9 steps to take if the IEP eligibility meeting doesn’t work out

Sitting down for an IEP eligibility meeting can be stressful. It can be even more stressful if the meeting doesn’t go as smoothly as you’d hoped. Maybe the team didn’t find your child eligible for special education services. If that happens, or if the eligibility didn’t work out in another way, here are steps to take.

1. Make sure you know your rights.

You have a number of rights even before the eligibility meeting. For example, you have the right to see evaluation reports at least 48 hours before the meeting. You also have the right to be an equal, decision-making member of the IEP team.

2. Make sure everything happened the way it was supposed to.

There are rules around who needs to be at an eligibility meeting and what needs to be discussed. For example, if the evaluator who tested your child can’t be at the meeting, there needs to be another professional there. And that professional has to be qualified to interpret the testing results. (This also applies to reviewing a private evaluation.)

If things didn't happen the way they were supposed to, you can ask to “redo” the meeting. Contact the special education director to make this request.

3. If you disagree with a decision, note it with your signature.

Sometimes, your child may be found eligible for an IEP, but you’re unhappy with the services or some other part of the IEP. In most states, an initial IEP can’t be put into place without a parent’s consent for services.

You can note that you disagree with a decision by choosing not to sign the consent for services form. In that case, unless you pursue mediation, your child will not receive services. You can also read how to consent to some parts of an IEP but not others.

Keep in mind that if the meeting is a three-year review, your signature may not be required to make changes. In that case, make a note next to your name on the attendance sheet that you disagree with the team’s decision.

4. Check the rules around consensus.

Ideally, the team should agree on whether your child is eligible (or ineligible) for special education. They should also work toward agreeing on appropriate services and supports. That doesn’t always happen, though.

It’s important to know what happens in your state if the team doesn’t reach consensus. Can the school make a final determination without you? Does everyone need to be in agreement? Check with your local Parent Training and Information Center to find out for sure.

5. Re-review the evaluation reports.

Go through the evaluation results and recommendations to pinpoint where you disagree. You may find that the evaluation didn’t look at all the areas you were concerned about. Or you may not agree with the results. (Learn what to do if you don’t agree with the evaluation results.)

6. Follow up with a letter of parental concerns.

This is a letter that lists what you disagree with. It’s sometimes referred to as an addendum page. Send the letter to the IEP team and copy the special education director.

7. Ask for administrative review.

This is not the same as mediation. It’s a reconsideration of the original decision — not a hearing to find a compromise.

In some school districts, there’s an eligibility supervisor you can ask to review the decision. In other districts, another IEP team may be part of an administrative review process. In smaller states, this review process may be done at a state level. Contact your district’s special education office to find out how it works in your state.

8. Request mediation.

If administrative review doesn’t work out (or if it’s not an option in your school system), you can try mediation. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) says that schools have to provide mediation for free. It’s an alternative to a due process hearing: A mediator helps you and the school find a solution to your disagreement.

The mediator will usually meet with you and the school together to work toward an agreement. (Read one parent’s story about her daughter’s mediation agreement.)

9. File a due process complaint.

If you’ve tried all other options and none have worked, you can request a due process hearing. It’s a formal proceeding where you and the school present evidence to a hearing officer. The hearing officer then decides if your child is eligible for services. You could also file a state complaint with the agency in charge of education in your state.

Both are complicated legal processes. So you may want to consult with an advocate or an attorney. But it’s important to know that it’s your right to file if you think you need to. If you’ve tried everything else, it’s OK to pursue legal resolutions.


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