5 Common Misconceptions About IEPs

By Kristin Stanberry

Federal law defines what an Individualized Education Program (IEP) is, but the details can be tricky. Myths and false assumptions about IEPs abound. Here are five common misconceptions—and the facts about each.

1. Myth #1: Every child who struggles is guaranteed an IEP.

Fact: To qualify for special education services (and an IEP), a student must meet two criteria. First, he must be formally diagnosed as having a disability as defined under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). This federal law covers 13 categories of disability, one of which is “specific learning disabilities.” Second, the school must determine that a student needs special education services in order to make progress in school and learn the general education curriculum. Not all students with disabilities meet both criteria. Learn more about the process of getting an IEP with our IEP Roadmap.

2. Myth #2: If something is in the IEP, the school will make it happen.

Fact: The IEP is a legal contract, so the school is required to provide the services and supports it promises for your child. But teachers and administrators are busy—and human—so sometimes details are overlooked or forgotten. Part of your role as your child’s advocate is to make sure he’s getting the services and accommodations outlined in his IEP. Monitor his schoolwork, test scores and attitude toward school. If things seem off track, meet with his teacher to discuss the situation. Explore other ways you can assess whether your child’s IEP is being followed.

3. Myth #3: An IEP will provide services and supports for your child beyond high school.

Fact: The IEP (and the services it guarantees) will end when the student graduates from high school. Special education doesn’t extend to college or the workplace. The IEP team is required to work with the student to create a transition plan as part of his IEP. This plan will focus on the student’s future goals and help him prepare for young adulthood.

4. Myth #4: Having an IEP means your child will be placed in a special education classroom.

Fact: Federal law requires that children with IEPs be placed in the least restrictive environment. This means students should spend as little time as possible outside the general education classroom. The IEP may specify services and accommodations your child needs to succeed in the general education class. If students spend time in a “resource room” or special education class, that will be listed in the IEP.

5. Myth #5: The IEP is written by the school, then explained to the parents.

Fact: According to federal law (IDEA), parents are full and equal members of their child’s IEP team. This means that you have a say in how your child’s IEP is crafted. Even if you’re not an expert on special education, you are an expert when it comes to understanding your child’s needs! Your intimate knowledge of your child’s development, strengths and challenges, home life and activities outside of school are extremely valuable for developing the IEP.