IEP 101: What Is an IEP?

Article
Jan. 19, 2022Updated Oct. 19, 2022

Definition of an IEP in special education

An IEP outlines services and supports that the school or district will provide, at no cost to the student’s family, to ensure that the student has access to a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), and that their individual needs are met. Every child who receives special education services must have an IEP.

Who qualifies for an IEP?

A child is eligible for an IEP if they meet the criteria for one of thirteen eligibility categories and if they cannot make adequate progress in school without special education services. Here's a breakdown of each category. If a student is not eligible for an IEP, they may still qualify for a 504 plan. (Find out more about the differences between an IEP and a 504 plan.)

Who writes an IEP?

After a formal assessment has been conducted by the school or district, the IEP team is created. This group of individuals includes key school staff and the child’s parent(s). The team will meet and review the assessments and any other relevant information about the child. If it is determined that the student is eligible for special educational services, the team will design a program to address the child’s educational needs that result from their disability. Remember that parents are the most important members of an IEP team and have a right to fully participate. Read about the IEP team’s key players and their roles.

How are students assessed for an IEP?

When is the IEP developed?

What are the components of an IEP?

An IEP includes the following:

We break all of these down in our article on key parts of an IEP.

How do I prepare for an IEP meeting?

Undivided worked with Dr. Caitlin Solone from UCLA to develop a framework to help parents prepare for the IEP. The first step is to learn about the importance of building the IEP from your child’s strengths. You can showcase your child’s strengths, interests, goals, and dreams by writing a vision statement to share with the IEP team. Make sure you’ve got all the essential documents you will need at the meeting, and review our IEP meeting checklist. Here are several more tips to help you get ready for the IEP meeting.

How do I review the IEP?

Before you leave the meeting or shortly after, the district will provide you with the completed IEP document for your review and signature. While reviewing the document, make a note of anything that is inaccurate or doesn’t match your understanding. Read our article on how to review your IEP and what you can do if you disagree with all or parts of it.

What if I disagree with the IEP?

If you disagree with the IEP team’s assessment, placement, goals, services, or supports, speak up during the IEP meeting. Ask that your objections be included in the narrative or the parent notes. After the meeting, review your IEP and decide whether to sign it and which parts you agree with. If you agree with some parts but disagree with others, you may want to sign partially so that the parts of the IEP that you agree with can be implemented while you resolve your dispute. If attempts at alternative dispute resolution or mediation do not work, you have the right to file a due process complaint and have your case heard by an administrative law judge.

How do I make sure the IEP is being followed?

There are several steps you can take to make sure your child’s IEP is being followed and that they are getting the services, accommodations, and focus on goals that the team agreed to. Request progress reports, speak with service providers and teachers (and your child), visit your child’s classroom, and know what you can do to take action if you discover the IEP isn’t being followed. Read our article on how to follow up on your IEP for more information.
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Contents


Overview

Definition of an IEP in special education

Who qualifies for an IEP?

Who writes an IEP?

How are students assessed for an IEP?

When is the IEP developed?

What are the components of an IEP?

How do I prepare for an IEP meeting?

How do I review the IEP?

What if I disagree with the IEP?

How do I make sure the IEP is being followed?

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