Understanding Your Child’s IEP

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For parents of children with disabilities, learning how to access the most appropriate services and supports can pose a challenge, as navigating the special education system can at times prove difficult.

Fortunately, Michigan Alliance for Families works to connect parents of children with intellectual and developmental disabilities with information and resources so that they can speak on behalf of their children and better understand the system.

An individualized education program—or IEP—is a written document created for each student in a public school who receives special education services and supports.

There are a few basic reasons for the IEP:

  • To identify the student's skills, strengths and needs.

  • To set goals that are meaningful, possible and measurable for the student.

  • To put services in writing that a school district will provide for a student.

What is in the IEP?

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires that certain information be in the IEP. Though they can look different, IEP forms must include:

  1. Present levels of academic achievement and functional performance (PLAAFP), which is a baseline measure on how your child is currently doing in school and how his/her disability may affect progress in the general education curriculum.

  2. Yearly goals that the IEP team thinks your child can meet in a year.

  3. A description of how progress on yearly goals will be measured for your child.

  4. Special education and related services, such as speech therapy, including supplementary (or additional) aids and services your child will get at school (also called accommodations).

  5. Amount of time during the school day—if any—your child spends apart from his or her peers without disabilities.

  6. Your child's participation in alternate state and district tests, or accommodations related to the state test.

  7. The projected start date for the supports and services for your child, and how often, where and how long they will be provided.

When To Do the IEP

An initial IEP must be completed and notice provided within 30 school days after you provide consent for your child's evaluation. Your child's eligibility is determined at the initial IEP meeting, based on the results of the evaluation and other relevant information. However, the IEP meeting and notice of the offer of special education programs or services might not be on the same day.

The IEP must be reviewed annually to develop and/or revise the contents of your child's IEP and can happen more than once a year, if revisions are needed. After an IEP becomes final, the school district is required to provide what is written in the IEP, including supports, services, accommodations and modifications.

The school may prepare a draft of the IEP and share it before or during the meeting. Note that drafts are not considered enforceable documents. You will need to provide signed consent before the school implements your child's first IEP. However, after that, the school does not need your signed consent again for future IEPs and your signature is not needed to make an IEP final.

If you do not agree with the final IEP, work with the school to make changes. If you cannot reach an agreement, other options can be sought, including mediation, filing a state complaint, filing a due process complaint (request for a hearing) or withdrawing consent for services.

Your IEP Team

A team to support your child's IEP will be put into place, with required members of the IEP team including a general education teacher (if your child will participate in a general education setting), a special education teacher or service provider, a district representative and someone who can interpret evaluation results; other district and school staff may also attend if appropriate. The team is different for each child, depending on their needs.

As the parent, you are also a team member and must be invited to each IEP team meeting. Additionally, the school must make a reasonable attempt to have a meeting when you can attend. The IEP team may also include other people invited by you or the school, such as other family members, advocates, students, peers or evaluators.

When to Include Your Child

Often children begin taking part in the IEP process in high school, when transition services are discussed, but your child can take part in the process at any age. The earlier your child is involved in educational planning, the more it helps him/her become independent and learn to advocate for themselves. When your child is young, he or she may be involved in the IEP only for shorter periods, but this can be increased over time.

For more resources and information about IEPs, please visit Michigan Alliance for Families. For more information about IEPs and special education evaluations, visit the Michigan Office of Special Education. For other special education-related information, visit the Family Matters site at the Michigan Office of Special Education.

Courtesy of Michigan Alliance for Families.

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