Parents Are Not Members of the IEP Team … Say What!?

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“I’m a special education teacher. At a recent meeting, our sped director told us that ‘parents are not a part of the IEP Team.’ The director said we must have parental consent before we can implement an IEP, although parents are not members of the IEP team.
I’m confused. Can you clarify?

Parents are and always have been members of the IEP team. I can’t imagine why your sped director would tell teachers that parents are not members of the IEP team, but parents have to provide consent to the IEP. If parents aren’t involved in developing the IEP as members of the team, why would they have to consent?

The sped director must know this. But you and your fellow teachers . . . . . . need to know how to find answers to your questions in the federal law and regulations. As you just learned, if you don’t know how to find answers to statements that don’t ring true, you’re at the mercy of others for information.

word law with yellow highlighter

Do you have a copy of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)? Every special education teacher needs to have a copy of the law and regulations.

The law about IEPs is in Section 1414(d). If you have a copy of Wrightslaw: Special Education Law, turn to page 101. You’ll see (B) Individualized Education Team midway down the page in bold type. Parents are listed first.

The federal regulations about IEPs are on pages 245-251. Required members of the IEP team are listed on pages 246-247. Again, parents are listed first.

When you have to deal with a situation like this, we recommend you use the “Columbo Approach.” It goes like this – “I’m confused … I don’t understand … doesn’t it say right here that … ” (as you point to the relevant text in the statute or regulations). Of course (like Miss Manners), you are polite.

You will be in a stronger position if you have the law book in hand, relevant portions of the law highlighted, and sticky notes marking the pages. If you do this, you won’t need to say much (except “I’m confused …”). The law will speak for itself.

Your experience shows why it’s so important for teachers (and parents) to learn how to find answers to questions in the law on their own. If you can’t do this, you’ll rely on what others tell you. As you’ve learned, they may be dead wrong.

  1. Enjoyed this thread and glad to have the references for parental consent. I am a speech therapist in a school and have had the frustrating situation where we can not get a parent in for a meeting. All while the child continues to need services.

    To the original question about signing an IEP. The district I work in, everyone signs the IEP. The neighboring district that my son attends, we only sign his 3-year evaluation IEPs. To further complicate things, I have heard other special ed teachers in my district give different reasons we are signing – some say we sign to agree to the IEP some say we sign to show we ‘held the meeting’. Confusing, to say the least. Since I am not sure which it is, I say it is for attendance, not agreement. I am now going to ask my sped director and look it up. Seems we should be consistent within our district

  2. We were told in the official IEP meeting that they had held a “meeting” to determine placement for my son who was to return from Home Instruction. I asked how they could have a meeting without me being the parent and they said they did and they wanted him to remain on home instruction. We have since hired an attorney. Tired of this school district’s disrespect and especially the building principal who told my son when asked if he cared whether or not my son graduated and became a productive member of society “NO!”

  3. This post makes me wonder how many special education teacher are either told the same thing by their sped director, or think the same. On the other hand, in our district “parents are part of the IEP team” argument has been used to NOT give the parents a draft of the IEP before the IEP meeting (because IEP is a “team” decision), even though every other member of the team, other than parents, were able to see the draft.

  4. We were told exactly the same thing by our SPED director and the school distric’t s attorney. They said that we we could choose to sign the IEP or not – all it meant was that we were in agreement. If we did not sign – they would implement it anyway. I knew they were wrong – but what can a parent do when the district and their attorney behave in that way? We have filed State Dept. Complaints – and they ruled in our favor. We filed OCR complaints – they ruled in our favor. In one case, they told us an untruth and we went home, looked up the law, and sent them a thank you letter quoting the law including the part that they had left out and stating our position. All of those things do get action – but it is exhausting when every meeting this type of thing happens.

  5. My wife and i are separated. Our 15 year old special needs child is in my wife’s classroom. The separation occurred on 12/08. I asked my wife several times as to my daughter’s progress, which she ignored or advised to go through her teacher, who happened to be my wife. I decided to write the superintendent, Special ed, director and principal. This was due b/c my wife did not allow me to have any contact with our daughter for nearly 7 months and no legal documents were in play.

    Question: Was my wife/teacher legally bound to notify me when my daughter had her IEP in 2009? One manager told me that as long as one parent were present then that sufficed. The fact is my wife never told me about any evaluations/revaluations since we were separated. Was I legally entitled to receive a notice of when the conferences/meeting took place?

  6. My Special Education Supervisor stated that a parent does not have to attend and sign an initial ETR nor an Initial IEP. The parent granted consent for an evaluation, but never came in for the determination meeting (three documented attempts were made). Now, I will be having an initial IEP meeting (again three documented attempts have been made) and if the parent does not attend, can we legally implement services without a parent’s signature?

