What Is the Purpose of an IEP?

The IDEA explains that those students who qualify for special education are eligible to receive an Individualized Education Program (IEP). The IEP provides the basic framework for the student’s education and describes the instruction, support, and services that the district will provide to ensure that the student receives a free appropriate public education (called a FAPE).

The process begins when you, a teacher or someone else refers your child for an evaluation to determine whether he or she needs special education or related services. The school district will then ask you to help plan which assessments may be needed.  The school will then evaluate your child (evaluations can include psychological/medical, standardized testing, classroom observations, and other assessments) to determine his or her strengths and weaknesses. After these evaluations, the school will attempt to work with you to create a program that will accommodate your child’s needs.  A student who has an IEP also has additional protections regarding matters involving school discipline.

What Is an IEP Meeting?

The IEP meeting is one of the initial steps in the process of securing special education services for your child. It will occur after the school has evaluated your child. During this meeting, you will have the opportunity to talk with school officials about your child’s needs and what services you would like provided.  School officials will also have the chance to discuss their plans for your child’s education.

The goal of this meeting is to determine if your child requires special education services. The school cannot make that determination ahead of time. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) prohibits the notion of pre-determination.

In New Jersey, a special education student must be between 3 and 21 years old and meet the definition of a person with a disability. This includes a student with a particular physical, emotional, learning, or cognitive disability that requires special education services. The list of specific disabilities include autism, deafness, blindness, as well as various emotional difficulties. There are also more general categories that address disabilities such as ADHD or a specific learning disability.

What Should I Expect in My Child’s IEP Meeting?

It can be an emotional experience when you participate in your child’s first IEP meeting with officials from your school district. You may be struggling to determine what is best for your child and concerned about what the district may try to impose on him or her or, equally as important, what it may refuse to provide.

While school districts are looking to minimize expenses where they can, for the most part, officials are looking out for your child. You need to realize, however, that the school officials are balancing several competing interests–costs, time, available resources–and that you will be your child’s most passionate advocate.

It is therefore important to know what to expect during an IEP meeting, including who should be attending and how to prepare. Regardless of the outcome of the meeting, you have options. If you are not satisfied with the way the school is handling your child’s education, you should contact a lawyer who will advocate for the best interests of your child.

How Should I Prepare for the IEP Meeting?

You will be speaking with several people during this meeting, and much will be discussed.  Therefore, it makes sense to come prepared. At the IEP meeting, you can expect to review your child’s academic progress, evaluation reports, and any other information that may be relevant. Therefore, it may be beneficial to write down any concerns and questions that you may have surrounding your child’s education before the meeting.

Also, you should bring copies of relevant documents, such as recent evaluations and progress/report cards. During the meeting, you should take notes and do not hesitate to ask questions. You can also record the meeting, although you should let the school district know of your intentions ahead of time.

As previously mentioned, there may be several people from the school district at your meeting. But, you should not let that intimidate you. Just as you are required to attend, there are others who must participate in the IEP meeting.  They include the following individuals:

  • General education teacher: If your child has been assigned a general teacher, they must attend, if one has not been selected, then the district must provide a teacher within the system.
  • Special education teacher: This is a person who qualifies as a special education teacher according to the regulations of the state of New Jersey.
  • Case Manager: This is the person who oversees your child’s IEP and coordinates the services that your child is to receive.
  • Evaluator: The person who was responsible for evaluating your child must be on hand to explain their findings, recommendations, and the reasons for those.
  • Invitees: You and the district have the right to invite other people that you believe will be relevant to the discussion related to your child’s education. These can include a private therapist, a lawyer, or an advocate who might know the child and can provide firsthand knowledge and experience. You should let the district know ahead of time if you plan to bring anyone else.

Everyone should identify themselves at the beginning of the meeting. If not make sure to get a copy of the “Sign-In Sheet” for the meeting, which will list all attendees and ask for their contact information (so you can reach out directly if you have any questions or concerns).

What Happens if I Cannot Attend the IEP Meeting?

If you are unable to attend your child’s IEP meeting, inform your child’s case manager as soon as possible (this may occur by phone, but be sure to follow-up in writing). At that time, you can request a new date for the IEP meeting. While you can participate via video conference or by phone, it is best that you attend in person.

In some circumstances, the district can convene the IEP meeting in your absence. As a result, the school may try to implement an IEP that you do not feel is appropriate for your child.  While you can dispute the proposed program, you may find it more difficult to successfully challenge the IEP if you did not attend the meeting (where you could have provided valuable information about your child).

What Are My Options if I Disagree with the IEP?

Even if you do attend your IEP meeting, you may not be satisfied with the IEP that the school proposes. You have a few options to dispute it, including participating in mediation and/or a due process hearing. If you choose mediation, you will attend a session with representatives from the school and a third-party mediator. The job of the mediator is to remain neutral, in hopes of negotiating an agreement between you and the school.

The second option is to initiate a due process hearing, which is conducted before a hearing officer. Both sides present their arguments, and witnesses may testify in order to provide the hearing officer with factual information necessary to make an informed decision on your case. The hearing officer will issue the decision in writing. If you do not agree with this determination, you may file an appeal in either state or federal court.

If you have a child who has special needs and you are anxious about an upcoming IEP meeting, the IEP lawyers at John Rue & Associates can help. We will help you get the IEP that will be best for your child. We serve clients throughout New Jersey. We provide parents who may need an education lawyer with a free initial consultation (30 minutes by phone), and a more detailed consultation (90 minutes to 3 hours by Zoom) for a flat fee of $595. Call us at 862-283-3155 or contact us online to schedule your consultation today.

John Rue & Associates, LLC
Montclair Office
40 South Fullerton Ave, Suite 29,
Montclair, NJ 07042
Princeton Office
100 Overlook Center, 2nd Floor
Princeton, NJ 08540

[email protected]

862-283-3155 (Phone)
973-860-0869 (Fax)

Attention NJ Civil Rights Lawyers

JRA Committee Ethics