEP or develop a new one (34 CFR § 300.323(e)).

If you move out of state, the new school district must provide comparable services to your child until they either conduct a new evaluation or develop a new IEP (34 CFR § 300.323(f)). State statutes vary and sometimes it is necessary to reestablish eligibility for special education based on specific state criteria.

It can occasionally be a challenge for your school to obtain special education records from different districts. Although the law specifies that school districts must make reasonable attempts to obtain records and promptly respond to requests to send records, in my experience, this does not always happen. It is best to hand-deliver a copy of the evaluation report and IEP to the new school when you enroll your child. Delivering records to your child’s new school is the fastest way to make sure that your child receives the services specified on the IEP. It will also make your child’s new special education team very happy!

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