A Parent’s Guide to Navigating the IEP
This document provides an overview of the special education identification, evaluation, eligibility, and IEP process. It also provides you with information which will help define your role and assist you from the beginning to the end of your child’s journey in special education.
Michigan Alliance for Families: Information, Support, and Education
Michigan Alliance for Families provides information, support, and education for families who have children and young adults (birth to 26 years of age) who receive (or may be eligible to receive) special education services. This website can help you with finding information on special education issues as well as disability specific information.
Help for Families of Children with Disabilities
Children with special needs have rights to services in school under federal and state laws. Special education is a set of services, rather than a specific “place” for your child to go. The general education classroom is considered the least restrictive environment (LRE) for all kids. Almost six million students in the U.S. receive special education services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Most students with special education eligibility spend the majority of the day in general education classrooms.
How Do I Determine if my Child has Special Needs?
As a parent, you may request an evaluation of your child to determine his or her needs for special education and/or related services.
The result of the evaluation determines your child’s eligibility to receive a range of programs and/or services under applicable laws. Your child’s evaluation must be conducted by a trained and knowledgeable individual. The evaluation must cover all areas related to the suspected disability, offered in your child’s native language and conducted at no cost to you.
If you disagree with the evaluation, you have the right to request an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE) and you may request that the school system pay for this IEE.
As a parent, you can submit a written request for an evaluation. Your written request begins the evaluation process.
- Parent/guardian writes a letter requesting an evaluation. The written request should include:
- Child’s name
- Birth date
- Grade level
- Explanation of the request
- The parent should drop off the letter at the child’s school office.
- The school district has 10 days to respond and contact the child’s parent.
- Once the parent has been contacted by the school, a REED (Review of Existing Educational Data) is sent home to the parent/guardian for consent of the evaluation plan.
- Parents should send back the REED form to the school.
- The school has 60 days from the date of consent to hold an IEP meeting.
If there are suspicions of your child having a disability, the school will review the data in a student study team process.
In some cases, the teacher requests a Student Study Team (SST) meeting to discuss concerns of a student. The SST may decide to move forward on an evaluation.
- The evaluation team is usually the school administrator, school nurse, special education teacher, school psychologist, speech and language therapist (if needed) along with the general education teacher.
- A notice of invitation will be sent home to set up the IEP meeting between the parents/guardians and the IEP team.
What Happens at an Evaluation/IEP meeting?
- The IEP team gathers to talk about the child’s needs and write the student’s IEP.
- Parents and the student (when appropriate) are part of the team.
- If the child’s placement is decided by a different group, the parents must be part of that group as well.
- Before the school system may provide special education and related services to the child for the first time, the parents must give consent.
- The child begins to receive services as soon as possible after the meeting.
- If the parents do not agree with the IEP and placement, they may discuss their concerns with other members of the IEP team and try to work out an agreement.
- If parents still disagree, parents can ask for mediation, or the school may offer mediation.
- Parents may file a complaint with the state education agency and may request a due process hearing, at which time mediation must be available.
What Do I Bring to my Child’s Evaluation Meeting?
Parents may want to prepare a binder of materials for their child’s IEP meeting. Depending on how much material you have, parents should organize the material into sections or tabs for ease of use. The binder or folder should contain:
- All assessments and/or evaluations on your child.
- Copies of all previous IEP meetings.
- Work samples from your child.
- Any letters from the teacher and/or school board.
- Report cards and test results from previous terms and years.
- Any negative or positive feedback in writing from a teacher.
- If your child is reading and/or writing, samples of the level of reading and examples of writing.
- Medical reports.
What is an Individual Education Program (IEP)?
IDEA requires children to have an Individualized Education Program (IEP) in order to receive special education services under the law. The IEP includes information about a child’s present level of academic achievement and functional performance on various tests and measures, and includes information about goals and objectives, specifically how your child’s educational problems will be addressed. The purpose of the IEP is to set reasonable learning goals for your child and to state the services that the school district will provide as an offer of free and appropriate public education (FAPE).
Who Attends the IEP Meeting?
The IEP must be developed with input from the following IEP team members.
