What to Expect in Your First IEP Meeting


For those new to this world of special education — this post is for you.

Let’s say that you’ve been through the referral process already. You (or someone at your child’s school) is concerned that your child may need special education services. Some data was collected. An evaluation was conducted. An eligibility meeting took place where the team (including you) looked at the eligibility criteria (typically a checklist) for the disability category being considered and decided that, yes, your child is eligible.

What happens next?

The team will write up a rough draft of your child’s first individualized education plan (IEP) and then you’ll have your first IEP meeting. A few things you’ll need to know:

1. Who is going to be there.
2. What is going to happen.
3. What you’ll cover in the meeting.

First, there may be any number of people in the meeting. Legally, the meeting is required to include at least one of each of the following  — unless excused in writing by the parent and district:

  • The special education teacher.
  • The general education teacher.
  • A local education agency (LEA) representative, typically the principal or VP, but can also be a district admin like the special education department chair.
  • The parent or legal guardian.

Additionally, the meeting may include:

  • A school psychologist (if you’re reviewing evaluation results).
  • Any number of therapists (occupational, speech language, physical, ABA, mental health counselors).
  • Possibly your child.
  • Anyone else that you’d like to invite — an advocate, other family members, an attorney, etc. Just make sure to let the school team know who you’re inviting!

As such, these meetings tend to be pretty crowded — especially when you’re sitting around a table meant for 8-year-olds with tiny chairs, which is often where these meetings take place.

Once you’re all there, you’ll start with introductions. Each team member will give their name and their role — write this down! You’ll want to keep a log of who attended each meeting so you have this documented if you need to pursue next steps at some point.

After intros, someone on the team should present you with the Procedural Safeguards handbook (or a digital copy). If they are doing things right, they should offer to go over the handbook with you. You need to take this booklet and you need to read it! The procedural safeguards are your rights and responsibilities as it relates to the special education process. Read it and make notes about timelines, procedures, consent — all this stuff is important. I’ve written a brief overview here, but you still need to read the full packet!

Next you’ll review your child’s demographic info and diagnosis, followed shortly by things like whether your child has a visual or hearing impairment, whether their behavior impacts their learning, and whether they need any assistive technology (such as speech to text or other software). There will also be a discussion of parent concerns. Write down your concerns and bring a copy to the meeting. Ask (and demand, if necessary) that they are included verbatim in the Parent Concerns section of the IEP. Again, we want to keep a record of everything. These concerns can include academic, social, behavioral concerns about your child’s current progress, concerns about the future, concerns about the school team (how they’re handling discipline), concerns about your communication with the school — anything that concerns you should be included.

Next, you’ll discuss Present Levels of Performance (also called PLEPs or PLOPs). This section should include data — not just observation — about how your student is currently doing (academically, behaviorally, therapeutically) and an assessment of how their performance impacts their ability to master grade-level standards. After this discussion, the team should use the Present Levels to inform the goals that are set for the student. Reminder here– you are an equal part of the IEP team! The teachers alone don’t get to decide on the goals. You get to have input here on what’s decided. Goals should be SMART (specific, measurable, action-focused, relevant/realistic, and time-bound). Goals should be broken down into smaller objectives or benchmarks as necessary or as required (for example, in Tennessee if a student is taking an alternative state assessment, their IEP is required to include short-term objectives). Annual goals should support the larger, future goal of further education, independent living and employment.

Following the discussion of goals there will be a conversation about program supports, modifications and accommodations. Check out this post about the differences between accommodations and modifications. Accommodations can include everything from reduced distraction testing environments, to preferential or alternative seating, to a specific kind of pencil grip, to instructions given visually and orally to literally anything else.

We’re nearing the end, I promise! (This is also why IEP meetings typically take at least two hours.) You’ll then discuss testing options, which will mainly include a conversation about whether or not your child will participate in state-wide standardized testing. You may discuss whether certain transportation options should be considered or whether your student is eligible for extended school year (ESY).

And then finally, finally you’ll all sign a statement saying that you were in the meeting (though sometimes this is passed around at the beginning to sign during introductions, as it just is a signature of attendance).

Typically at the end of the meeting, the school team will also ask you to sign the document saying that you agree with the IEP as written and authorizing the school to implement the IEP. My advice: do not sign right then. Ask for a copy, take it home, look it over, think about or research the suggestions, ask a friend or advocate to review it. If you want changes — ask for another meeting. If you agree, then sign and return. Know that for your first meeting nothing can go into effect until you sign, but that doesn’t mean you should sign if you don’t feel good about it! It’s OK to take your time.

Phew — did you get through all of that? Now the good and bad part: you get to/have to go through this process at least once a year until your child is at least 18 or as old as 22. If you’re totally overwhelmed about how to make sure you get all of this right, be sure to check out IEP Guru on Facebook for more great tips!

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