Navigating the IEP

By Jerome J. Schultz, Ph.D.

If your child has special needs, state and federal education laws give you the right to participate in the creation of your child’s Individualized Educational Plan (IEP). The IEP explains how your child will be educated. It should include the following:

• information about your child’s educational performance,

• short- and long-term educational goals,

• a description of your child’s special-education and related services,

• how much time your child will spend in or out of the regular classroom, and
• how and when your child’s progress will be evaluated.

The law also requires that the school send you information about special education regulations and your rights. You will meet with the school evaluation “team,” which may include a psychologist, school counselor or special educator to develop your child’s education plan. Spending some time preparing for the meeting can help you achieve better results and make the process less stressful.

Here are a few suggestions:

Learn as much as you can. Read all materials that the school sends you. If you have any questions, call the school and contact a local support group for information. Contact other parents who have been through the IEP process for information and support.

You don’t have to go to the IEP meeting alone. The law allows you to bring a friend, another parent, a relative or an advocate.

Check the school’s files. The Family Rights and Privacy Act gives you the right to obtain copies of all the materials in your child’s school record.

Prepare a summary of past evaluations and look over tests that determined the type of disability your child has before the meeting. Compare new test information with old findings in order to decide whether the current testing is valid, or if there has been a change in your child’s profile. (You may need to ask a professional, such as a psychologist, for help.)

Put together a portfolio of your child’s work, showing his strengths and weaknesses. Explain the kinds of classrooms, teachers and programs that have or haven’t helped your child in the past. List your child’s skills and those he needs to learn.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. This whole process was created to involve parents as knowledgeable participants in their children’s education. You have the right to clear explanations in jargon-free language and to challenge any information you don’t agree with.

Take your time. If the meeting isn’t long enough for the team to do everything, or you feel that the team is rushing you, ask for another meeting. Also, the meeting has to be held at a time and place that is convenient for you and the team.

Get a copy of the IEP and watch the calendar. You are entitled to receive a completed copy of the IEP five school days after the meeting, and the plan has to be in effect within 30 days.

Know your rights. You or the school may request an IEP meeting at any time. Your child has the right to attend an IEP meeting if he is 14 or older. A child who is younger than age 14 can attend if you want him to. You also have the right to observe any program proposed for your child. If you feel that the plan is not working, you can revise an IEP, but the law requires that the school review it annually.

Jerome J. Schultz, Ph.D., is a clinical neuropsychologist and director of The Learning Lab @ Lesley University in Cambridge. The Learning Lab specializes in the evaluation and tutoring of children with learning disabilities, ADHD Asperger Syndrome, NLD and other special needs.