  7. I just attended an IEP meeting and the school psychologist clearly disregarded my request for a one-on-one aide for my first grader who has fine motor skills issues. She motioned with her hand around the table who the IEP team was, which excluded me and told me that the IEP team was recommending an SDC placement. I said mom is part of the team, she repeated the same motion again and laughed at my suggestion. This is what is out there in terms of professionals at our schools. She said an aide is for children who are a danger to themselves or others. That is an outright lie. California special education means that your child will not get neede services if the parent does not know their rights. You will be bullied every time at the IEP meeting. It is an outright disgrace. Too many people are intimated by School and District staff.

  8. What are the laws that govern whether or not a parent is included in the IEP meetings? Custody issues and legal guardianship or custodian????

  9. My son has been tested at first they told me he was elgiable for an IEP, then when I got to the table they changed the conclution, and said he has no disability, and is not elgiable for an IEP. His IQ is 110 he scored 88 on listining comprehention. They requested a speech and language assesment and auditory proccessing. I now have a meeting on Mon. They have agreed to an IEE. They called and left me a message that I would not recieve the report until Sun (the day before the meeting) and my invitation will be brought to the meeting. They are doing this so that everything is done by the end of the school year. What do I do? What is the invitation? Have they decided to give him the IEP? Please help. Any info would be of great help.

    • Shannon: There is no way we can know what the school decided — or if they have decided anything.

      You need to write a letter (not an email) that documents what has happened and includes your questions. Begin with a SHORT description of your son, his educational problems, and what you asked of the school. Include info about the school’s flip flops (eligible, not eligible) and their responses to your requests. Ask the questions you wrote in your comment. Hand deliver the letter to the school. Make a note of the time and date you delivered the letter and the name of the person who received the letter.

      Your state special ed regs have a time line for evaluating children for special ed. The duty to evaluate does not end because some school staff are off during the summer.

  10. Is a Parental Siganture required for Triennial and also can the SD use classrrom grades to refuse services? Grade point is 3.7 for child with Dyslexia reading at 8th grade level, fluency at 6th grade. Child is 17 going into 11th grade next fall.
    Twice Exceptional with 130 IQ

  11. HELP! I am short on money and need an advocate ASAP! FERPA Laws have been broken (admittingly by Special Ed Superintandt ) and just found out an IEP occurred last week with FAMILY members and we were not aware. Need HELP PLEASE

  12. Our district always comes in with the ARD/IEP document all ready made up –even with predetermined check marks of agreement to each and every section as they have predetermined.

    At our last meeting, I noticed that they predetermined that we, the parents “agree” that our son with autism does not need ESY. I say that it is illegal for them to pre-check the agreement box with out getting our input first, and that if we do not agree –(for we strongly believe our son needs ESY) then it should be reflected in the document.

    I refused to sign it because of this. We meet again in the morning.
    This is the fifth year we have been in disagreement about ESY.
    Is there something I’m missing in the law? Can they pre check the agreement boxes before we’ve even met and discussed it?

  13. I have a question about another take on this thread. What value is the input of the student themselves, as well as the parent, in the IEP process? I have a 17 year old son with LD’s, who has an IEP that was poorly constructed and not implemented. The IEP meetings were maintly attempts by the District to blame him for his disabilities (mainly slow processing and slow reading fluency, which means it takes him much longer to complete tests and assignments). He bacame very depressed by this approach and did not come to IEP meetings, on advice of his doctors, to avoid further blame and humiliation. He finally wrote a letter to the IEp team–respectful, but very factual—and the Special Ed Director refused to accept and amend the letter to his IEP. Was this procedually correct? What are our other options? How would this be viewed in DP?

  14. Suzanne Asked: “I need to know about notices regarding IEP meetings.”

    Suzanne, do you mean the required prior notice to Parents that an IEP Meeting is planned for your child? Generally that notice must be in writing and delivered to you no less than 5 days prior to the scheduled meeting; It must state the nature and reasons for the meeting, as well as who has been invited to attend. Email is an acceptable form of notice if the both you and the school agrees to that.

    There are other types of Prior Notice” regarding the content, and particularly for any changes to a child’s IEP that the school intends to implement. An excellent article by Judy Bonnell on the Wrightslaw website may help you there:

  15. Fortunately we won Out-Placement to a Private School 2 yrs ago for our 13 y/o son on the Autism Spectrum; He has made considerable progress since but recently we were Blind Sided at an IEP Mtg. when informed that his OT time was being cut in HALF (2 Hrs p/mo-to-1 Hr p/mo); It was clear that the LEA Rep had prior knowledge of this a/w/a a draft copy of the proposed IEP and changes, yet we as Alex’s Parents were not provided with this vital information: School Personnel are acting in conjunction w/ the LEA as the IEP Team but continue to leave Us as Parents out of the loop.

