Okay, let’s start with the basic elements of the Individual Education Plan or IEP. I’ll go over who needs one, why they need one, the legalities involved and some alternatives that are allowable by law but maybe not the best for your kid.

An IEP is a plan for your child’s education that will allow you and the school to make accomodations for your child’s special needs. The official legal definition is somewhat longer, but that is sufficient for what we are doing here. IEPs are governed by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA 2004. 2004 is the most recent update to the act. You can search the act in full at the Wrightslaw law center. Also, if you are looking for a good legal guide of your rights and responsibilities, wrightslaw is the best advocacy resource out there for parents.

A quick note here: If your child is in a child find/early intervention program you will not have an IEP. You will have an IFSP, or Individual Family Services Plan. When you transition to your local school that will change to an IEP.

IEPs are put together by a team, which typically consists of the parents, the child’s teacher, a school system representative, the principal of the school, the child’s case manager and any specialists that may be involved in the child’s care. For example, our IEP meetings also have an autism specialist who works for the county, an occupational therapist and a speech therapist. Those services are critical to our sons education and as such we need their input when we plan his IEP.

IEP terms last a year, and by law must be renewed prior to then.The reason this is important is that the IEP is actually a contract, enforceable and actionable by law. As such, many schools are loathe to volunteer services because they know they have to provide them. This is where we as parents need to be experts. It helps if you can speak with other parents, do some research on the internet and consult with any specialists you see prior to attending an IEP meeting.

However, if you draft an IEP and are unhappy with it, as a member of the team you have the right to call another IEP meeting at any time. At the end of every meeting everyone on the team must sign off on the IEP. Again, if you are unhappy, you do not have to sign. You can also write “signed under protest” above your signature in order to show that you are not satisfied with the school’s solutions or supports for your child.

The key thing to take away from this article is that you are the expert on your child. Administrators and teachers always present themselves as experts on children, but nobody knows more about a child than his parents. Remember that and you will do just fine.

Next up: What will the school offer me?