Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) guarantees all children with disability from birth through 21 years of age to a “free appropriate public education”.

This article highlights the process of acquiring special education services for children age 3 or older. (For children less than 3 years of age, please refer to the IFSP). More specifically, what is an IEP, who can be involved, and how to develop a good individual education plan. We have extensively used the Parents Helping Parents Training for IEP and “Educating Children with Disability” booklet by Channing L. Bete Co., as our source of information along with some personal experience.

The special education cycle begins with contacting the local school system or your local regional center.  The local regional center or the principal or special education coordinator at your school can help answer your questions and provide some useful phone numbers for the assessment process to begin. The school system has to provide an assessment plan within 15 days. Request that your school district conducts a comprehensive evaluation of your child to determine if he/she qualifies for services under IDEA. In the event the child does not qualify, ask that your child be assessed under Section 504. The purpose of an initial evaluation is to determine if the child has a disability and the educational needs of the child. Education needs include academic achievement, social/adaptive skills, motor development, communication development and cognitive development.

During an assessment, a team of professionals gathers information about your child and family. The information is used to determine if your child needs services and what services are needed. The information may come from child’s health history, observation, special tests and input from you.

What is an IEP?

Once the results of the assessment are available to you (maximum 15 days after assessment), an Individual Education Plan (IEP) will be developed.  The IEP will include:

  • How well the child is doing currently

  • Goals for the year

  • The services that will be provided and who will provide them

  • When the services will begin and how long they will last

  • How the progress will be measured and

  • How much the child be able to take part in regular programs.

In the Santa Clara County, for example, there are three forms that are used to systematically gather all the information during the IEP meeting. Form A includes a narrative summary with examples of assessment results and functional levels, summary of pupil strengths/weaknesses, long-range goals etc. Form B enumerates goals and objectives of the specially designed instructional program. Form C becomes even more specific. You and the other participants in the IEP meeting will write in this form what special education program and service will be used, the type of staff specialists, frequency/duration and location for the services provided. Most of the counties in CA have similar forms.

Special education programs help meet a student’s unique needs. The child may receive services for part or all of the day. Services are provided in the least restrictive environment (LRE). The LRE is the setting that gives the child the best chance to learn and the greatest possible contact with children who do not have disabilities.

Related services may also be provided to help a child benefit from special education. Services may include transportation, help with speech and language problems, psychological services, physical and occupational therapy, help with selection and use of assistive technology devices and medical services for diagnosis and evaluation problems.

Also note that if a child has specific needs to meet some behavioral issues that impede the child from learning, positive behavioral interventions, strategies and supports to address that behavior can also be included in the IEP.

Who can attend an IEP meeting?

An IEP meeting is more than just a meeting with the “authorities or professionals or experts”. It is a meeting in which you, and your child (above 14) will actively participate and layout specific goals that the child will meet in a specific length of time and the services that will be needed to enable the child to meet the goals. In each IEP meeting, the following people must be present:

  • Parent or surrogate parent

  • The student under consideration (if above 14)

  • Special education teacher

  • Representative of LEA (can be the principal of the school)

  • A regular education teacher (if appropriate)

You (parent) can also request a friend, an advocate or any professional including independent evaluators, anyone that works with the child, doctors, or health professionals. Make sure you inform the coordinator of the IEP meeting about your intention to bring another guest.

Tips for Developing a Good IEP

Your involvement makes a difference. Here are some best practices from parents:

1. Be prepared for meetings. Make a list of points you would like to discuss and any questions you have. Think about the things the child can do now then choose one of those things and determine what helped the child learn the specific skill. Focus on two or three things the child is working to learn now, decide which one of those things is most challenging and why. Write down the one thing you would like your child to learn in the next six months.

2. Remember a good assessment leads to a good IEP. During the assessment don’t just dwell on academic achievements or the inabilities of the child. Discuss:

  • Cognitive abilities of the child such as memory, reasoning, abstract understanding.

  • General likes and dislike of the child that contribute to the child’s ability to learn and be creative.

  • Perceptual and processing skills of the child.

  • Attention span, attentiveness of the child.

  • Social skills of the child

3. It is always a good idea to bring someone who can objectively help you develop the educational plan for your child. Discuss with your friend before hand what you would like to accomplish in the meeting.

4. Gather and review all your child’s records periodically.  Parents have a right to access all records, files, documents maintained by the school system that relate to your child. Go through the records well before the IEP meeting.  Give yourself a chance to digest all the information and look at it in an objective way.

5. Develop a simple form that a teacher can give you feed back on, on a regular basis. To view or print an example of this form, Click Here.

6. Communicate in a positive way. If the IEP meeting gets stressful, request a brake. If you are not satisfied with the IEP, say so. Clearly explain what areas concern you. Give others a chance to say what they think too. Try to come to an agreement before you give permission for services to begin.

7. Describe the problem concisely. Recommend your solutions. Choose the best solution for ALL. If you cannot reach an agreement, you have options of going through formal channels for problem solving. These include ADR (Alternative Dispute Resolution), Mediation and Due Process Hearing.You can file a complaint with the Procedural Safeguards Referral Service (PSRS). The number is 1-800-926-0648

8. Before signing the IEP, consider if the goals are well defined and are measurable. Make sure the IEP lists the modifications that you have made in the meeting. Remember you have options. You can consent to the IEP or consent with exceptions or even deny the consent.

9. IEP meetings can be requested by the parents. These do not have to be annual meetings. Since a parent presence is a requirement, an IEP meeting cannot be held without a parent present. (There are some exceptions to this rule).

10. Finally, keep the focus on your child. Bring your expertise about your child to the meetings.

There is also a complete guide to IEP put together by the government. You can also refer to a complete list of tips to prepare for IEP and Dos and Donts put together by Jeenaparents during the IEP Workshops.

You can visit the following websites for additional information about IEP:

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