What happens if I don’t sign the IEP?

Short answer: Nothing. In most cases. Only 2-3 states require a parent’s signature on the IEP to begin services. That is, after the first IEP. You usually have to sign that one to begin services.

But I have heard this from more parents than I can count. “And I am not signing that IEP!”

a mom signing her IEP

I get it. Really I do. I mean, I do attend IEP meetings for a living. I’ve been to hundreds of them, all kinds of kids, all kinds of districts. I’ve seen the good, the bad, the ugly. And even the unmentionable. So you received an IEP that you do not agree with, and you do not want to sign that IEP.

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So I get it, I know what it’s like to be in a bad IEP situation. But for every bad IEP situation, there’s always at least one piece of advice that could make it worse. So another one that I hear often is, “Well then definitely do not sign that IEP.” And that is a bad piece of advice mostly because it’s meaningless.

Here are some things you should know about refusing to sign the IEP.

When you don’t want to sign the IEP

There are several things I can tell about a parent when they proclaim that they are not signing the IEP.

  • You don’t agree with your child’s IEP. Well, duh, thanks Captain Obvious! But, most moms come to me with nothing more than a gut feeling. So when you are refusing to sign the IEP, your gut is telling you something. Listen to it. Pursue this, educate yourself and proceed.
  • You feel powerless. Your IEP team may feel like 5 against 1, or even 10 or more. And you feel powerless. But the one power you have is your signature, and you’re going to withhold it.
  • You don’t know what not signing the IEP means. The best case scenario is that withholding your signature from the IEP will do a whole lotta nothing. Worst case scenario, in my state, you withhold your signature from the NOREP/PWN (which is our signature form presented with the final IEP) and that means it automatically goes into effect in 10 days. How about that? So, before you stand your ground on not signing the IEP, you better look up what happens in your state if you don’t. For most states, nothing happens. California (I think!) requires your signature to proceed with it, but they are one of the few states that do. The exception is the initial IEP, but I’m not going to get into that here.
  • You are unaware of the powers that you do hold as a parent. Parents do have power in the IEP process, no matter what your team has made you feel like. Here is a list of 5 times during the IEP process when your participation is essential.
  • You think that you are in this alone. We all feel alone at times. But kids with IEPs make up about 15% of the school population, so you are not alone. You feel alone, and that your only way to solve this is to not sign the IEP. Poke around your local community, but somehow, some way, you’ve got to find a support system in this. Moms who go to IEP meetings with a friend or advocate, they don’t have to resort to “and I am not signing the IEP!”
  • You need more IEP process knowledge. Find workshops. Look up your state’s parent training center (every state has one!). But in addition to the 5 things I gave you above, you need to learn how to use the IEP process strategically so that you don’t end up frazzled and exclaiming “I’m not signing this!”

What happens if Parents refuse to sign an IEP?

In most cases, signing or not signing the IEP does very little. Sometimes it’s just an attendance sheet. In some states, it does mean approval. (Not positive, but I think it’s only CA and Mass.) But like anything in the IEP process, you need to know what it means and not to assume anything. After all, you could be in my state and have it automatically go into effect!

What if a parent disagrees with the IEP?

For starters, get yourself educated on the PWN. Read my post about it. And definitely read your Procedural Safeguards.

How To Disagree With an IEP

Parental Rights are in your Procedural Safeguards booklet. That is the tool you want to use to get your parent concerns addressed. Write a thorough parent concerns letter, then follow it up by asking for all of those items on a PWN. But generally, not signing an IEP does not mean you disagree with it. You must use the dispute resolution procedure outlined by your state. I have all 50 states listed here.

That is a much more effective strategy to being heard.

Help is out there, find it and get yourself on the path to less stressful IEP meetings. Good luck.

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