Navigating IEP meetings

ByThe Understood Team

Now that your child is getting an IEP, you have an important and ongoing role in the process. Attending IEP meetings is one way you can help shape the plan and monitor your child’s progress. But what is an IEP meeting? What happens during one?

This guide will take you through the basics of IEP meetings and give you the tools to navigate them.

IEP meetings can be confusing and stressful for many parents — especially the first meeting. Being prepared can help you go into them feeling confident and able to advocate for your child.

The purpose of IEP meetings

If you’re new to the process, you might wonder what IEP meetings are for. The purpose of IEP meetings is to review, revise, and update your child’s IEP on a regular basis.

So how often do IEP meetings take place? The first IEP meeting must happen within 30 days after the school decides your child is eligible for special education. That meeting will launch your child’s program. Once the plan is finalized, your child will start getting services and supports.

The team will continue to meet once a year for as long as your child has an IEP. Each time, you’ll go over your child’s plan for the next year. That involves looking at how much progress your child made over the last year, and how the goals, services, and supports should be adjusted for next year.

The point is to make sure the IEP provides the right help to meet your child’s present needs. That’s why it’s important to review every element of the IEP each year.

Annual IEP meetings are required by the special education law . But you can request a team meeting at any time. Read more about how IDEA protects your child.

Who goes to IEP meetings

Your child’s school is required to invite you to every meeting. While you don’t have to attend, being there as part of the IEP team is important. It allows you to have input into the types of help your child will get, and how the school will measure and monitor your child’s progress.

You can expect to see other members of the team at the meeting. That includes your child’s general education teacher and at least one of your child’s special education teachers.

Someone from the district who can approve the resources in the plan will also be there. And someone who can interpret evaluation results will attend. You can bring people who might be helpful to you, like a relative or a special education advocate.

By the time your child is 16, the meeting will also include transition planning. At that point (if not sooner), your child will be at the IEP meetings.

One of the team members from the school will act as your child’s case manager. That person will oversee the process and make sure your child is getting the services and supports in the IEP. The case manager can be a go-to person when you have questions or concerns.

You may have specific questions about IEP meetings. For instance, can your child’s teacher skip IEP meetings? Find out what the law requires. You can also get answers to common questions about having your child go to IEP meetings.

How to prepare for IEP meetings

Knowing what to expect can help you ask the right questions and have greater input in the meeting. You can start by brushing up on terms you might hear or see.

Come prepared with all the things that can help you have a productive meeting. These include a notepad or recording device if your state allows one, your child’s last IEP, and a list of accommodations you’d like to propose.

Also, there are a number of steps you can take to help you prepare to advocate for your child. Get an expert’s tips on the most important thing to remember before the meeting. And learn about key questions to ask yourself.

What happens at IEP meetings

You may be wondering if there’s a procedure for IEP meetings. There’s no set way the meeting must be run. But IEP meetings do have to cover certain bases.

To begin with, the school must give you advance notice of the time and place of the IEP meeting. They should also try to schedule it at a time when you can attend.

At the meeting, participants will review the draft of the IEP together. It’s a draft because discussion during the meeting may result in changes.

There will be at least four people from the school at the meeting, not counting any related services staff or other specialists who might attend. (You may also want to bring people to support you.)

Everyone will share their ideas and suggestions. Much of the focus will be on mapping your child’s needs with the goals, services, and supports in the IEP. If it’s your child’s first IEP, the team may go over and explain the evaluation results.

The team will review three things during the meeting:

Be prepared to point out your child’s strengths at the meeting. This can help the team understand your child’s talents and abilities and weave them into IEP goals. Strengths-based goals can help kids make progress by leveraging what they’re good at. Learn more about strengths-based IEPs.

The team leader will note changes to the draft that the whole team has agreed to. That includes you. You’ll be asked to sign the IEP document to show you approve of it. There are certain things you should double-check before signing.

You don’t need to sign it right then and there either. You can ask to take it home and review it. And if you don’t agree with the draft, it’s OK to decline to sign.

Common emotions and obstacles at IEP meetings

IEP meetings can be emotional for many parents. After all, you’re discussing your child’s needs. It’s not unusual for parents to get upset or cry at meetings. Even when you know the IEP will provide help, it can be hard to accept that your child needs it.

Sometimes, people disagree over aspects of the IEP. If that happens, it’s important to use phrases that can defuse the situation. Having a good working relationship keeps everyone focused on what’s best for your child.

You may want to explore personal stories about IEP meetings, too:

Preparing for what’s next

Find out what IEP meetings are like for other parents. You can connect with real parents who know the ropes in our secure, online community groups. You can also explore a collection of IEP personal stories.

Here’s the next step in the IEP journey:

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About the author

About the author

The Understood Team is made up of passionate writers and editors. Many of them have kids who learn and think differently.

Reviewed by

Reviewed by

Melody Musgrove, EdD served as director of the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) in the U.S. Department of Education.