    The same Personnel have positively stated on numerous occassions that we are the most “active” Parents that they have encountered in awhile, but how can we help them to understand that IDEA Demands that, as his Parents, we are Primary Members of our son’s IEP Team?

  16. My daughter has an IEP and goes to school in a Florida public school. Last year as we worked with the school to create the IEP and we were pushed towards a “conversion class” which they explained was regular curiculum but provided extra time for the children and extra help. We were told the class would be taught by a dual certified teacher (special ed and regular ed). 3 weeks into the school year, they pulled the dual certified teacher and put in a 1st year teacher that is not dual certified. The school blocked us from observing the classroom, and has since told us that all other parents can observe/volenteer but we can’t. I showed up to chaperone a school trip (had signed up) and was turned away. I am not comfortable – and have no way to coordinate at home with school. suggestions?

  17. Not only are parents Team Members, but the often – forgotten # 1 IEP Team Member is the child itself. I always made sure that my daughter was at HER IEP Meetings. (nothing about me without me)
    The parents are the ones that so often SPEAK for their child. You are your child’s voice. As well as the voice of yourself, and your family’s.
    I have never met a parent of a child with disAbilities that did not live it right along with them. Or a family.
    You represent your child, yourself and your family.
    In my case, I always felt that along with my own personal family’s representation, I represented the ‘voice’ of ALL Families with disAbilities.
    You also retain the right to have anyone else present as a participating IEP Team Member that you so choose.
    In fact, look at it this way….EVERYONE that is in the meeting is a team member.

  18. Sarah:If you feel your child is being discriminated against due to disability or denied access to educational facilities as the school will not provide access (key is what does your child need to access the school/program). Two options are to engage and see what the school’s 504 policy is and compare policy to what they are doing. You can file a 504 complaint. In addition another possibility is to file an Americans With Disability Act (ADA) complaint. The school is probably expecting more of an IDEA based engagement. Using 504 and ADA makes it hard for school to “sweep” under the rug. I would check out ADA and see what the complaint process is where you live.

  19. Parents are part of IEP teams. The problem exists in the fact that many parents don’t want to put in the time to work with the teacher on creating the IEP thus when we get in the meeting the related service personnel and others rush the meeting because schedules have to be kept. So, it ends up being entirely upon the teacher……

    Now, I have a question: teacher-student ratio in a classroom with 9 children (8 boys, 1 girl – most of whom have autism). My assistant likes being in this classroom. She wants to continue working despite her inoperable brain tumor which limits short term memory. I feel I really need a second Instructional Assistant and I am trying to find the documentation to supp

  20. I am having alot of problems dealing with my deaf son and trying to get services he needs and the school systems i need advice to know much more I got this site from a friend and need help because they have labled my child and discrimated against him

  21. I agree, at my Granddaughters first IEP (three years old) the SD IEP team took over, the SD never did ask the early intervention teachers (four) of their opinion and advice and none of them spoke up. They brought their reports with them, I doubt they were looked at. It was this we offer and sign on the dotted line. True this is all new to us and a bit overwhelming.I studied Nolo’s IEP guide and Wrights Law The next IEP the SD might lead, but I will try to advocate for my Granddaughter in a polite way. Dieter

  22. Not only are parents full members, but we should be the leaders of the team in my humble opinion. We have the ultimate responsibility to love, care for, provide for, educate and keep our children safe. With this responsibility comes authority. I believe the law has been melded to agree with this position. We do have to have common sense as resources are finite.

    Ron D

  23. Sue,
    When working for public schools, I was told by school attorneys to first look at the divorce degree to determine who had the power to make legal & educational decisions. If only one parent was given this power, then you worked with that parent. If both parents shared that power, then the school could proceed with the approval of one parent. However, both parents had to be invited to the IEP meeting & the parent who disagreed had the right to file a complaint with the state or a request for a due process hearing.

    Pam needs to give you more detailed advice. However, unless the law is different in your state, it would seem that the school would be required to meet with you & that you could request mediation.

  24. Our Grandson is ADHD and has been Special Ed since preschool. He did pretty well in Preschool and Kindergarten; however, he began acting out the 2nd half of 1st grade (if he was bullied or tormented, he went to the teacher(s), who began calling him a tattle tail. After a while, he tried to things himself). Also, he cannot read. When his Mother asked about a Reading Specialist, she was told they were only there to teach “normal” children who were having trouble learning to read. By the way, his Special Ed teacher had such a bad record, they finally made her a librarian.

