Your child’s IEP serves as a roadmap for their education: how the district will provide them with the services and supports they need to access a free, appropriate public education (FAPE), help them make progress toward their annual IEP goals, and ensure their needs are met. Knowing how vital this document is, you’ll want to do a thorough review to make sure you agree with the plan as written. What should you look for? What can you do if you find something you disagree with? We spoke with attorney Meira Amster, special education advocate and owner of KnowIEPs, Dr. Sarah Pelangka, and educational advocate and consultant Kelly Rain Collin to get the lowdown.

 

How does the signature process work?

The IEP form is created by a Special Education Local Plan Area (SELPA), which describes how each region’s services will be provided; therefore, it looks different in different districts. IEP forms require two different types of signature: one agreeing that you participated in the meeting, which all participants sign, and another stating that the student or parent agrees to the plan. It is always okay to sign the attendance page at every meeting. However, you should wait until you have reviewed the document at home before signing that you agree with your child’s IEP.

The district may be anxious for you to sign the IEP during the meeting because they are accountable for completing the annual IEP within a given timeline. However, it is better to take it home — you will need time to review everything in the document, process what was discussed in the meeting, and go over any points that may not have been resolved. In addition, it is a good idea to check that the pages are numbered and that none are missing.

We suggest agreeing on a timeframe in which you will return the signature page so the administrator can meet their deadline. Doing so can help reassure the team that they will complete the IEP process on time while allowing you to review each section thoroughly.

Meira Amster tells us that you can send the IEP signature page and any other letters and documents you are attaching via email, but be sure to request confirmation from the district that they received it. Dr. Pelangka suggests parents mail or deliver their letter and signature page to the district regardless of whether you send them via email so that you can be 100% sure the documents are received. If delivering in person, make sure the documents are timestamped.

 

Taking Proactive Steps During and After the Meeting

Kelly Rain Collin reminds us that taking preemptive steps can make it easier later to ensure that your child’s IEP is being followed.

  • Make sure the goals are specific and consistent with baseline data. Baseline data is the starting point that your child’s progress will be measured against, so having a clear starting point will help you monitor your child’s progression and ensure that the goal is being worked on throughout the year.
     
    • For example, if the goal involves your child reading from a specific paragraph, it is important that baseline data was collected while your child was reading that same paragraph. 
       
  • Request that your child’s benchmark dates coincide with when you will receive their progress monitoring reports, and ask that you receive copies of their service logs at the same time. 
     
    • In this way, you will be able to get a clear, complete, and meaningful picture of where your child is at that time and can check for any inconsistencies or red flags that may indicate their IEP isn’t being followed.
       
    • Collin warns that you may need to remind the district of this request as the dates approach because they may not send you all the documents on their own. However, by discussing your request at the IEP meeting, you have a record of the discussion to fall back on if you have any trouble.
       

What to look for when you review the IEP

As Collin tells us, “If it is not written, it doesn’t exist,” so you’ll want to make sure that everything you verbally agreed to with the team is included in the document. Otherwise, you could find yourself in a situation where agreed-upon accommodations are not being followed because they were never added to the IEP in the first place. The following checklist will help you thoroughly review your child’s IEP before signing.

  • Make sure that goals and services are written as they were agreed to in the meeting.
     
    • Pay particular attention to:
      • Service hours and end dates.
      • Location and frequency of services. For example, will they be provided weekly or monthly? Will they be push-in (services are provided in the classroom) or pull-out (services take place outside of the classroom)?
         
    • Check any sections in which you requested changes during a previous meeting that were verbally agreed upon. Dr. Pelangka suggests comparing those sections to your notes to ensure the changes you discussed were made.
      • Tip: If you request any changes during an IEP meeting, ask that they be made in the moment to make sure they don’t get left out.
         
  • Do the math: if your district lists minutes of time in a SpEd or GenEd class, do they add up to the total minutes you agreed to?
     
  • Look over the accommodations list. Are all the accommodations you agreed to listed? 
     
  • Check to be sure extended school year (ESY) services are included if appropriate for your child.
     
  • Read through the narrative section and note anything that is incorrectly or unfairly interpreted.
     
  • Check health and personal sections — often, these are copied over from the previous year and become outdated.
     
  • Pay close attention to the wording of the offer of FAPE.
     
  • Don’t be shy about asking to change any language that presents an inaccurate view of your child. If your IEP team has not added strength-based language to the document, you may draft a request to add it. If you shared a parent report/vision statement, it should also be included in the IEP.
     
  • Double-check that all of the concerns and questions you brought up are noted in the IEP.
     
  • If your child has benchmarks written into their IEP, ensure each one is building to the next. Also, double-check the dates for each.

If you recorded the IEP meeting, Amster suggests comparing the meeting transcript with what is written in the notes section of the IEP to ensure that the information matches.

 

What can you do if you disagree?

If you disagree with the IEP’s narrative, the first thing you should do is email your case manager and ask if they can change it. It’s important to remember that some things may be due to human error and can be easily fixed.

On the signature page, you will be given an opportunity to agree or disagree with the IEP entirely, or to agree to some of the components but not to others. If you agree to some aspects of the IEP but disagree with the offer of FAPE; the duration, location, or frequency of a service; the inclusion or omission of an accommodation or modification; or the placement, consider signing a partial agreement.

If you sign a partial agreement, agreeing with most of the IEP but not certain components, the IEP will be implemented while those components will remain on “stay put,” meaning those areas of disagreement will follow whatever is in the previously signed IEP. For example, if you disagree with the district reducing your child’s speech therapy from sixty minutes to thirty minutes, a “stay put” provision will allow them to continue with sixty minutes of speech during the dispute resolution process. As Dr. Pelangka explains, because California is a dual-consent state, the district cannot implement any new changes to an IEP without parental consent. According to Amster, in most cases, districts will utilize “stay put” themselves; if they do not, an order would have to be made during due process, which is a legal proceeding in which you and the district discuss the dispute with a hearing officer. 

Amster tells us that it is important to note specific details in the IEP that you disagree with and why. You can write on the signature page itself, if there is room, or you can write a letter of disagreement that you attach to the document. (For an example of what such a letter looks like, check out our sample letter here.) If you attach a letter, make sure to refer to the letter on the signature page; for example, “see attached letter, dated 11/27/2021.” By indicating that a letter is attached, you can help ensure that it stays with the IEP document and does not get misplaced. 

Finally, if the IEP team is not responsive to your concerns, consider pursuing other avenues of support, including a special education attorney. You can read about the differences between a special education advocate and an attorney here

 

What are your next steps?

Once you’ve determined which components of your child’s IEP you disagree with, you can request: 

  • a meeting to negotiate with the IEP team;
     
  • an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE); requesting an IEE can be beneficial if you feel new information about your child’s abilities will help you negotiate with the IEP team);
     
  • alternative dispute resolution (ADR), which is an informal process that is used to come to an agreement (it is important to note that you will not lose the right to go to due process by requesting ADR);
     
  • mediation, in which a qualified third party will mediate the resolution process; or
     
  • a due process hearing (if the district feels they offered you FAPE and a fair IEP, they can also file due process). 

If you believe the district is not following federal or state laws and regulations, you may file a complaint with the state. An investigation into your complaint should be completed within sixty days.

 

Were we able to answer all your questions about reviewing your child’s IEP? What other questions do you have? Let us know in the comments!

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