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The ABCs of IEPs: The Annual IEP Meeting

by Patrick J. Hoover, Special Education Attorney, Rockville, MD
This piece is the second in a series on IEPs.

Last month's newsletter spoke of the primary, critical role parents play in seeing that their children, who struggle in school every day, get the best professional evaluation. Your student's evaluation is a formal step required by state and federal law. And you can be confident the evaluation will be very carefully scrutinized by the school's administrators, teachers and experts well before your youngster will even be considered for the possibility of special services.

Okay, okay, enough about evaluations. This month we'll take a fresh look at the lynch-pin and the foundation of the special education system, the annual IEP meeting. Just as the name implies this meeting is held every year for all kids in school who have an active/current IEP. I should hasten to add that this annual meeting is not named to imply that child is only entitled to a single meeting in a given year; quite the contrary in fact. A student may have his/her case reviewed at the IEP meeting level several times over the course of a single year along with his/her designated annual IEP meeting regardless of the other meetings with the IEP team.

There is a good deal of work to be accomplished at the annual IEP and often times these meetings run over into two separate meetings before everything gets resolved — at least to the degree both you and the school team finds acceptable. The team will first provide you with copies of all paperwork to be reviewed at least a few days in advance of the meeting. As this courtesy is unfortunately ill too rare, you should see to it to request all such documentation of the IEP child in writing weeks before the scheduled date for the meeting, which you should also know you're entitled to no less than 10 days written notice in hand prior to the date of the meeting. If there is not a good day or time you must again, in writing, explain your conflict and offer alternative times either before or soon after the original date.

The team will review the disability code, confirm the identifying data of name and address, and offer you a handbook composed of fine print legalese setting forth your rights of appeal should you not agree to the decision of the team at the end of the meeting. Recall always that as a parent/guardian, you are an essential, and in my opinion, the most important member of the IEP team — one whose opinion the school will certainly make a real effort to enlist in what is fondly called “consensus” by school officials (where the parent does not vociferously object the decision of the team).

The annual meeting should review the school and class room work, academics and the placement past and present and compared these to the goals and objectives of the areas identified in the original IEP to measure progress and discuss areas of strength and concern. The team will then draft from all of the foregoing a new IEP designed and intended to carry your child even further ahead than he/she traveled over the past year — sufficient under the law to map out no less than one year's growth through the creation of independent and separate annual goals which hold the objectives sought.

I have attempted to jam in an outrageous amount of fairly critical information in this all too brief piece and I will freely admit that I am not at all confident that I have done the perfect job. Nor is any of this meant to be taken in any way as some attempt to provide legal advice. To the contrary in fact, I urge you to consult with counsel should you have questions or concerns about any aspect of your child's education, including of course, the dreaded but oh so important, annual IEP.

For someone educated in this process, the IDEA and the state and federal laws that govern IEPs that can be truly helpful.

If you want to ensure that your child's interests are heard loud and clear bring an advocate, bring an educator, bring a friend, or if appropriate bring an attorney who is experienced in the field of special education law.

On a final note, here are a few things to remember as you are walking into the IEP meeting to draft the IEP for the first time:

  • Be certain you have read all recent evaluations and you've carefully reviewed these along with your child's report cards and other records.
  • Be certain you have copies, as does the school, of all recent evaluations.
  • Be certain you have gotten a copy of the draft IEP (most schools prepare a draft which they circulate among themselves before the meeting) and make sure you understand it.
  • Consider drafting proposed Annual Goals and Objectives and share a copy of your draft with the school several days in advance of the meeting.
  • Be prepared to spend at least two hours at the meeting and don't be afraid to ask that the meeting be continued to another day if it's not complete in one sitting.
  • Do not sign the IEP until you have had time to review it. Politely explain that you want to see a completed draft of the proposed IEP and review it for a few days. Be aware schools often threaten to withhold services, but don't believe it. You have at least a day or two to consider it. But understand if you don't sign the IEP at some point soon after, then by law the school system is prohibited from providing any of the services proposed for your child in the IEP.
  • Consider asking the team to schedule a follow-up meeting to review your child's progress under the newly drafted IEP document. That way you can more quickly answer the question if the IEP is working, should be tweaked in any way, or is perfect as is.
Good luck!

Patrick Hoover is a special education attorney in Rockville, MD. He advocates for an appropriate education for children with special needs. See his site at: See her site at: or contact him by phone at:(301) 424-5777.

Disclaimer: Internet Special Education Resources (ISER) provides this information in an effort to help parents find local special education professionals and resources. ISER does not recommend or endorse any particular special education referral source, special educational methodological bias, type of special education professional, or specific special education professional.
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