IEP_If you are the parent of an eligible student under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), you need to know what the law requires and what you want for your child so you can participate as a meaningful partner throughout the process.

Every public school child eligible for special education and related services needs to have an Individualized Education Program (IEP). The IEP must be designed specifically for that child and must be a truly individualized document. The IEP creates an opportunity for parents, teachers, school administrators, related services personnel and the child (when appropriate) to work together to ensure that the student has an educational program that puts them on a trajectory that leads to independence and competence; a program that fulfills the IDEA’s purpose “to educate students with disabilities to prepare them for further education, employment, and independent living.”

The IEP should be, therefore, the cornerstone of receiving a quality education. Parents and students (when appropriate) are key members of the IEP Team. Congress and the courts have long recognized that parent participation in decision-making is essential to implementing the educational rights of children with disabilities. A parent’s most basic right as an IEP Team member is as an equal participant.

There are also several important procedural requirements to ensure parents can meaningfully participate. The school district must notify parents well in advance of the IEP meeting so they can make arrangements to attend. The meeting must occur at a mutually agreeable time and place. Additionally, parents must receive notification of the meeting’s purpose, invited attendees and whether transition planning and services will be discussed. Transition planning is required for students at age 16; however, some states begin as early as age 14. Parents must be informed of their right to have individuals present at the meeting with special knowledge or expertise about the child. The written notice must be provided in the parents’ language of origin.

Generally, schools are responsible for initiating IEP annual meetings. As a full member of the team, however, parents can request a meeting at any time. The written request must clearly state the reason for the meeting, such as to review your child’s progress, placement or educational and/or support services.

The meeting should result in a written IEP for your child, which is the primary vehicle to protect his or her right to a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). The IEP is an agreement between parents and the school district and outlines the program of special education, related services, supports, and accommodations to be provided.

Parents can consent or object at any point during IEP process. This right of “informed consent” is a core right and should be exercised. It may be a vehicle to require the right to observe, retain records, reports and IEP drafts in advance of the formal meeting. Schools must notify parents prior to making decisions that impact the student. The right to consent and object allows parents to ask all reasonable questions and to have answers before any changes can be made or consent sought. Parents’ rights to challenge are necessary ingredients for implementation of an effective educational program as articulated by the IEP. Continue reading here

Denise Stile Marshall serves as the executive director of the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, Inc. (COPAA). This article first appeared in the Autism Advocate Fall 2014 edition.