Advocacy: to speak, write or stand up for something or someone.
Navigating the world of special education services is not easy. With numerous forms and evaluations to complete, IEP meetings and sessions to schedule, and multiple points of contact to keep straight, it’s no wonder that many parents of children with IEPs often experience feeling frustrated, confused, or overwhelmed (or all three)!
You are not alone. Many parents find that they don’t know exactly what their role in the IEP process is. However, as the parent or guardian of your child, know that YOU are the expert. Your participation is invaluable at every point in the IEP process.
Knowing where to start and what to expect will better prepare you to advocate for your child’s needs. To help orient you, below we’re sharing an overview of three major steps in the IEP process as well as a handy IEP preparation checklist.
Key steps for parents in the IEP process
1. IEP request or referral
An IEP request can be initiated by a parent/guardian, teacher, or doctor. For parents, this is often a written request for an evaluation with specific concerns regarding the child’s current challenges. Have you heard the saying, “If it’s not in writing, it didn’t happen”? It definitely applies here. It’s important that your request is formal, including applicable dates and signatures, to ensure that the request is processed appropriately. Documentation also creates a paper trail that makes it easier to follow up in the future.
After the referral is initiated, there is a timeline that dictates when an evaluation must be completed and an IEP meeting held, though note that these timelines can vary across states. Don’t be afraid to follow up if you haven’t heard back, but be kind and understanding as the process can be convoluted and often taxing for teachers too! When you follow up, use a positive, affirming tone that suggests you are all part of the same team.
3. IEP meeting
You, as a parent, are a crucial member of the IEP team. At the IEP meeting, you will be asked to provide input on your child’s strengths and challenges as well as their interests. The team will also review the child’s present levels and/or performance in school and on the evaluation.
Feel free to ask for clarification as needed during the meeting. Your concerns are valid and it is your right to have those concerns addressed. You can ask the team to provide resources, such as more information about the diagnosis or strategies to provide at home.
💡 What goes into an IEP?
Evaluation results and eligibility
Measurable annual goals, including academic and functional
Services to be provided and specific minutes
Present levels of performance
Once all parties agree, the IEP is finalized and you will be invited to sign. However, you should carefully review the plan before signing to ensure you are comfortable with it. Not sure what to look for? Try this helpful resource from Understood.org: What to Double-Check on Your Child’s IEP. Once signed by all parties, you will receive a copy of the finalized IEP.
IEP process checklist for parents
Prepare your questions before meetings. Make a simple list of points to address.
Highlight specific areas on paperwork (current IEP, evaluations) you would like to address.
Consider keeping a binder with any relevant medical and/or educational information.
Know your rights
If your primary language is not English, you have a right to an interpreter, and often, translated documents as well.
You can invite anyone you would like to attend the IEP meeting with you.
You have the right to access educational records.
Know the IEP process
You may receive a list of procedural safeguards (ground rules for how you will work with the school) before the IEP; if not, a copy will be provided at the IEP meeting.
Familiarize yourself with common terms (Here is a handy list of common special education acronyms).
You can expect to leave the meeting with a draft at the end of the meeting or a signed finalized copy.
If you do not agree with everything in the IEP, you can decline the IEP and negotiate changes with the team.