Do You Have an IEP for Your Child? And Do You Need One? (Part 2)

September 6, 2019

Insight from Attorney Amy Altbach

Chicago, IL SSI Lawyer Amy J. AltbachNow it’s time for the IEP meeting, but you’re not sure what to expect. What’s in an IEP? What is your role in the process? In last month’s newsletter, we began the conversation about IEPs and how to request your child to be evaluated for special education services by the school district. If you missed last month’s introduction to IEPs, we suggest that you click here for that article before we drill down on what is included in an IEP, setting IEP goals, the role of parents in the IEP process, and how services are delivered.

What is an IEP meeting?

The purpose of an IEP meeting is to review, revise, and update your child’s IEP on a regular basis. The first IEP meeting must happen within 30 days after the school has determined your child is eligible for special education services. Once the plan is in place, the team will continue to meet once a year as long as your child has an IEP. Please note: as a parent, you can request a team meeting at any time.

While this may surprise you, there are no set procedures or rules for an IEP meeting. But to start, the school is required to provide advance notice of the meeting and to try to schedule it at a time when a parent is able to attend. At the meeting, the participants will review a draft copy of the IEP together. It’s considered a draft copy because discussions during the meeting may result in changes to the IEP plan. Everyone on the team will be invited to share their ideas and suggestions.

Who is on the IEP Team?

The following individuals are required to attend an IEP meeting: parents, student (if parents want them there), special education teacher, general education teacher, school administrator, and evaluation personnel. Evaluation personnel can vary; it may be a school psychologist, school social worker, speech pathologist, transitional coordinator, or occupational therapist. Parents may also bring outside experts to the IEP meeting, such as community service providers, advocates, lawyers, or a friend for support. Illinois law states these individuals must have some knowledge or special expertise about your child, but the determination of whether the person has special knowledge is up to the parent.

What’s included in an IEP?

The team will review four things during the meeting: present levels of performance (PLOP), annual goals, measurements of progress and how progress will be shared, and the types of support and serviced needed to meet these goals. As a parent, be prepared to point out your child’s strengths at the meeting. This can help the team understand your child’s talents and abilities, and to incorporate them into the IEP goals.

The team leader will note changes to the draft and the whole team has to agree for the changes to be implemented. This includes you as a parent. At the end of the meeting, you’ll be asked to sign the IEP document and approve it. You do not need to sign the IEP at the actual meeting. You can ask to take it home and review before signing.

And if you don’t agree with the IEP, it’s okay to decline signing it.

What is the role of parents?

It is critically important for parents to be involved in the IEP process. It is very common for parents to feel overwhelmed at IEP meetings because often there are many people there and the education jargon can be confusing. But here are some basic ideas to help reduce your anxiety and improve the outcomes for your child:

  • Talk to your child’s teachers before the meetings so you have clear idea of what they are likely to say about your child’s situation and needs.
  • Prepare your thoughts before each meeting and write down your key bullet points.
  • You have the right to take a support person with you—your spouse, a family member, a close friend, or anyone else that you trust. They can be an advocate for you and your child.
  • Ask questions about anything and everything you don’t understand at the meetings.
  • Stay focused and stay positive.
  • Ask for a draft copy of the IEP before the meeting.

Parents are entitled to take time away from work to attend IEP meetings, according to a recent opinion from the U.S. Department of Labor. This opinion says that you can qualify for leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) if your participation in an IEP meeting is a significant part of providing care for your child. The IEP process is a lot of work for everyone involved—students, teachers, and especially parents. But when the process is meeting everyone’s hopes and goals, the result is a quality education for children who otherwise would be left behind.