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8 Important Facts Parents Need to Know About the IEP Process

Over the past four years I have learned the ins and outs of the IEP process in a way that I wish on no parent, due to the experiences we have had with Sunshine.

Please know that we have had some amazing experiences with our home school district. I am so humble and grateful for how lucky we are to work with such fabulous people. Our local school district is to thank for helping me learn all of these important facts.

But, when it comes to working with schools within the residential system, we have faced nothing but nightmare after nightmare.

As I am yet again requesting another IEP meeting this week due to a third residential school choosing not to follow Sunshine’s IEP, I figured it was time to share what we have learned through this difficult process.

All advice applies to every IEP process, whether your child is in a residential treatment center, or attending a school in your local school district.

Here are 8 important facts parents need to know about the IEP process.

8 Important Facts Parents Need to Know About the IEP Process

8 Important Facts Parents Need to Know About the IEP Process


1. Parents can request an IEP meeting at any time.

A parent does not have to wait for the school or teacher to initiate an IEP meeting. You have the right to request a meeting at any time. The school is required to honor this request. 

If they refuse, document this information in writing and pursue legal action if you feel so inclined. You have a right to do so.

IEP meetings are a great way to check up on how things are going in the classroom. They ensure that everyone is on the same page when it comes to your child. 

IEP meetings are also a great time to check in to see if the IEP is being followed.

It’s one thing to write a great IEP, but yet another to ensure that it’s being followed.

I have learned that requesting IEP meetings regularly have been the only way to ensure Sunshine’s IEP is being followed when she is in the residential setting in another state.

2. If an IEP meeting has not been scheduled within a month of being in a new learning environment, request one.

Whether your child is sent to residential, a day program, or your family has moved, if the new school has not initiated an IEP meeting to discuss your child within the first month of classes, request one.

There is a chance that the new school is not following the IEP that was sent, and therefore your child is suffering.

If that’s the case, you want things to change as quickly as possible.

You will also want to meet everyone on your child’s education team as soon as possible, as you will be working with them for the foreseeable future.  They need to know you take your child's education and accommodations very seriously.

With every new residential setting Sunshine is in, I request an IEP at the 30-day mark, if I have heard nothing from the residential school.

3. No matter where your child attends school, your local school district is required to make sure your child is receiving therapies and other supports stated in the IEP. This includes funding for these supports.

There is absolutely no reason your child shouldn’t be receiving therapies stated as necessary in the IEP.

There is absolutely no reason your child shouldn’t be receiving a one-to-one if it’s stated as necessary in the IEP.

The local school district is legally required to fund these accommodations, when they are deemed necessary.

If your child is in a residential setting, it is up to your local school district to contract out services, wherever your child may be, if they are not provided in the residential setting.

It may take time to hire someone qualified to provide the service to your child.

Be sure to allow for that time, but document each and every contact in writing along the way. Follow up to be sure all is done. If not, you have the right to pursue legal action.

E-mail communication is a great way to document everything in a way that won’t be lost.

I make sure that Sunshine’s school knows that I know that she is to receive a one-to-one in the classroom setting, and that she is to be receiving occupational therapy and physical therapy. 

If they try to change or alter these plans in any way, I am very quick to mention the legal consequences of not providing supports in the IEP. I have threatened legal action over this in Sunshine's first placement. The school was VERY quick to put in the supports without question at that point.

4. Schools are obligated by law to send regular updates on IEP goal progress.

You as a parent are to receive updates on your child’s IEP goal progress. The time in between updates may vary by state.  In our home state, updates are sent out about every six weeks during the school year.

As a parent, you are always able to request an IEP meeting to discuss progress, if you feel you are not receiving adequate updates, or updates in a timely manner.

If I don’t receive an update on Sunshine’s progress during two month time period, I will request an IEP meeting to ensure updates are being given.

5. All parties, including the parent, must sign off on an IEP.

If you, as the parent, are not satisfied with the IEP, you can refuse to sign until it meets your expectations.

You know your child and know what she needs.

You are the expert on your child. Do not let anyone tell you any differently.

If you feel that your child isn’t receiving the accommodations she needs, and you are facing resistance from the school district, request that testing and observations be done.

Set a date to reconvene with scores and assessments complete.

Do not sign the IEP until current test scores have been considered and discussed, with goals and accommodations updated to reflect scores.

I will not sign an IEP if I am not 100% satisfied with it. The school district knows this and works very hard to make sure that all parties do their part.

6. You have the right to request testing and assessments on your child at any time.

A full psychological evaluation of your child should be completed every three years when your child has an IEP. This includes an IQ test, adaptive testing, necessary academic assessments, and any behavioral assessments that might be deemed necessary.

Occupational therapy, physical therapy, and speech therapy assessments are done annually, and sometimes semi-annually.

All of these tests and assessments are required to ensure your child has the correct diagnoses and is receiving the correct supports and services.

If you are observing specific challenges related to any of these areas at any time, you can request that testing be done, so long as it pertains to school performance, or is requested by a medical professional such as a developmental pediatrician.

I always make sure I have updated test scores when discussing Sunshine’s academic plans.

7. You have a right to include a behavioral plan in the IEP.

When a behavioral plan is included in an IEP, it becomes a legal document that you can hold the school accountable for. If it is not included, you are not able to do so.

Behavioral plans are a great way to better understand what interventions will be used when your child is not doing well.

They also explain what prevention measures are taken to help your child stay regulated throughout the day. 

If your child receives ABA, a behavioral plan specifically lists what autism supports will be in place and used during your child’s school day.

Remember, if you are uncomfortable with any of these interventions, you can refuse them, and request that alternatives be used.

An RBT will usually write a behavioral plan for a child who receives ABA.

But, if your child doesn’t qualify for autism support services, the teacher and school counselor can write this plan.

At this point, I do not sign an IEP without a very detailed behavioral plan for Sunshine that I support. I want to make sure if I need to pursue legal action, I have all of the details I need.

8. You have the right to participate in creating IEP goals for your child.

IEP goals are not just something that your child’s teachers and therapists create. 

You can participate in this process during an IEP meeting.

If you don’t like a goal, you can request that it be changed.

I am a huge fan of very detailed goals with specific ways to measure progress.

If goals are too vague, or there is not a way to measure progress, I will request the goals be rewritten until I am satisfied.

It is my hope that sharing these important facts about the IEP process will help you avoid horrible situations that we have experienced over the last few years with Sunshine.

Advocating fiercely is not always an enjoyable experience, but it is so necessary to ensure that your child can be the best they can be.

Your child can not advocate for herself in these circumstances. 

Be kind.

Be brave.

Be firm.

You’ve got this!

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8 Important Facts Parents Need to Know About the IEP Process

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