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IEP Help: Understanding the IEP Meeting

Individualized Education Plan (IEP) meetings are the most stressful meetings a parent will have to attend during their child’s school age years. Parents are rarely told what to expect at the meeting, causing undue stress and confusion. It is particularly confusing when a child first qualifies for special education services and the parent is suddenly expected to partake in a meeting with no prior knowledge of special education. Suddenly, they must learn about their child’s disability, the different types of IEP meetings, who will attend the meetings, and what will be discussed. It is no wonder that parents often leave that first IEP meeting with more questions than answers. Some parents feel intimidated into signing the IEP document without understanding it, believing that the “professionals” know best.

The “professionals” may know best in their very specific field of study but you, the parent, know your child the best. Be sure to ask questions and voice your concerns. Most IEP teams recognize how vital your role is and will be glad to assist you gain the knowledge you need to actively participate in the meeting.

Types of IEP Meetings

There are three primary types of IEPs and a number of  additional types of IEPs.

The three primary types of IEPs are:

  • Initial
    • The Initial IEP Meeting is the first meeting after the child has been assessed and found eligible for special education services. Typically, this is held in conjunction with the meeting to determine eligibility.
  • Annual
    • The Annual IEP Meeting is held once a year to review progress and update the IEP.
  • Triennial
    • The Triennial IEP Meeting is held every three years. The federal law known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), requires that students be tested every three years to see if they continue to qualify for special education services.

The additional types of IEP meetings that a parent may be asked to attend are:

  • Continuation
    • A continuation meeting is held when there wasn’t enough time to finish the IEP meeting.
  • Amendment
    • An amendment meeting is held to discuss a particular concern or to make a minor revision to the IEP.
  • Transition
    • Transition meetings are held when a student is “graduating” from one school setting to another. Examples of these are from preschool to kindergarten, from elementary to middle school, and middle school to high school. Planning for the transition from high school to post high school must begin by the time a child turns 16 years of age. It is required by IDEA that a transition plan be developed for every child with special needs by the time they turn 16 years of age. This plan becomes part of the IEP and is reviewed annually.
  •  Interim
    • An Interim IEP Meeting is held when a student moves into a new school district. This gives the new district thirty days to review the paperwork, assess the needs of the child, and hold a meeting to ensure that the child’s needs are being met.
  • Manifestation Determination
    • A Manifestation Determination Meeting is held when a student with special needs is facing disciplinary action such as suspension. This meeting examines if the behavior was caused by the student’s disability.
  • Possible change of placement
    • This type of meeting would discuss the child moving to a more or less restrictive environment. A child’s placement cannot be arbitrarily decided.

IEP Participants 

Minimally, the IEP meeting must be attended by the special education teacher, a general education teacher, an administrator, and the parent/guardian. This applies to all of the above mentioned types of IEPs. According to IDEA, these participants must be present.

The requirements for other participants are based upon the type of IEP meeting, needs of the student and parent’s choice. For example, at a triennial meeting the school psychologist will be present to report out on his/her findings, as well as any other specialist who provided testing. This could include a speech-language pathologist, occupational therapist, nurse, physical therapist, behavioral specialist, assistive technology specialist, or anyone with knowledge of the child that could assist the IEP team in the development of the IEP. This may also include an outside service provider, a counselor, or even a friend of the family.

A parent/guardian has the right to invite anyone they would like to the IEP meeting. If they are bringing someone, it is a courtesy (not a requirement) to let the district know who they are bringing. The only time that it is required that a parent let the district know that they are bringing someone is if they are bringing an attorney. This provides the district with the opportunity to have their legal counsel present.

IEP Items and Order of Discussion

No two IEP meetings are ever the same but there are certain items that must be discussed, as well as a general order that should be followed before the district presents their offer of a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). The order and items of discussion should be very similar to the following:

  1. You should be asked if you would like a copy of your Parent’s Rights/Procedural Safeguards and if you have any questions.
  2. Introductions of all Team Members.
  3. Review the purpose of meeting, time limitations, and any additional items the parent may want addressed.
  4. Report out on any assessments that were completed.
  5. Report out on student’s present levels and discuss areas of need.
  6. Parent Input should be sought throughout the meeting but the parent should specifically be asked about child’s strengths and weaknesses.
  7. Review previous goals and whether they were met or not met. These claims should be supported by data and work samples.
  8. Presentation of new goals. These must address all areas of need that were discussed, as well as they must be clearly defined and measurable.
  9. Accommodations and Modifications needed to help student access the curriculum.
  10. Need for transportation and Extended School Year (ESY).
  11. Discussion of continuum of services to demonstrate that child’s education is being provided in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE).
  12. District’s offer of FAPE.
  13. Reading of the notes from the meeting.
  14. Signature page. Note that there are two pages that you will be asked to sign. One will be for attendance only. All IEP participants must sign this to show that they were present at the meeting. The second will be where you sign in agreement with the IEP. If you want to review the IEP before signing, you can take it home and review it.

Flexibility is allowed with the order, as long as the parents agree and the order is followed in a logical manner. For example, you don’t want to be discussing the amount of service time before agreeing upon the goals since the goals drive the services.

IEP Review by a Special Education Advocate

If you are uncomfortable with the IEP, it is good idea to have a special education advocate review it. They will be able to recognize areas that may need to be addressed, and they will be able to answer your questions about the IEP.

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