I Need IEP Help, but I Don't Know Where to Begin


“I am so overwhelmed!”

“How do you know where to begin?”

If you are  a parent who thinks that you child needs special education, or, they are receiving special education but not making progress, you’ve come to the right spot. Keep reading.

This is a blog post that I’ve avoided doing like the plague. Like the worst stomach bug to ever hit a household, I’ve pretended it didn’t exist. I didn’t want to do it. Only because when people ask “so how do I get started with the IEP process?” it’s a pretty long answer. I knew once I dove in, I wouldn’t be out for a long time. But, enough people have asked, and enough advocates have said, “Don’t you have a blog post about this that I can just share with clients?” I realized it’s time.

So here goes.

If your child has no IEP, a current IEP or current 504 but you feel in your gut that they need more, this is for you.

I’m going to break it down into two categories – kids who already have an IEP and kids who do not. And the ‘do not’ group includes having a 504. Because a 504 is NOT an IEP.

Ready? Let’s dig in.

How to get started in IEP process for a child with no IEP

1. Again, this would include 504s. If your child has a 504, but you feel it’s not enough, this is for you. Here are the steps to have your child evaluated for an IEP.
2. Gather your thoughts. Think about all the ways you feel that your child is struggling in school, with homework, socially, etc. Start listing them on a piece of paper until you feel your list is complete.
3. Draft a letter to your school principal. I can’t say this enough – do EVERYTHING in writing. If you didn’t write it down, it didn’t happen.
4. If you need some help with your letter, there is a list of more than 25 special ed letter templates here.
5. Be specific. “Dear Principal, I wish to have my child evaluated for special education services. This is what I am seeing and I am concerned that he/she may have a learning disability because…” and list your examples.
6. End your letter with “… and I wish to receive a permission to evaluate form within 10 days so that we can begin the process.” You can read more special ed timelines and evaluations here, keeping in mind different states have different timelines.
7. That’s it. Wait for their response and/or the PTE form. You now will have several opportunities to provide input, you can read about those here.
8. If the school does not agree with evaluating your child, or suggests RTI or a 504 instead, that’s just something you have to personally decide. Whatever they offer, ask for it on a PWN, and proceed from there. I would personally suggest getting RTI while you are waiting for evals, but not in lieu of.

Child has an IEP, but it’s not working, we need help

Ok, my first bit of advice and most important: DO NOT wait until the IEP meeting.

I mean it! If, in your head, you’re thinking, “Ok, I have a list of concerns, I’ll just bring them up at the next IEP meeting…” NO! NO! I’m wagging my finger at you. Do not wait!

Parents have several opportunities to provide input in the IEP process, and several of them occur BEFORE the IEP is drawn up.

Please, please, please do not wait until the IEP meeting. Start now. Today. Here are the steps:

1. Gather your thoughts. In your gut, something isn’t right. Now, sit down and describe it, define it. What are you seeing? What is your child doing? How are they not making progress, what areas? Make a comprehensive list.
2. Get out your child’s IEPs, the two most recent ones. For both, you want to look at the Present Levels of Performance section. This is the section that drives the IEP. IEPs are needs-based and needs-driven, so you want to make sure that this section is complete, thorough and accurate. If there are things missing, there are several ways to get them put into present levels. One is to ask for more or different evaluations that would pick up a concern that perhaps the child was not previously tested for. The other is ask the team to reinterpret previous evaluation data. And the third is to get it put in via your Parent Concerns letter.
3. You also want to compare goals from one year to the next. Are the goals appropriate? Are they yours/your child’s priority? Do you have any “disappearing goals?” (goals that were not achieved, but disappeared from the IEP) Are they achieved across all environments? Make notes of what you are finding.
4. Write a letter, asking the IEP team to convene, because you have concerns. List your concerns – ALL of them. Even if it’s really long, better to get them all on one letter and just start chipping away at them. It is not my recommendation to voice some concerns now, then more in two weeks, then more in another three weeks and so on. Just give them one big letter to work on. Send it to whoever you correspond with about IEP issues.
5. What are you asking for–more evaluations? Goals not appropriate? Goals are good, but not enough SDIs to get there? Again, I can’t say it enough–be thorough, be specific and if you didn’t write it down, it didn’t happen. It’s best to take a few days to do this, rather than jam it all out in a few hours. You’ll likely forget things if you do this too hastily.
6. And you wait for their response. They should respond within 7-14 days. At each step, they are going to offer or decline your requests. And at each step along the way, ask for it on a PWN. You can decide from there how you want to proceed.

Keep in mind, this situation didn’t develop in two hours, so it’s not going to be resolved in a two-hour meeting. It likely will take lots of back and forth, several meetings and so on. But, I have found that with perseverance, it levels off in 3-6 months.

Ok, that is simplifying it a bit into 6 or 8 steps. If you have specific questions, please join our Facebook group and ask.

Lisa Lightner is a Chester County, PA mom of two. This post was adapted from the blog A Day in Our Shoes, which she co-authors. It provides support, resources and advocacy services for parents of children with special needs.


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