Contents of the IEP
By law, the IEP must include certain information about the child and the educational program designed to meet his or her unique needs. In a nutshell, this information is:
- The IEP must state how the child is currently doing in school (known as present levels of educational performance). This information usually comes from the evaluation results such as classroom tests and assignments, individual tests given to decide eligibility for services or during reevaluation, and observations made by parents, teachers, related service providers, and other school staff. The statement about “current performance” includes how the child’s disability affects his or her involvement and progress in the general curriculum.
- These are goals that the child can reasonably accomplish in a year. The goals are broken down into short-term objectives or benchmarks. Goals may be academic, address social or behavioral needs, relate to physical needs, or address other educational needs. The goals must be measurable-meaning that it must be possible to measure whether the student has achieved the goals.
Special education and related services.
- The IEP must list the special education and related services to be provided to the child or on behalf of the child. This includes supplementary aids and services that the child needs. It also includes modifications (changes) to the program or supports for school personnel-such as training or professional development-that will be provided to assist the child.
Participation with non-disabled children.
- The IEP must explain the extent (if any) to which the child will not participate with non-disabled children in the regular class and other school activities.
Participation in state and district-wide tests.
- Most states and districts give achievement tests to children in certain grades or age groups. The IEP must state what modifications in the administration of these tests the child will need. If a test is not appropriate for the child, the IEP must state why the test is not appropriate and how the child will be tested instead.
Dates and places.
- The IEP must state when services will begin, how often they will be provided, where they will be provided, and how long they will last.
Transition service needs.
- Beginning when the child is age 14 (or younger, if appropriate), the IEP must address (within the applicable parts of the IEP) the courses he or she needs to take to reach his or her post-school goals. A statement of transition services needs must also be included in each of the child’s subsequent IEPs.
Needed transition services.
- Beginning when the child is age 16 (or younger, if appropriate), the IEP must state what transition services are needed to help the child prepare for leaving school.
Age of majority.
- Beginning at least one year before the child reaches the age of majority, the IEP must include a statement that the student has been told of any rights that will transfer to him or her at the age of majority. (This statement would be needed only in states that transfer rights at the age of majority.)
- The IEP must state how the child’s progress will be measured and how parents will be informed of that progress.
Writing the IEP
To help decide what special education and related services the student needs, generally the IEP team will begin by looking at the child’s evaluation results, such as classroom tests, individual tests given to establish the student’s eligibility, and observations by teachers, parents, paraprofessionals, related service providers, administrators, and others.
This information will help the team describe the student’s “present levels of educational performance” – in other words, how the student is currently doing in school. Knowing how the student is currently performing in school will help the team develop annual goals to address those areas where the student has an identified educational need.
The IEP team must also discuss specific information about the child. This includes:
- Child’s strengths.
- Parents’ ideas for enhancing their child’s education.
- Results of recent evaluations or reevaluations.
- State and district assessment data.
In addition, the IEP team must consider the “special factors” described in the box below.
It is important that the discussion of what the child needs be framed around how to help the child:
- Advance toward the annual goals.
- Be involved in and progress in the general curriculum.
- Participate in extracurricular and nonacademic activities.
- Be educated with and participate with other children with disabilities and non-disabled children.
Based on the above discussion, the IEP team will then write the child’s IEP. This includes the services and supports the school will provide for the child. If the IEP team decides that a child needs a particular device or service (including an intervention, accommodation, or other program modification), the IEP team must write this information in the IEP.
As an example, consider a child whose behavior interferes with learning. The IEP team would need to consider positive and effective ways to address that behavior. The team would discuss the positive behavioral interventions, strategies, and supports that the child needs in order to learn how to control or manage his or her behavior. If the team decides that the child needs a particular service (including an intervention, accommodation, or other program modification), they must include a statement to that effect in the child’s IEP.
After the IEP…
When the IEP has been written, parents must receive a copy at no cost to themselves. The IDEA also stresses that everyone who will be involved in implementing the IEP must have access to the document. This includes the child’s:
- Regular education teacher(s).
- Special education teacher(s).
- Related service provider(s) (for example, speech therapist).
- Any other service provider (such as a paraprofessional) who will be responsible for a part of the child’s education.
Each of these individuals needs to know what his or her specific responsibilities are for carrying out the child’s IEP. This includes the specific accommodations, modifications, and supports that the child must receive, according to the IEP.
