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IEPs – What You Should Know

IEPs – What You Should Know – For parents of children with disabilities or special needs, determining how to provide the best educational opportunities can pose a great challenge. Navigating the special education system can at times prove quite difficult. Luckily, the Michigan Alliance for Families works to connect parents of kids with intellectual and developmental disabilities with information and resources so that they can speak on behalf of their kids and better understand the system.


Individualized education programs, or IEPs, are designed for schools and parents to work together on a plan to help special needs students. Parents of children who need special assistance in school are sometimes thrown into the process not knowing what to expect. How many have ever even heard of an IEP? Many parents of children with special needs enter the education system not understanding the steps, or feeling as though they can’t question the experts and “authorities.” Unfortunately, there are times when the parents have to educate themselves on IEPs and better understand their rights.

How IEPs Work

Developing an IEP involves two main parts – the IEP meeting and the IEP document. The initial IEP meeting involves the parents, student and school staff gathering to determine an educational program that best meets the needs of the child. Then, an IEP document is drafted that puts the decisions from the meeting in writing. This document will outline the services and supports your child will receive, among other things.

Advice for parents seeking an IEP

Make a Request In Writing – Remember always to place requests for an IEP evaluation or changes to your child’s current IEP in writing to the school administrator in charge of the Committee on Special Education (CSE) in the school district – email or a hand-delivered letter is fine.

Know Your Rights – After you’ve submitted an IEP evaluation letter of request, by law under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) the school district is required to respond to you within 10 days (school days, not including weekends). The school must provide you with written documentation explaining (1) the need for parents’ consent to conduct an educational evaluation, (2) how a determination of eligibility will be made, (3) the documentation needed to identify the existence of a specific learning disability (SLD) (if applicable) and (4) confirmation that parents are invited to participate in the IEP process.

Be Patient – Your child’s school has 30 days to complete the evaluation, which includes an interview with parents, a conference with the student, observations of the student and analysis of the student’s performance (attention, behavior, work completion, tests, class work, homework, etc.). Legally the CSE (or IEP team) must include “you” the parent, plus at least one general educator teacher (if your child is in even one general education class) and one special education teacher in the meeting.

Speak Up – The IEP team is charged with developing, reviewing and revising your child’s IEP at least once a year by law – 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! Remember that you are an equal partner with the school in the IEP process, and the IEP document is intended as a flexible, but binding, agreement that guides everyone involved in the child’s school career to ensure the highest-quality instruction and free and appropriate educational services and supports in the least restrictive environment.


For more resources and information about IEPs, please visit

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