Going through the IEP referral process can be extremely daunting as a parent if you’ve never done it before. Hell, sometimes it’s daunting even if you’ve done it before. If you’ve ever done this before, you might not have known how the process works enough to adequately advocate for your child. Or maybe you felt so intimidated by not knowing what will happen that you silently waited for everything to fall into place. This guide to the IEP referral process will be part 1 of my IEP Education for Parents series.
Making an IEP Referral
An IEP referral is not official until you make it in writing. Verbally telling your child’s teacher, counselor, or principal that you want to refer your child for special education services does not guarantee that the process will begin. Make sure that you write a request for services in writing, date it, and sign it. The process begins on the day you turn in that request and they then have 90 days to complete the process. Here is a Sample IEP Referral Request if you need help writing your request for an evaluation. Just keep in mind that requesting an evaluation does not guarantee your child will receive special education services. It only insures your child will receive an evaluation for services. You should meet to discuss your child’s needs and sign a consent for evaluation within about 15 days. At that time, they should provide you with a handbook explaining your rights.
The IEP Team
A lot of times, it can be daunting to walk into a meeting and see a bunch of people there. It helps to know who may attend a meeting so that you can prepare yourself. You might ask who will be attending the meeting in advance. An IEP team may consist of the following individuals:
- You (the parent or guardian)
- School administrator (principal or assistant principal)
- A special education teacher
- A general education teacher
- The professionals who conducted the evaluations
- School Psychologist
- Speech Language Pathologist, if applicable
- Occupational Therapist, if applicable
- Physical Therapist, if applicable
- Your Child (if appropriate or over age 8)
The team should allow adequate time to review the IEP. Do not allow them to rush you through going over results or reviewing the IEP. A meeting discussing evaluation results should typically take about an hour.
The Eligibility Process
Within 90 days your school’s team should meet with you to determine eligibility for special education services. No matter where you live, your school must follow IDEA’s guidelines when making this decision, though there might be some flexibility when making a decision. In order for your child to receive services, he or she must have one of the following 13 disabilities and the disability must have an adverse impact on your child’s ability to learn.
- Emotional Disturbance
- Hearing Impairment
- Intellectual Disability
- Multiple Disabilities
- Orthopedic Impairment
- Other Health Impaired
- Specific Learning Disability
- Speech or Language Impairment
- Traumatic Brain Injury
- Visual Impairment
Remember that even if your child has one of the 13 qualifying disabilities, this does not guarantee services. In order to receive services, the team must determine that the disability has an adverse affect on your child’s educational performance. If you do not agree with the decision the team makes, you do have the right to an appeal. You should receive a notice explaining the decision and the timeline for making an appeal once the decision has been made. By law, you have until the 10th day after the meeting to make an appeal. You should also receive a copy of all evaluations at the meeting. If you do not receive a copy, request it at the meeting.
Writing the IEP
If your team determines that your child qualifies for special education services, you will write the IEP at this same meeting. Your child’s special education teacher may have a draft prepared prior to the meeting, but keep in mind that you have the right to help write the IEP and that this draft version may be altered at this meeting depending on what the team decides. An IEP consists of the following components:
- A statement of your child’s present level of academic performance and functional performance
- Measurable annual goals related to your child’s specific abilities, including academic and functional performance
- A description of how your child’s goals will be measured as well as a statement of when you will receive reports on your child’s progress towards these goals
- A statement of what special education and related services will be provided to your child as well as the modifications and supports that the team will provide to your child
- An explanation of the extent to which your child cannot participate with his or her nondisabled peers, if this applies to your child (how often your child will be pulled away from the classroom for direct support from a special education teacher).
- The date that special education services will begin and the frequency, location, and duration of these services. In other words, a statement of how often, where, and how long your child will receive services during the school day/year.
- Transition services if your child is aged 16 or older. Some states may begin including these services earlier, but it is not required.
Final Notes on the IEP Referral Process
Most schools are looking out for your child’s best interest when making a decision about eligibility for special education services. Keep in mind that you may not agree with their decisions, but it helps to keep a diplomatic attitude when making a disagreement. The rule of “you can catch more flies with honey” applies here. You may start by stating that you recognize that they feel this is best for your child, but that you feel differently. Most times, you will find that there is some flexibility about which services your child receives and that the team is willing to work with you. If this is not the case and they tell you the what’s written is set in stone prior to you even taking part in the meeting (their draft is their final decision), they have not followed procedural guidelines. Always advocate for what you feel is in your child’s best interest. If you feel overwhelmed with the process, you are allowed to bring someone with you to the meeting that can help you understand it. Though you are not required to do so, it’s best practice to let your team know when you intend to bring a support person with you.
Hopefully knowing how this process works will help you prepare for the IEP referral process. Please ask any questions you have in the comments section. I will happily help you make it through this process!