The IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) guarantees that every student eligible for special education receives an Individualized Education Program (IEP) documenting how their disability impacts their learning, describing their educational needs, setting annual goals in all areas of need, and outlining the services supports and placement in their least restrictive environment they require to receive a free appropriate public education (FAPE). The IEP team must meet every year to review the student’s progress and update/adjust the program to reflect their needs. Every three years, the student must be reevaluated to ensure that they continue to be eligible, and that the IEP is appropriately individualized. But these are minimum requirements.
You do not have to wait for the annual (yearly) IEP meeting to bring the IEP team together. There are many situations where additional meetings help the team work together to address problems and adjust the IEP.
Students who are legal adults (18 or older in California), parents, and education rights holders have a right to request an IEP meeting at any time. You must do this in writing, and the school must hold the meeting within 30 calendar days of the date they receive the written request (for this reason, it is wise to keep proof of when you delivered that written request). School breaks for more than five days in a row stop the timeline, so the summer break and longer holidays don’t count. Because it can take up to 30 days to hold the meeting, act quickly to request one when there are issues that are time-sensitive.
Bringing the IEP team together outside of the annual meeting can be helpful or necessary. For example:
- You might want to check in more formally to discuss how the student is doing, monitor their progress, or share information from outside providers.
- The student is not making enough progress toward their IEP goals and may need more or different services in order to do so.
- The student’s placement is too restrictive (not enough time with students without disabilities) or their needs are not being met.
- The student has new needs that the team did not anticipate or previously address, such as mental health challenges, social difficulties, behaviors, academic difficulties, medical issues, or recent hospitalization.
- The student is being bullied or is not safe at school.
- The IEP, including the behavior support/intervention plan, is not being followed as required, and services have been missed or delivered inconsistently.
- The parent is being asked to pick up the student early or to shorten the school day because the student is struggling with behavior, needs medical care (such as diabetes management) and the school does not have the resources or know how to support the student.
- The student is not able to attend school because of anxiety, overwhelm, or other challenges and the team may need to create a reintegration plan to help them.
See Requesting a Meeting to Review Your Child’s IEP | Center for Parent Information and Resources for more information about when and why an IEP meeting may be needed.
The partnership between parents, students, and schools is an essential part of IDEA. Because an IEP must be individualized to the unique needs of each student, and because every individual’s needs change over time, or because of changes in their school situation, using the IEP process to adjust the plan is an important part of your advocacy.
November’s Special EDition reviewed how to prepare for an IEP meeting. Here are some key advocacy tips to keep in mind when you are calling a meeting for specific reasons:
- Request the meeting in writing and be sure to keep proof of delivery. Use the calendar to count 30 days (excluding any break of more than five days but including weekends and shorter holidays) to identify when the 30 days would be up and write that you expect the meeting to be held before that date.
- Include detailed information about why you want to meet and which staff members may particularly be needed (for example, if your student has more than one teacher, and you have concerns about their progress in math, you might request that the math teacher be the required general education teacher who attends the meeting. See Who Is On My Child’s IEP Team? – PACER Center to learn more about who are the “required team members.”
- Clarify that you expect all required team members to be present for the entire meeting. For example, if you want to discuss mental health needs, the counselor or mental health provider’s participation is key, but you may be willing to excuse the adaptive physical education teacher if you are asked to excuse them. Note that if a team member can’t attend, you must be notified in advance so you can determine if excusing them and holding the meeting is appropriate, or whether it should be rescheduled. See When the IEP Team Meets to learn more about things to consider when excusing team members.
- If you plan to record the meeting, provide the school with 24 hours written notice. You can also include this in your meeting request.
- Include the times or dates when you are NOT available to help find a date and time that works for everyone as efficiently as possible. Remember, IEP meetings must be held at a date and time that works for both parents and school staff.
- If you plan to bring an attorney or advocate, let the school know. If there are others you intend to include (you can bring anyone to support you) let the school know so that there is enough space.
- If you prefer that the meeting be held virtually (not in person), be sure to include that in your letter.
- If you need help preparing to participate, contact your Parent Training and Information Center (PTI) as soon as possible. Learn as much as you can about the IEP process, your rights, and your child’s rights in advance. PTI’s provide valuable family friendly resources, training opportunities, and advocacy strategies. Find Your Parent Center.
- If you need an interpreter (interpreters for LEP parents) or disability-related accommodations (ADA Q&A: Back to School) let the school know in advance and in writing.
- You have a right to meaningful parent participation in these meetings so removing any barrier to achieving that is important. See Parental Right to Participate in Meetings.
- Here is a sample letter and instructions to use: DREDF’s Sample Letter to Request IEP Team Meeting.
- SERR – Special Education Rights and Responsibilities –Disability Rights CA.
- Parent participation – Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
- 12 Tips for Parent Involvement in IEP Meetings.
- Q&A about Part B of IDEA: Parent Participation.
- Developing Your Child’s IEP: The Parent’s Role.
- The Important Role of Parents in Special Education.
- CA Parents’ Rights.
- DREDF – Special Education Resources.
- Find Your Parent Center.
- Key Definitions in IDEA | A Reference List.
- OSEP English-Spanish Glossary.
- Parents’ Rights – Quality Assurance Process (CA Dept of Education).
- Sample Letters and Forms – DREDF.