Understand Who Special Education Law Wants at IEP Meetings and Why
When you’re the parent or other primary caregiver of a child with disabilities, sometimes—maybe even much of the time—you feel you’re the only one who’s really got your son’s or daughter’s back, especially when it comes to educational access.
But the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) mandates an Individualized Education Program (IEP) team precisely so you don’t have to champion your child all alone.
Knowing who the required members of an IEP team are can help you:
- communicate more effectively with them, ensuring everyone’s working toward the same goals.
- streamline your meetings to make them more efficient and productive.
- ensure the team directly contributes to your student’s success through careful and cooperative writing, refining, and implementation of the IEP.
At Pediatric Therapeutic Services (PTS, Inc.), we appreciate families often have questions and even apprehension about IEP team meetings. We’re committed to helping you feel comfortable and confident advocating for your student as part of the IEP team, and excited about moving ahead with the next steps in his or her educational plan.
So let’s spend a little time looking at who the various IEP team members are, and how you can collaborate with them for the best results.
Identifying Required IEP Team Members and Their Roles
Here’s who gets a seat at the school IEP team meeting table:
Despite other team members’ various levels of knowledge or special expertise, no one knows your child as you do. Your voice matters. Speak up with your opinions and concerns. Also, keep the bigger picture in mind and think about what balance of therapy and general education will help your child make the fastest progress.
- Your child
IDEA requires students receive an invitation if the meeting will discuss postsecondary goals and transitional services. But unless your daughter or son is of age or your parental rights are limited, you choose whether your child attends the IEP team meeting with you.
Talk to your child about the possibility. Consider discussing it with your child’s teachers. Special education students usually benefit from participating in these meetings. The experience can help them gradually take a more active role in shaping their education. Introducing themselves and talking about their learning experiences can boost self-confidence and social skills. Older children even have the option to lead their IEP meetings themselves.
- At least one general education teacher
IDEA states at least one education teacher outside the special ed program must attend. This provision is particularly important if your child is or will be participating in a general education environment. General education teachers understand your student’s grade-level general education curriculum and what it calls for her or him to learn. This teacher can help make key decisions about reading materials, graphics with written materials, and other accommodations for your child.
All of your student’s general education teachers should have access to the IEP and must understand your child’s classroom goals and needs. As a parent, you can ask how your child is performing in the general education class.
- At least one special education teacher
Naturally, special education teachers belong among the IEP team’s required members. They have direct training in and experience teaching children with disabilities and disorders. They work with your child in a setting separate from the general education classroom. The special education teacher understands your child’s academic and non-academic goals, and uses appropriate strategies to help your child achieve them.
At the IEP meeting, at least one special educator contributes by providing observational data to the group and suggesting instructional changes. You can learn more about your student’s strengths and weaknesses from this teacher, and vice versa. This information can help the team as a whole decide how to move forward with the therapy and related services plan.
- A school district representative
This individual has the authority to suggest and approve school resources for your student. As an IEP team member, a district representative must be qualified to either provide special education instruction or supervise such instruction’s provision. This person must also ensure the resources discussed during the IEP meeting are attainable and accessible.
- An individual who can interpret evaluation results
Evaluations are necessary tools for determining the extent of your child’s disability, as well as the amount of therapy and related services he or she needs. At least one IEP team member who can expertly comprehend and explain your student’s evaluation results—either someone already on the team, such as a special ed teacher, or a new member such as a school psychologist—must attend the IEP team meeting.
- A related services provider
Your child’s related services provider—the occupational, physical, or speech therapist—brings special expertise and knowledge of your child’s skills and progress to IEP meetings. If the related services provider can’t be at the meeting, you must agree to waive her or his attendance.
PTS Supports You as You Support Your Child
We hope this brief overview of who makes up an IEP team’s mandatory membership is helpful. IEP law may not always seem straightforward, and its requirements may not always be convenient, but it does intend to give you a community of professionals who can support your student alongside you.
(True, sometimes you may need reinforcements. Click here for our discussion of when and how to call in outside IEP help.)
At PTS, we take our role in this community of support seriously. We hope you’ll explore the resources for parents and families on our website. And we invite you to reach out to us any time for help working with your child’s IEP team or therapists. Call us at 610-941-7020 or contact us online.