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Understanding IEP Eligibility | A Guide for Parents.

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IEP Eligibility

Your child has an IEP. Or they do not. Perhaps they were found ineligible. Maybe you were offered a 504 or RTI instead of an IEP. Or, maybe nothing at all. You were just informed that your child does not qualify for special education and that’s it.

In this post, I’m going to cover a few things related to IEP eligibility.

  • the IEP evaluation and determination process
  • the IEP eligibility meeting
  • options if you disagree with the IEP eligibility determination
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IEP Eligibility Flowchart

IEP evaluations are the first step in the IEP process. I have an entire blog post dedicated to initial IEP evals. Read that post if your child has not been evaluated yet.

I made this flowchart to help parents understand IEP eligibility and the process of getting and renewing an annual IEP.

iep process flow chart
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Before I get started on that, here is what IDEA says about eligibility. I also have included the paragraphs on what is a disqualifying factor for an IEP.

What IDEA Says about Eligibility

Between the gray lines I have the portion of IDEA Part B and what it says about IEP eligibility.


Sec. 300.306 Determination of eligibility

Statute/Regs Main » Regulations » Part B » Subpart D » Section 300.306

300.306 Determination of eligibility.

(a) General. Upon completion of the administration of assessments and other evaluation measures—

(1) A group of qualified professionals and the parent of the child determines whether the child is a child with a disability, as defined in §300.8, in accordance with paragraph (c) of this section and the educational needs of the child; and

(2) The public agency provides a copy of the evaluation report and the documentation of determination of eligibility at no cost to the parent.(b) Special rule for eligibility determination. A child must not be determined to be a child with a disability under this part—

(1) If the determinant factor for that determination is—

(i) Lack of appropriate instruction in reading, including the essential components of reading instruction (as defined in section 1208(3) of the ESEA as such section was in effect on the day before the date of enactment of the Every Student Succeeds Act (December 9, 2015));

(ii) Lack of appropriate instruction in math; or

(iii) Limited English proficiency; and

(2) If the child does not otherwise meet the eligibility criteria under §300.8(a).

(c) Procedures for determining eligibility and educational need.

(1) In interpreting evaluation data for the purpose of determining if a child is a child with a disability under §300.8, and the educational needs of the child, each public agency must—

(i) Draw upon information from a variety of sources, including aptitude and achievement tests, parent input, and teacher recommendations, as well as information about the child’s physical condition, social or cultural background, and adaptive behavior; and

(ii) Ensure that information obtained from all of these sources is documented and carefully considered.

(2) If a determination is made that a child has a disability and needs special education and related services, an IEP must be developed for the child in accordance with §§300.320 through 300.324.

(Authority: 20 U.S.C. 1414(b)(4) and (5))[71 FR 46753, Aug. 14, 2006, as amended at 72 FR 61307, Oct. 30, 2007; 82 FR 29761, June 30, 2017]


In other words, what that last paragraph is saying is this. Let’s say a child was homeschooled, poorly, for 5 years. Parents enroll him in the public district, and since he’s so far behind, IEP evaluations are done.

The evals come back and confirm–the child is really behind. However, since the child had poor schooling for 5 years prior, he likely will not get an IEP. It is assumed that the lack of education is due to just that–lack of education.

IEP Eligibility Meeting

Once your child’s special education evaluations are completed, you will be invited to a meeting. If this is your child’s first IEP, the eligibility meeting is usually held separately from an IEP meeting. Once there is an IEP in place, this meeting is bundled with IEP re-evaluations, per IDEA.

At this meeting, school professionals will explain the evaluations they did with your child, and explain the results. The team will then report to you whether or not they found your child eligible for special education under one of the 13 disability categories. I have a separate post explaining the categories and more about them.

If your child is eligible for an IEP, one will be developed. Most states give 30 days for this.

Eligibility Determination Process for IEP

Many IEP parents are overwhelmed at the process and are just beginning to get their feet under them at this point. You may not have contributed much to the evaluation process, and certainly not to the extent that I recommend. Parents should be telling the school what struggles and areas of need they are seeing and participate in the evals if appropriate. Many assessments have a parent component to them.

Parents should read their state’s special education regulations as well as reputable websites that support your child’s suspected condition(s). This can help a parent better define what they are seeing.

Disagree with IEP Eligibility Determination

There are a lot of different scenarios here. I’m going to try to narrow it down to a few.

My child was denied an IEP, but we were offered a 504 or RTI.

I have a whole separate post about that.
I asked for an IEP and was offered a 504/RTI instead.

We agreed my child needs an IEP but disagree on the Disability Eligibility Category.

I have a whole separate post on that, too. Some topics are worthy of their own explanation. 13 Disability Categories of IDEA: Does it matter which box is checked on an IEP?

I was told my child is not eligible for an IEP.

Ok, time to dig deeper. Was your child evaluated in all suspected areas of disability? Did you ask for those evaluations in writing? Do you agree with the results of the evaluations? There are a few qualifying criteria under which a parent can ask for an IEE-Independent Education Evaluation. Again, another post explaining the criteria and how to ask for one. But this is usually the route you take when you disagree with the school’s evaluations.

He did not qualify for an IEP or 504; was told we are going to “wait and see.”

No, no no no no no no. NO! A thousand times no. Why IEP Parents Should Never Agree to the “Let’s just Wait and See.”

The team said no to an IEP because we speak Spanish.

This is one I see often. Yes, if the child speaks primarily Spanish and does not read English well, the language difference may account for the difficulties. News flash! Latino children can and DO have learning disabilities like dyslexia. You can be bilingual and dyslexic or have ADHD. If your child is fluent in English and you suspect a reading or learning disability, you’re going to have to keep pushing. Keep advocating. Learn about IEEs and ask for one. Gather up examples, both written and video, of how your child is fluent in both. You can even ask to have evaluations done in Spanish if that is the child’s first language.

IEP Eligibility is a complex issue. It’s not as simple as yes or no. If you’ve been told no but your gut is telling you yes, keep advocating. Join our Facebook group for specific questions.

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