If your child’s school has determined that they have a disability as defined by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), your child may qualify for special education services. But before any services take place, the school must develop an Individualized Education Program (IEP). The IEP outlines the services your child qualifies for, how often they’ll receive them, and the goals most appropriate for your child.
Because special education involves several people, your child’s IEP team will also include several people. These experts and representatives have your child’s best interests at heart and ensure that they have the supports they need to succeed in school.
I know the IEP process can be confusing, especially for those experiencing the process for the first time, so I want to start with the basics. This guide introduces you to each member of the IEP team and their roles and responsibilities in developing your child’s IEP.
IEP Team Members and Their Roles
Several people work together to bring an IEP to fruition for a child receiving special education services. You can expect the following people to make up the IEP team:
- The Student
- Parents or Guardians
- General Education Teacher
- Special Education Teacher or Provider
- School District Representative
- Results Interpreter
- Outside Specialists or Advocates
- Transition Services Expert
- Understanding the Key Players of the IEP Team
If a student is 14 or older, they must be invited to participate in the development of the IEP and attend the meeting. The student may not be involved if they don’t feel comfortable being included or don’t care to participate. However, students of the required age should never be excluded from attending if they would like to be involved in the process. The school should ensure that both the child and parent understand that they’re welcome.
Under IDEA, students play an important role in their education. From a young age, parents and school representatives should emphasize the importance of a student advocating for themselves, their needs, and their goals. Children younger than 14 can still have a say in IEP strategies, even if they’re not present at the meeting, by communicating their needs to a parent or teacher, for example.
Once a child reaches 14, they can become an official IEP team member who voices their opinions regarding special education services and transition goals. If the student feels comfortable, they may even lead their IEP meeting.
Parents or Guardians
One or both parents or guardians are included on the IEP team for their child. Parents play a crucial role in the IEP team as the people who know the child best. They see, first-hand, the challenges their child faces inside and outside of the classroom and can convey those challenges to the rest of the IEP team during meetings.
In many ways, parents are also their child’s best advocate. They have a vested interest in ensuring their child has the resources they need to succeed in school. Parents also know everything a child has been through medically, academically, and emotionally, therefore acting as a liaison between medical professionals and school professionals.
Although it can be difficult not to let emotions carry you in an IEP meeting, focusing on the child objectively is necessary. Parents understand their child’s strengths and weaknesses better than anyone else and should convey them clearly during meetings. Doing so can give the student the best chance of getting the support they need from the school.
Parents are also allowed to bring one support person to a meeting if desired. This might be a grandparent, a friend, or a step-parent of the child who can offer emotional support or an extra ear to listen or jot down notes.
General Education Teacher
The child’s general education teacher spends each day with them teaching primary subjects, like reading and math. This teacher often first notices problems that could require special education intervention, either through observations, grading, or assessments. In some cases, the teacher might catch onto potential problems that the child only exhibits at school.
Your child’s general education teacher can come prepared to an IEP meeting to discuss how they’re handling the general education curriculum. They’ll explain what the class has been working on, modifications the teacher has made to support your child, and how your child is doing overall. The teacher might suggest strategies to improve behavior or learning based on what they’ve already tried and what your child needs.
If your child does not participate in a general education classroom for primary subjects a general education teacher the student sees for specialists (library, music, PE) will attend the meeting.
Special Education Teacher or Provider
Whether your child is in a general education classroom or not, they’ll have a special education teacher or provider that’s responsible for delivering special education services.
For a hard-of-hearing student, this could be the school’s audiologist, speech therapist, or both, if they both work with the student. For a student with dyslexia, the specialist could be a reading intervention teacher. Students in a special education classroom for most or all of the day will have their special education teacher as part of the IEP team.
These specialists provide valuable insight into the child’s needs for accommodations in the classroom. They’re experts in their specialty, so they can offer suggestions about services and supports that could help your child thrive. When developing IEP goals, special education teachers can also help parents and educators outline specific, tangible goals relevant to the child’s disability.
School District Representative
A school district representative can be a special education coordinator, school district administrator, principal, or another person who understands school resources and can approve services for a student. This representative must have a deep knowledge of special education services and how they work within the school district.
Often, this person helps explain the IEP meeting procedure to the student and their parents. They’ll also usually head the meeting’s discussion, open the door for questions, and address any parental concerns. The representative may also meet with other IEP team members, like teachers and specialists, individually to assess the progress of the student’s goals and services.
The school district representative’s responsibility is to follow through with any service commitments made in an IEP. For example, suppose the IEP team determines that getting a student an iPad for communication assistance is necessary. In that case, the representative must ensure that the school district has the resources and capability to provide the iPad and help the student use it.
A results interpreter doesn’t necessarily need to be a separate person on the IEP team, but it sometimes is. This person interprets and explains the results of a child’s special education evaluation and determination in layman’s terms for the family, teachers, specialists, and other IEP team members. The school district representative or the special education teacher or provider also handles this role in many cases.
The interpretation of the results of an evaluation is a crucial piece of the IEP puzzle. For an IEP team to make informed decisions about a student’s special education services, it needs as many details as possible.
The interpreter explains each part of the evaluation and what they mean for the child. Parents and other IEP team members consult with the interpreter to address any additional concerns or questions.
Outside Specialists or Advocates
If a child works with private specialists outside of the school setting, like an occupational therapist or speech-language pathologist, those specialists may also attend IEP meetings. Their role is to support the child’s needs by offering their observations and suggestions during discussions.
Parents may also choose to bring an advocate with them with experience navigating the special education system. A parent advocate can ensure that IEP meetings have the student’s best interests at heart, that the team addresses each component of the IEP, and that the parents and student do not leave with unanswered questions or concerns.
Transition Services Expert
Students who are graduating from high school and transitioning to post-school activities, whether that’s a job, vocational school, or college or university, will require transition services. The IEP transition process starts before the student turns 16, so usually around 10th or 11th grade at the latest. To assist with the transition, a transition services expert will join the IEP team.
The transition services expert represents a public agency that will be responsible for providing transition services. This might be a representative of a vocational school or a career coaching agency. There may be more than one representative attending transition IEP meetings, depending on the student’s needs.
These representatives should have the authority to commit their agency’s resources to the student. Together, the IEP team will discuss what goals to create for the student and how services should be implemented.
Understanding the Key Players of the IEP Team
Now you know who to expect at the table when you join your child’s IEP meeting — and you and your child are a significant part of it! Remember that you have just as much say in your child’s education as specialists and teachers, so don’t be afraid to use your voice (and teach your kiddo to do the same).
Here’s an article I wrote about what to expect at an IEP meeting. Now you know who the players are, get up to speed on what to expect when you’re there.
After you attend your first IEP meeting, I’d love for you to click back here and leave a comment letting me know what the meeting looked like. What specialists were there, and do you feel like you left informed? Everyone has different experiences, and I think it’s important to discuss the strengths and weaknesses in the system to help other parents.