IEPs in School

Sometimes, children can have a difficult time in school and may require support to get them on track or get them back on track. If a child is not meeting developmental milestones or is having difficulties in school, then it is important that parents or guardians intervene as soon as possible.

Sometimes, children can have a difficult time in school and may require support to get them on track or get them back on track. Teachers may notice that a child is struggling to keep up with the rest of their peers and provide them with ways to learn the material. But sometimes with extra time and modifications, they might still need additional support. For some children, an individualized education plan (known as an IEP) as part of special education services can help them succeed. But how do you know if your child needs this?

If a child is not meeting developmental milestones or is having difficulties in school, then it is important that parents or guardians intervene as soon as possible. Early intervention can enhance the development of children with disabilities to reach their full potential. If left untreated, children can quickly fall behind without the right support.

What is an IEP?

An IEP is a legal document that highlights the tailored learning goals and needs for a child with a disability as defined by law, when a child attends a K-12 educational institution that receives public funding. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a law that makes a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) to eligible children with disabilities throughout the United States and also ensures special education and related services to those children. This includes assigning an IEP to each student that receives special education services.

For a child to qualify for an IEP, they must be identified as having one of the 13 disabilities listed under IDEA and have been identified as needing special accommodations. Additionally, their disability must cause significant restriction with the child’s ability to learn the curriculum. The 13 qualifying disability categories include:

  • Learning disabilities
  • Physical impairments
  • Speech or language impairments
  • Intellectual disabilities
  • Emotional disturbance
  • Multiple disabilities
  • Hearing impairments
  • Other health impairments
  • Visual impairments
  • Autism
  • Deaf/blindness
  • Traumatic brain injury (TBI)
  • Developmental delay

With an IEP in place, teachers, parents, school administrators and other related personnel can work together to improve the education of children with disabilities. They must come together and look closely at the student’s unique needs and in turn, use their knowledge and experience to design an educational program that will help children be involved and progress in school. An effective IEP requires teamwork.

Determining Eligibility

So, how are children identified as possibly needing special education services? Before the writing of each child’s IEP takes place, it is important to look at the bigger picture. It may help to look at how a child is identified as having a disability and if they will be needing special education and related services.

Children are identified as possibly needing special education and related services.

A school professional, early intervention services program or a medical professional may ask that a child be evaluated to see if they have a disability. Parents may also initiate this request by asking their teacher or other school professional to ask that their child be evaluated. For a child to be evaluated, they need to consent first, and the evaluation must be completed within a reasonable time.


During an evaluation, a child is assessed in all areas related to the child’s presumed disability. The results of this will be used to determine the child’s eligibility for special education and related services and to make decisions for the best program for that child. Parents also have the option to disagree with the evaluation and ask for an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE).

Determining Eligibility

A group of professionals and the parents will meet to review the evaluation results. They can all decide if a child with a disability is defined under IDEA. Again, parents can also request to challenge the eligibility decision.

Found to be Eligible

If the child is found to be a “child with a disability,” they are eligible for special education and related services. An IEP team must write an IEP for the child within 30 calendar days.

What makes up the IEP meeting?

First, a meeting must be scheduled to conduct the IEP meeting. Staff must contact all participants, notifying them with enough time and share information about the meeting (including the purpose of the meeting). When the meeting is held, they will discuss the child’s needs and write the IEP. Before the services outlined in the IEP are provided to the child for the first time, parents or legal guardians must give consent.

Providing Services

After parents have met, discussed, and written the IEP, services can begin. The school ensures that the child’s IEP is being carried out and school professionals involved will have access to the IEP to know their specific roles and responsibilities. This includes accommodations, modifications, and support needed for each child.


During the year, the child’s progress towards their unique annual goals is measured and parents will be regularly informed of their child’s progress.


At least once a year, the child’s IEP is reviewed. Parents and team members must be invited to these meetings. Here, parents can make suggestions for changes, and can agree or disagree with the IEP goals and placement. This is when parents can also discuss their concerns with other members of the team and try to find a resolution.


At least every three years, a child must be re-evaluated. This “triennial” determines whether a child with a disability, as defined under IDEA, will continue to quality for special education and related services.

Debunking Myths

The more parents and guardians know about special education, IEPs, and related services, the more prepared they can be to support their children.

Unfortunately, many times myths about IEPs and special education can sometimes keep people from seeking out services for their children. A big misconception about IEPs is that children must be placed in separate classrooms. However, most children who receive special education services through an IEP are in the same classroom as kids who do not. This is part of creating a least restrictive environment (LRE), which means that a child needs to spend as much time possible with same-age peers who do not receive special education services.

Special education is not only for children with severe physical and intellectual disabilities. The fact is that most children who receive services do not have severe disabilities. The most common qualifying disability is specific learning disabilities.

Another myth is that children who receive special education will be labeled as such forever. Society has stigmatized the label; however, special education focuses on the services and supports a child needs, and not on the label. When parents work with their child’s IEP team, their input helps the school provide them with the best opportunities and services they need.


For children to receive services, they need an IEP. If a child has been evaluated, then the process of getting an IEP has already begun. The more you know about the purpose of IEPs, the more involved you can be in getting your child the best support possible.

This post was designed to help share knowledge about IEPs, what the process may entail and is by no means an exhaustive list. To learn more about the process, check out the U.S. Department of Education’s IDEA website.