Master the IEP Process

Avoid Common Mistakes & Know Your Parental Rights Under IDEA

The IEP process can be frustrating and confusing as well as emotional. The following tips can take some of the stress out of the process. When you know the process better, you get heard. You start to move barriers and get to “Yes” in this culture of “No.”

If you don’t write it down, it didn’t happen.

Phone calls are great for communication and to keep things friendly, but follow up with an email. All requests need to be in writing, dated and time stamped. Most school district offices have one of those “received” stamps with the date. Ask them to stamp your request and make a copy for you.

Value yourself as an important and equal member of your child’s IEP team.

You know your child better than anyone else. Your importance and status is equal to that of every member of his IEP team, even if other members have a PhD or wear a shirt and tie.

Understand the value of the parental concerns portion of the IEP and the parent letter of attachment.

You should always have an ongoing list of concerns you want addressed for your child. When the IEP invitation comes, formalize those concerns in a letter and include it with your response. Per prior written notice (PWN, or what in PA is often called NOREP — notice of recommended educational placement), the school must address all your concerns.

When you receive your final copy of the IEP, do not sign if it doesn’t list those concerns. When you get the NOREP to sign, do your parent letter of attachment. If you disagree with your child’s placement, use the letter to state the reasons why. If you agree with the NOREP and the IEP, state that you agree but list any concerns or services you conceded or decided to table until another date.

Do not let the school district tell you that they cannot or will not attach your parent letter. They can and must. It’s your right under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

Don’t be too nice.

Maybe nice isn’t the right word. Perhaps it’s polite or forgiving. When you return the PWN with your concerns, list the individuals you wish to have present at the IEP meeting. If they don’t show up, reschedule the meeting.

Read the procedural safeguards.

PWN clearly states that the IEP team must accept or reject the parent’s proposal and list the reasons for their decisions. This is huge!

Bring an advocate to the IEP meeting.

Even if things are going really well between you and your child’s school, take someone with you to the meeting. IEP meetings are busy; there’s a lot of information being tossed around, and it’s a very emotional time. You’ll benefit from another set of eyes and ears, plus moral support.

Don’t blindly request more services.

You want the correct amount of the correct services. If you’ve thrown a bunch of treatment options at a problem and they’re not working, take a step back. Ask for more evaluations and get new or different sets of professional eyes to assess your child.

Invest the time.

Has this ever happened to you? You get to the IEP meeting, and they have the IEP written up. They read it to you — you give a few verbal comments here and there — and put it in front of you to sign, along with the NOREP. You sign it, leave and see them for 45 minutes again the following year. Little to no parental input goes into IEPs done in this fashion. Take your time to advocate for your child and do it well. This is a collaborative — not directive — process.

Don’t compare your child’s IEP to others’ IEPs.

IEP means individual education plan. The services another child receives may not be appropriate for your child.

Remain child focused.

The entire process should be about your child. If you feel a teacher, clinician or administrator “wronged” you and your family, handle it appropriately. This isn’t about “getting” anybody. The process is about your child and your child’s needs.

Lisa Lightner is a certified special education advocate. This article appears in longer form on her blog,

Categories: Other Disabilities Research & Advice, Special Needs Parenting