Can my Child’s IEP be Changed?
Yes. At least once a year a meeting must be scheduled with you to review your child’s progress and develop your child’s next IEP. The meeting will be similar to the IEP meeting described above. The team will talk about:
- Child’s progress toward the goals in the current IEP.
- Goals – new and old.
- Necessary changes in services.
This annual IEP meeting allows you and the school to review your child’s educational program and change it as necessary. But you don’t have to wait for this annual review. You (or any other team member) may ask to have your child’s IEP reviewed or revised at any time.
For example, you may feel that your child is not making good progress toward his or her annual goals. You may want to write new goals because your son or daughter has made such great progress! Call the principal of the school, or the special education director or your child’s teacher, and express your concerns. If necessary, they will call the IEP team together to talk about changing your child’s IEP.
Special Education Law – Know Your Rights
Knowing, understanding and advocating for your child’s rights is a KEY part of helping your child learn and grow!
- There are several provisions within IDEA safeguarding parental involvement in education.
- Parents have the right to be actively involved in the development of their child’s IEP.
- Parents have the right to be notified of the IEP meeting early enough to ensure that one or both of the child’s parents have an opportunity to attend.
- Parents also have the right to have the IEP meeting scheduled at a mutually agreed time and the right to an interpreter if their native language is not English. IDEA also includes language that allows parents and the Local Education Agency (LEA) to agree to use alternative means of meeting participation such as video conferences or conference calls.
Procedural Safeguards for Parents
The Notice of Procedural Safeguards is required under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and must be provided to you:
- The first time your child is referred for a special education assessment.
- Each time you are given REED to evaluate your child.
- Upon receipt of the first state or due process complaint in a school year.
- When the decision is made to make a removal that constitutes a change of placement.
- At least one time annually. (This is usually at the time of the IEP annual review.)
Disability Specific Resources
The documents are easy to read and give links to more in-depth resources. Family Matters fact sheets are intended to enhance public understanding of Michigan’s special education system and are not a substitute for official laws and regulations.
Kent ISD Special Education Department
The Kent ISD Special Education Department, in collaboration with the Parent Advisors for Special Education (PASE), has developed this informational handbook to make the Individualized Education Program (IEP) process more manageable and user friendly for parents.
A Transition Guide to Post Secondary Education and Employment for Students and Youth with Disabilities.
To assist students and youth with disabilities in achieving their post-school and career goals, Congress enacted two key statutes that address the provision of transition services: the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Rehabilitation Act), as amended by Title IV of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). Both the IDEA and the Rehabilitation Act require transition services be made available to students and youth with disabilities as they prepare for and enter post secondary life.
Accommodations, Modifications, Practices and Supports
Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)
Behavior Intervention Plans (BIPs)
Functional Behavior Assessments (FBAs)
Multi-Tiered Systems of Supports (MTSS)
Personal Curriculum (PC)
- Personal Curriculum Fact Sheet – English
- Personal Curriculum Fact Sheet – Arabic
- Personal Curriculum Fact Sheet – Spanish
Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports (PBIS) at Home
- PBIS at Home Fact Sheet – English
- PBIS at Home Fact Sheet – Arabic
- PBIS at Home Fact Sheet – Spanish
Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports (PBIS) at School
Educational Teams and Roles
- Educational Teams and Roles – English
- Educational Teams and Roles – Arabic
- Educational Teams and Roles – Spanish
Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE)
Initial Evaluation for Special Education
Nonpublic and Home Schools
- Nonpublic and Home Schools Fact Sheet – English
- Nonpublic and Home Schools Fact Sheet – Arabic
- Nonpublic and Home Schools Fact Sheet – Spanish
Educational Law, Policy, and Practices
Educational Development Plan
Educational Placement and the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE)
- Educational Placement and the LRE Fact Sheet – English
- Educational Placement and the LRE Fact Sheet – Arabic
- Educational Placement and the LRE Fact Sheet – Spanish
Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE)
Individualized Education Program (IEP)
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)
Privacy and Access to Records
- Privacy and Access to Records Fact Sheet – English
- Privacy and Access to Records Fact Sheet – Arabic
- Privacy and Access to Records Fact Sheet – Spanish
- Procedural Safeguards Fact Sheet – English
- Procedural Safeguards Fact Sheet – Arabic
- Procedural Safeguards Fact Sheet – Spanish
- Procedural Safeguards Notice
Seclusion and Restraint
- Seclusion and Restraint Fact Sheet – English
- Seclusion and Restraint Fact Sheet – Arabic
- Seclusion and Restraint Fact Sheet – Spanish
Family Support and General Resources
Advocating for Your Child
- Advocating for Your Child Fact Sheet – English
- Advocating for Your Child Fact Sheet – Arabic
- Advocating for Your Child Fact Sheet – Spanish
Communicating for Student Success
- Communicating for Student Success Fact Sheet – English
- Communicating for Student Success Fact Sheet – Arabic
- Communicating for Student Success Fact Sheet – Spanish
Navigating Extended Time Away From School
- Extended Time Away from School Fact Sheet – English (NEW)
- Extended Time Away from School Fact Sheet – Arabic (NEW)
- Extended Time Away from School Fact Sheet – Spanish (NEW)
Parent Advisory Committees (PAC)
- Parent Advisory Committees Fact Sheet – English
- Parent Advisory Committees Fact Sheet – Arabic
- Parent Advisory Committees Fact Sheet – Spanish
Special Education Problem Solving
- Special Education Problem Solving Fact Sheet – English
- Special Education Problem Solving Fact Sheet – Arabic
- Special Education Problem Solving Fact Sheet – Spanish
Special Education Process
- Special Education Process Fact Sheet – English
- Special Education Process Fact Sheet – Arabic
- Special Education Process Fact Sheet – Spanish
- The Arc Michigan
Advocacy and support for individuals with developmental disabilities.
- Association for Children’s Mental Health
Resources for children and youth with mental, emotional, or behavioral disorders and their families.
- Autism Society of Michigan
Empowers individuals with autism and their families by offering educational resources and materials.
- Brain Injury Association
Improving quality of life for all individuals impacted by brain injury.
- Center for Parent Information and Resources
A central resource of information and products for Parent Training Information Centers.
- Children’s Special Health Care Services
Enabling individuals with special health care needs to have improved health outcomes and an enhanced quality of life. Including the Family Support Network (FCCYSHCN) – Emotional support and health information for families who have children with special needs.
- DB Central
Offers training to promote best practices for children and young adults who are Deaf-Blind.
888-758-0508 • VP 989-546-4626
- Developmental Disabilities Institute
Provides statewide programs designed to enhance the lives of persons with disabilities.
888-978-4334 • V/TTY 313-577-2654
- Disability Network/Michigan
Represents the collective voice of Michigan’s 15 Centers for Independent Living (CILs).
- Epilepsy Foundation of Michigan
Resources to empower independence and inspiring productive lives for all people with epilepsy.
- Learning Disabilities Association
Advancing the quality of life for individuals with learning disabilities through advocacy, education, and training.
- Michigan Department of Health and Human Services
Protect, preserve, and promote the health and safety of the people of Michigan.
517-373-3740 • TDD 800-649-3777
- Michigan Developmental Disabilities Council
Supporting people with developmental disabilities to achieve their full potential.
517-335-3158 • TDD 517-335-3171
- Michigan Disability Rights Coalition
A disability justice movement working to transform communities.
800-760-4600 • TTY 517-333-2477
- Michigan Hands and Voices
Supporting families of children who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing.
- Michigan Protection & Advocacy Service, Inc.
Representing the rights of children and adults with disabilities.
- Military-Education Directory for Children with Special Needs
Center for Parent Information and Resources for military families.
- National Indian Parent Information Center
Resources for Native American families.
- UCP – Michigan
Connecting people with disabilities to the opportunities and resources needed to live productive and independent lives.
800-828-2714 • V/TTY 517-203-1200
- UCP–Metro Detroit
Connecting people with disabilities to the opportunities and resources needed to live productive and independent lives.
800-827-4843 • 248-557-5070
- U.S. Dept. of Education, Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services
- Work Incentives Planning & Assistance
Providing information to people with disabilities about how earnings affect their Social Security and other benefits.
866-949-3687 • TTY 866-833-2967