Preparing for the IEP Meeting

Jessica L., a mom of two from Cincinnati, has become well-versed in the language of Individualized Education Programs, or IEPs, since her son was diagnosed with ADHD and autism. However, she describes her first IEP meeting as confusing, and says she and her husband had no idea what it entailed. Indeed, an IEP can be overwhelming for many parents unfamiliar with the process.

What is an IEP?

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a federal law that guides how states, school districts and public agencies provide early intervention, special education and related services to children with disabilities. Under IDEA, when a child is suspected of having a learning disability, schools must follow a process called Response to Intervention, or RTI. This is the evaluation process that determines whether or not a student has a learning disability as defined by the school.

If the evaluation determines that there is a disability that adversely affects the child’s education, an IEP is developed for the student. The IEP outlines specific goals teachers will work on with the student, what instruction will need to take place to help the child meet the IEP’s goals, and how much time/services the child needs.

Who is in the IEP meeting?

The student’s IEP will be developed during a meeting with a team of professionals from the school. Donna Schulte, Director of Special Education at Ft. Thomas City Schools, says that in addition to the parents and a general education teacher, this team usually includes the principal/assistant principal, intervention specialist, and/or a speech therapist, occupational therapist, physical therapist or psychologist.

Plan on meeting anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours, says Schulte. Once the IEP is in place, it’s effective for 364 days. After the initial meeting, you’ll reconvene a minimum of once per year to review progress. “There can’t be changes to the IEP unless they are made in a meeting,” explains Schulte, who adds that meetings can be called anytime deemed necessary.

What should parents ask?

Before they come to the meeting, Stacey Spencer, District Special Education Supervisor at Sycamore Community Schools, says parents need to do their homework. She recommends parents peruse Whose IDEA Is This? A Parent’s Guide to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEA) prior to the meeting. “This document is offered to parents at every IEP meeting, and can be accessed via the Ohio Department of Education’s website. It guides parents through the evaluation, IEP and includes questions and answers regarding every step of the process.”

Jessica adds that parents also need to know their child’s rights as a student. “Read up on the No Child Left Behind Act, and if your child is autistic or on the spectrum, read up on Wright’s Law,” she says.

These resources can help educate parents on different elements of IEPs, such as 504 plans, which state the modifications and accommodations that will be needed for a student to perform at the same level as his or her peers, which are often part of a student’s IEP.

Nancy Tolley, a former school psychologist with Cincinnati Public Schools, offers these suggestions as questions parents should ask during their IEP meeting.

  • How will things change for my child?
  • Who will he/she be working with and for how long/how often?
  • How will we [parents and teachers/IEP team] be in touch during the year?
  • What will change in grading?
  • How often will we get together to talk about how things are going?

    Finally, when developing your child’s IEP, be sure to clarify anything that doesn’t make sense. “Educators often forget that they can speak a special ‘educationalese’ so parents should ask for explanations if there’s anything they don’t understand,” advises Tolley.

    How can I help my child?

    As a parent, you have a special understanding of your child, so if you have concerns don’t hesitate to share them. “Parent involvement in the IEP process is so important,” says Spencer, who adds that parents should participate in all parts of the IEP process – from conception to implementation and reevaluation.

  • Jessica adds that parents are their child’s best advocates – and need to be prepared to speak up. “The most important thing is to never let anyone talk you into something that you feel is wrong for your child. Parental instinct is real — and it will never steer you wrong.”


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