Playing a role in the IEP process

ByKristin Stanberry

At a glance

  • Parents are, by law, equal partners on their child’s IEP team.

  • You have intimate knowledge of your child’s strengths, struggles, and development. Your input regarding the IEP is valuable.

  • The school can’t develop, change, or implement the IEP without your consent.

If you’re new to the Individualized Education Program () process, you may wonder what your role is and how much you can offer. Remember this: You may not be an expert about , but you are an expert about your child.

It’s not always easy to speak up about what your child needs. Understanding the special education services available to your child can boost your confidence. This may take time. But gathering information and asking questions along the way can yield big dividends for your child.

How can you be involved in developing, monitoring, and revising your child’s IEP? Take a closer look at your role.

Parents are equal members of the IEP team.

As a parent, you have the right to participate in all of your child’s IEP meetings. In fact, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the federal law governing special education, lists parents first on the list of required members of a student’s IEP team.

You play an important role in decisions about where and how your child will be taught. This is referred to as “placement.” This term covers not only which classroom or school your child is placed in, but also which services will be included in the IEP. Services can include things like one-on-one sessions with a speech therapist or the use of assistive technology.

IDEA says that the IEP team cannot change your child’s placement without giving you a chance to challenge that change. During the process (which is called dispute resolution), your child has the right to remain in the current placement.

Parents participate throughout the IEP process.

Your input is important throughout the IEP process. This starts with your child’s first evaluation and continues right through to the transition plan in the high school IEP.

The school knows your child as a student. Some members of the team may only know your child “on paper” — through test results, for instance. But you represent your child in a very personal way.

  • Helping the team assess your child’s skills: The IEP is based on something called “the present level of academic achievement and functional performance” (known as PLAAFP, PLP, or PLOP). In short, this means they need to how your child is doing now so they can measure future progress. Your input about how your child functions at home is valuable to PLOP. You might share that your child has meltdowns while doing algebra homework but has no problems with other kinds of math. These observations help the IEP team figure out weaknesses, strengths, and level of academic skills.
  • Coming up with educational goals: Once your child’s PLOP is established, you and the rest of the IEP team are required to write measurable annual goals for your child. Your input can help define and refine goals so they’re realistic but still ambitious. Annual goals give your child and the teachers something concrete to work toward. They also help hold the school accountable for addressing your child’s needs.
  • Keeping an eye on your child’s services and supports: Your child is supposed to receive supports and services that are tailored to specific needs. But it’s easy for a busy special education department to apply a “standard” set of supports and services to all students with a certain disability. As a parent, you can make sure the IEP is designed with your child in mind.

What if you’re concerned that the promised services and supports aren’t being provided? Follow up with someone on the team your child’s teachers, special education director or anyone else you feel comfortable talking to. Approaching the school in a collaborative spirit is usually the best way to start. But you can take more formal steps (such as writing a letter of complaint) if you don’t get the answers and action you believe are necessary.

Parents create continuity.

Your role as a member of the IEP team is valuable from start to finish. Your child’s teachers, special education providers, and schools may change. But you remain a constant in your child’s life. You’ll watch your child learn, stumble, adapt, and succeed.

When kids reach high school, they’ll be expected to participate as a member of their IEP team and help develop a . They’ll take the lead as parents and caregivers from being their primary advocate being their “coach.”

Through it all, you can support your child in developing the self-awareness and skills needed for the future.

Key takeaways

  • You can advocate for your child by being an active member of the IEP team.

  • Your participation matters at every point in the IEP process.

  • As a parent, you have knowledge and understanding of your child that’s valuable to the IEP team.

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About the author

About the author

Kristin Stanberry is a writer and editor specializing in parenting, education, and consumer health/wellness.

Reviewed by

Reviewed by

Patricia H. Latham, JD is an attorney and mediator and the co-author of eight books on disability and the law.