Understanding the IEP Process

By The Understood Team
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You’ve learned the basics of what an IEP is, and how it can help your child. But how do you request an IEP and get your child’s special education program started?

The process of getting an IEP begins with an evaluation for special education. It ends with a written plan for services and supports. But the work of making sure your child is getting needed support continues long after that.

The more you know about how to get an IEP and how it’s put into place, the more active a role you can take in the process. This guide can lead you to the information, advice and insight you need for this step in the journey.

Getting the IEP Process Started

How do you get an IEP? Your child must first be found eligible for special education services. But how do you start that process?

Many parents wonder how to request an IEP from their school. You actually don’t need to request an IEP. But you do need to ask to have your child evaluated by the school, for free. You can also pay for a private evaluation.

IEP Roadmap

Sometimes the school will start the IEP process, and not you. They may suggest your child be evaluated. But the school can’t evaluate your child without your consent.

Many parents have questions about how the evaluation process works. If you want to learn more about it, dive into our comprehensive guide to evaluations. In it you’ll find information on the benefits of an evaluation, the evaluation process and timeline, how testing works, and more.

Or you can go ahead and get started by following these steps to request an evaluation. It’s the first step toward getting the help your child needs to succeed at school.

Determining IEP Eligibility

Once your child has been evaluated and testing results are in, the school has to determine if your child is eligible for an IEP. To do this, they have to answer two questions:

  1. Does your child have one or more of the 13 conditions that are covered under the special education law IDEA?

  2. Does your child need services and accommodations to succeed at school?

The IEP team decides if your child qualifies for an IEP at a special “eligibility meeting.” You’ll be at that meeting as part of the team. So might school professionals like a speech-language therapist or occupational therapist. If the school finds your child to be eligible, together you’ll start creating the IEP. And if your child doesn’t qualify for an IEP, there are steps you can take.

Weighing Options If Your Child Isn’t Eligible for an IEP

Sometimes, a school finds a student to be not eligible for special education services. If that happens, it’s not the end of the road. Learn about steps you can take if your child is found ineligible.

Read about the unique approach one mom took when her daughter didn’t qualify for an IEP.

One thing you can do is request a 504 plan for your child. This plan would, like an IEP, provide accommodations or other supports that give your child access to learning.

You can also look into getting an independent educational evaluation (IEE). This kind of evaluation is done by professionals outside of the school. Learn more about IEEs.

There are also measures you can take to dispute the school’s findings. These include mediation and something called a due-process complaint. That’s typically a last resort to resolving a dispute, however.

Preparing for What’s Next

If the school finds your child eligible for an IEP, there’s nothing you need to do to get the IEP ball rolling. That will happen automatically and quickly—within 30 days. But you’ll be part of the IEP team creating and overseeing your child’s IEP. Under IDEA, you have the right to participate in every step of the IEP process.

Find out what the process of getting an IEP was like for other parents. You can connect with parents in our secure, online community groups. You can also explore a collection of IEP personal stories.

Here are the next steps in the IEP journey:

About the Author

About the Author

The Understood Team 

is made up of passionate writers, editors, and community moderators. Many of them learn and think differently, or have kids who do.

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.

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