Getting Started in the World of IEPs

IEP stands for Individual Education Plan. It is just what it says. Children with disabilities are entitled to a “free and appropriate education” but what that looks like for each child is Individual. The concept of Special Education has only been around at the national level since 1975. That is when the IDEA law was passed, which stands for Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Additionally, each state also has its own separate set of Special Education Regulations.

You should familiarize yourself with both IDEA and your state’s regs which can be found online.

started with an iep

If you are here, that means that your child has an IEP. Or, you’ve been recently told that perhaps they should have one. I call this “the knowledge base I wish I didn’t have to have” but hey, here we are. We have to do this for our kids, so let’s do it well. Lucky for you (and your child!) you found one of the best online resources for IEPs, me!

No, seriously, I love talking about IEPs and explaining it to parents.

Before we get started-

Acknowledge that you’re going to be on the learning curve. It’s a cumbersome and overwhelming process. You will feel frustrated at times and maybe confused. Others will talk in acronyms and other strange language that you don’t know. Yet. Own that word-YET. You will learn this and you will become a great advocate for your child.

Please don’t let this overwhelm you. As you read articles on here, pin them, bookmark them, and do it in phases. Chunk it down, just like we would for our kids! You might feel a sense of urgency to learn this all as soon as possible. Learn to curb that feeling because the IEP process by itself is slow. Nothing gets resolved in a day or one meeting.

An IEP is more than one document or one meeting.

FAPE (Free and Appropriate Education) is the cornerstone of Special Education, so you should learn and understand the concept.

As you learn the process and go through this with your child, please know that the IEP is not just a meeting, and it is not just one document. It is an on-going, year-long process. You do not just go to one meeting, go over one document and that’s it.

As a parent, you should be engaged in the process the entire year, every year. Yes, I know, it’s overwhelming. I get it. My child has one too.

How does a child get an IEP?

Someone, usually a parent or teacher, has referred the child to be evaluated for an IEP. That is the first step of the IEP process-evaluations. Here are some tips on getting started in Special Education Evaluations.

After the IEP Evaluations:

After the evaluations are complete, the school will generate what is known as an ER, for Evaluation Report. They should hold a meeting to discuss this with you.

And then on to the IEP:

What the evaluation report says will determine how the team will proceed. If it is determined that your child needs special education, a team will be formed. Other times, you may be offered something instead of an IEP, or denied any services whatsoever.

If the team says that they are going to draw up an IEP, then a meeting will be held. I have a separate post about that.

When you get the invitation to the IEP meeting, you should submit a Parent Concerns letter when you RSVP. This should be submitted prior to the meeting.

How To Write the Best-Ever Parent Concerns Letter for your IEP 

What’s in an IEP?

A quick version of the IEP is this: Cover Sheet with basic information—>Present Levels (should describe your child fully)—> Goals—> Supports and Services—> Progress Monitoring and LRE percentages.

Staying Engaged in the Process

As I stated above, parents need to be engaged in the process all year-round. There are certain things that a parent should be doing to maximize their value and input on the team. I have those things listed here. You also should have a system set up to organize your paperwork efficiently.

Depending on your state, evaluations are required every 2-3 years. Above, in the “5 Things” post, you will read ways that you can maximize your input in the evaluation process.

Maybe you’re thinking, “Wait, but I have some issues that I need further explanation on.” No problem, here are some common issues that come up. Read the article(s) that pertain to your situation, and use them as a guide to writing your letter.

Ideas to Bring to the Meeting or include in Parent Concerns Letter

If you are having trouble defining what it is your child needs, I have dozens of lists. Most of them can be found in the two links below, but there’s also a search bar at the top of the blog if you need more ideas.

Transition Plans (including preschool transition)

If Discipline and Behavior have been an issue

We don’t agree, now what?

And there you go. Is that everything? Probably not. There’s only so much information you can put in one blog post. After all, even Wrightslaw has dozens of books on the topic. Depending on your situation, we could probably delve deeper into a lot of other topics. But, this should be enough for you to gain more confidence and be a better advocate for your child than you were before reading. You can always join our Facebook group to ask your specific questions.

Remember, a solid IEP is time consuming. But, it’s our kids’ education and outcomes that we’re advocating for. Read Next: I Have an IEP, now what?