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The Individual Education Plan Meeting

Angela Oswalt Morelli , MSW, edited by Mark Dombeck, Ph.D.

Most students who are evaluated for special education services are found eligible for them. Once eligibility has been determined, schools have 30 days to develop an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), which, as the name suggests, will become the plan around which special education services the student receives are organized. Schools often want to move directly into IEP planning immediately after the eligibility meeting where disability is established.

books and appleIt's important that the IEP meeting be attended by all of the key school staff members who will have direct oversight of the student's education. Their coordinated input will be critical in order to create a useful and workable plan. In practice, this means that IEP meeting might be attended by the special education coordinator, a testing professional who can interpret the evaluation findings, at least one special education teacher, the child's regular classroom teacher, and any other school specialists who will likely work with the student (e.g., physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech therapists, school nurses, etc.). Teachers or specialists whose subjects will not be addressed in the plan need not be present for the plan's construction. However, that these subjects are not going to be addressed in the plan will ideally be agreed upon in writing between the parents and the school in advance so that there is no disagreement over whether vital input to the plan was not present at the plan's construction. Parents can also bring anyone to the meeting who they feel is appropriate, such as an outside therapist. In addition, parents who do not speak English as a primary language or may deaf or hard-of-hearing should request to have an interpreter present at the IEP meeting. The school is required through IDEA to provide the parents an interpreter, without cost, in their primary language, including American Sign Language (ASL).

Sometime it is appropriate and advantageous for the students themselves to attend the IEP planning meeting. A major advantage to allowing this is that including students helps them to feel more ownership of the process of their education and greater control over the form their plan takes. Depending upon their developmental level, some children may participate in the entire meeting, while others will only participate in a portion of the meeting. Some students become so knowledgeable about their special education services and IEP, they can even help direct the meeting after the first renewal. However, sometimes parents and educators can be more comfortable and efficient when the child does not attend the meeting. If parents have questions about the wisdom of including, or not including, their child at this meeting, they should consult with trusted school officials who may advise them about the advantages and disadvantages of the child's inclusion in the meeting. As children get older, it is more customary for them to participate whenever they are able. Whether or not children participate in the meeting itself, parents should make every effort to keep children informed about the IEP and how it will effect their schooling, activities, and services they may receive.

The actual IEP planning meeting should be a working session where everyone at the meeting, including parents and students (if present), discuss what goals and services will be most appropriate to meet the educational needs of the child. This means the school should not just merely present parents a completed IEP plan, ask them to quickly read it, and sign. Every IEP plan should include input from therapists, educators, parents, and students wherever possible. Parents should do some preparation and planning before the meeting so they have time to consider what they would like to see included in the plan.