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The IEP Team: The Law, the Reality and the Dream

IEP Meeting-Idividualized Education Program “Free appropriate public education”—Never have four words had such power to determine a child’s chance for a meaningful education. “FAPE” is the core purpose of our federal special education law, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act 2004 (IDEA 2004). The intent of FAPE is to ensure that special education programs and related services are designed to meet a child’s unique needs and prepare him or her for further education, employment, and independent living. The road to FAPE can be long, winding, and occasionally treacherous. Navigating that road requires the focus, talents, and expertise of an entire team: your child’s IEP team.

“IEP” stands for Individualized Education Program. It’s the first stop on the road after determining your child’s eligibility under the IDEA 2004. 

The IEP team is charged with developing, reviewing, and revising your child’s IEP at least once a year – and more often if you are dissatisfied with your child’s lack of progress. If you’re not satisfied, speak up (and write letters or emails) as often as you feel you need to in order to get results! Don’t wait!

How IDEA Defines the IEP Team

Legally the IEP team must include “you” the parent, plus at least one general education teacher (if your child is in even one general education class) and one special education teacher. In the case of a child only receiving a related service such as speech and language, a speech therapist can replace the special education teacher.

The Importance of the General Education Teacher’s Attendance

A child with an IEP deserves thoughtful representation and participation by the general education teacher at the IEP team meeting. This teacher should have present-level knowledge about your child and should not be a stranger to your child or be the only teacher available at that time. More than I like to see, I am in an IEP team meeting where no general education teacher is in attendance, and I have to remind the school district of its responsibility. Or, I hear the district representative ask the parent to excuse this teacher after his or her input has been provided. School districts cannot ask parents to excuse any member of the IEP team “at” the IEP team meeting. General education teachers are expected to participate the entire time. They are not allowed to enter it late, during their prep hour, or while someone other than a substitute covers their classes. It isn’t just discourteous or inconvenient if the general education teacher comes to only part of the meeting or doesn’t show up at all; it’s illegal.

The IEP team must include a representative from the school district who is knowledgeable about the availability of resources, the general education curriculum, and continuum of special education programs.

The IEP team requires an individual who can interpret the instructional implications of evaluations, such as a school psychologist, occupational therapist, and social worker. You can request the attendance of other individuals who have knowledge specific to your child’s educational needs. The school district can also request attendance of other individuals with expertise regarding an area of the IEP. Some you may be unfamiliar with, but your school district must let you know they are attending, in advance.

If your child has been receiving outside services under Part C of the IDEA, you can request that your child’s Part C services provider attends the IEP team meeting. iep-headquarters