Special education advocacy (IEP)

This section provides information about the Individualized Education Program (IEP).

Each public school child who receives special education and related services must have an Individualized Education Program. A federal law called the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires that public schools create an IEP for every child receiving special education services. The IEP is meant to address each child’s unique learning issues and include specific educational goals. The IEP is a legally binding document. The school must provide everything it promises in the IEP. Each IEP must be designed for one student and must be a truly individualized document.

The IEP creates an opportunity for teachers, parents, school administrators, related services personnel and students (when appropriate) to work together to improve educational results for children with disabilities. The IEP is the cornerstone of a quality education for each child with a disability.

Smart IEP

Smart IEP means

  • Specific. Goals and objectives are specific, describing each behavior and skill that will be taught.
  • Measurable. Goals and objectives are measured to allow you to assess the child’s progress.
  • Action.  Goals and objectives are written with action words.
  • Realistic. Goals and objectives are realistic and relevant, addressing the child’s unique needs. Goals and objectives are not based on district curricula, state or district tests or other external standards.
  • Time Specific. Writing time limits into goals and objectives enables you to monitor progress at regular intervals. 

Taken from a conference presented by Pete Wright. Mr. Wright is the co-author of Wrightslaw: Special Education Law and From Emotions to Advocacy. 

Making the Most of the IEP Process for Parents

Before the IEP Meeting…

  • Obtain as much information as you can before the IEP meeting. Talk to your son/daughter’s teachers, or the people who evaluated your child. Read their reports in advance, review the last IEP, and review your child’s records.
  • If possible, meet with your son/daughter’s teachers.
  • Call the special education office for the location of specific programs under consideration for your son/daughter. Visit any proposed programs before the IEP meeting is held. This way you are in a position to agree or disagree with any placement decisions to be discussed.
  • If your son/daughter has received services from another agency, collect as much information as you can and share it with the school. This could be any activities your child participates in outside of school. Share your child’s interests.
  • If possible, both parents should plan to attend the IEP meeting. You may also want to bring someone else with you (friend, grandparent, aunt, uncle, advocate, etc.)
  • Familiarize yourself with terms used in IEP meetings. If you do not understand a term used, ask to have it explained.
  • Review the previous year’s IEP forms. Have goals been met? Are the goals chosen last year still important, or have other needs become more important?
  • Review any report cards or progress reports received over the past year. How was the progress toward the annual goals achieved?
  • Write down your questions and concerns to take to the meeting.You may need a reminder of some of the issues as the meeting progresses.
  • Make a list of suggestions that you might like to see written into your son/daughter’s IEP. Think of some skills that your child may need in the coming year or that you would like to see addressed by the IEP.

At the IEP Team Meeting…

  • Feel that you and your son/daughter can participate fully in the meeting, sharing your opinions and ideas about the educational needs and programs.
  • Remember that you do truly know your son/daughter the best.
  • The IEP forms are to be completed as a joint effort with equal participation from all members of the team, including you and your son or daughter.
  • Ask for an explanation of any terms that are new to you.
  • Ask what your son/daughter’s strengths are and consider those.
  • Share your concerns about enhancing the education of your son/daughter.
  • Ask about the advantages and disadvantages of programs or classes proposed.
  • Ask for the reasoning behind a suggestion if you do not understand it.
  • Ask what related services (e.g. school social work, work based on learning, etc.) your child needs.
  • Ask what can be done at home to help reach educational goals.
  • Consider results of the initial evaluation or most recent re-evaluation.
  • Be sure you understand the contents of the IEP before you sign it.  If a spouse was not able to attend, maybe you should take it home and discuss what decisions have been made. You need to sign the IEP.
  • If the forms are not completely filled out, do not sign. Remember this is a legal document.
  • Have your son/daughter sign the IEP. This teaches that they have ownership in their education.
  • Remember that any official member of the IEP Team may indicate dissent and attach written dissent to the IEP form.
  • If you disagree, you can additionally request in writing, an Individualized Education Evaluation, mediation, or hearing.

After the IEP Meeting…

  • Keep the IEP report and all other pertinent records together in a safe location.
  • Keep any report cards or progress reports in a safe place.
  • Keep some of your son/daughter’s homework as an example to help you remember what has been accomplished through the year.
  • Visit the school, you are an important part of the educational team.
  • Get to know your son/daughter’s teachers and principal.
  • Keep positive communication channels open between home and school.
  • Keep in mind the goals of the IEP and a list of whether these are being addressed.
  • Know that you can ask for another IEP meeting at any time of the school year. ( If the program for your son/daughter isn’t working, too many conflicts seem to occur, the IEP isn't being followed, etc.) You should have a valid reason to request the IEP meeting when doing so.

Preparing for an IEP

  • Read last year’s IEP and make notes about things to keep, drop, or revise.
  • File any loose reports, evaluations or letters in your advocacy notebook.
  • Make a list of all the issues you want to address at the meeting.
  • Prioritize each item on your list as negotiable or non-negotiable.
  • Write down your top 3 concerns. Make a statement out of each one.Follow each statement up with supporting evidence and a non- threatening question.
  • Research anything you feel like you need to know more about. Your goal: to be able to ask good questions during the meeting.
  • Complete the “Positive Student Profile” to introduce your child to the team.
  • Make copies of anything you want to share with the team.
  • If your spouse can’t attend the meeting, invite someone else for support.
  • Notify the school if you plan to tape the meeting.
  • Review any rights you’re unsure of.
  • Reach out to your support network. Talk to other parents, mentors, or advocates.
  • Hug your child!

Go into your meeting with confidence knowing that you are the ultimate “expert” on your child!