  25. I have full physical custody, share joint legal custody with my former husband. The school completely excludes me from everything and works/communicates only with my former husband (the non-custodial parent). This includes IEP meetings they hold only with him. He does not even share “parent concerns” in the IEP and signs whatever they tell him to. I am not a member of the IEP team, is there anything that I can do?

    The school has strongly told me that they are only required to have ONE parent’s signature for approval of an IEP. (They indicated that it is a loop-hole in the law and that they can pick whatever parent they want to approve it.) Is that correct?

    The school responded to my requests for changes or another IEP meeting saying they cannot do anything without my former husband’s signature since he has already “approved” the IEP. I finally have gotten a copy of the current IEP approved in June. I do not agree with 2 things and would like clarification on other points.

    I’m wondering would I have any rights if I sign it and mark “Do Not Agree and Request Mediation”?
    Thank you,

  26. I read with interest the responses from different areas on how parental consent to an IEP is handled. Sharon, the process you described sounds very thorough. I think it may be the way your district (and/or those near you) handle it. Or an impartial hearing may be requiring some of the things you mention. I am not aware of anything in the NY regs that requires the IEP be provided within 10 business days. In some cases I have seen parents walk out of the meeting with a new copy. In others, getting the new IEP took weeks. Additionally, I do not know of a regulation that calls for an options page. It sounds like a great idea. If some of the districts there are providing that information, then good for them! Many districts have administrators who are really trying to provide information to parents.

    I think that the differences are why it’s a good idea to know IDEA. A state can require more rights, but not fewer. And a district can always do more than is required, but cannot do less. This way, in addition to your state requirements, you can get a sense of the perspective of a district. When their processes give more information and require additional parental consent, that’s a sign of a district that will probably be trying to do the right thing.

    It is also why it’s really important to listen carefully to what the district people are saying and recommending. If I go in expecting to have a fight, I am usually right. And if I go in expecting to listen and then share and find common ground, I am usually right as well.

  27. Debbie: You really know how to advocate! For those who don’t know Debbie’s story (and her long relationship with Wrightslaw), read Wow! Never Thought My Letter Would Show Up in the Special Ed Advocate at

    Parents: Your most important goal is to negotiate quality services for your child. Your goal is not to force school people to admit that they are WRONG. At every step along the way, you need to ask yourself “Will what I’m about to do make it more likely that the school will provide the services my child needs?” Yes or no?

    In all human relationships, you must give people a way to save face. If you get into a polarized battle and forget your most important goal, you make it more likely that the door to quality special ed services will slam shut. This is not specific to special ed – it’s human nature.

    You have to put your emotions (and your ego) in your back pocket, and use your emotions as a source of energy. To learn more about this concept, and why the parent-school relationship is like a marriage without the possibility of divorce, please read How to Solve Problems and Protect Parent-School Relationships at

  28. Brenda: A correction – IDEA states that parents are members of their child’s IEP team. IDEA does not require that parents agree or consent to the IEP — with one exception. Parents must give consent to the initial IEP. If they refuse or fail to do so, the school is not obligated to provide the child with FAPE.

    Some states have a higher standard. Our state (Virginia) has higher standards for parental consent and parental involvement in the special education process. In Virginia, these rights came under attack when the state department of education proposed to eliminate or severely limit parental consent in several areas when they revised the state special education regulations. Parents, teachers and advocates attended hearings, provided public comment, sent written comments to the state, and contacted their members of the legislature. The VDOE is revising the special ed regulations in light of this avalanche of comments.

    One possible change is on the horizon. The U.S. Dept of Ed recently proposed a new regulation that would allow parents to withdraw their child from special ed at any time. This regulation is not final and I don’t know if or when it will be final.

  29. In South Carolina, a parent’s signature indicates that the parents were present.

    For this reason, we have learned to pay close attention to IEP invitation dates and times. For example, an IEP invitation was faxed to us on the Friday before a Monday meeting (Less than 72 hour notice). The invitation was faxed from a school that my son did not attend .The school personnel on the invitation was from the school that the invitation was faxed from.

    We are assured that even though this looked like a unilateral placement change, it was not. The minutes reflect “why the director special services felt that the new placement was better than the school that my son was attending at the time”.

    The most concerning invitation that we have gotten was one For a Thursday; with Wednesday’s date and the proposed meeting time is 3:00 a.m.

    Parent signatures being optional, makes parent involvement optional. School districts are in a position to decide who attends your child’s IEP meeting.

    This has been brought to the attention of our SDE as an obstacle that may prevent parents from being an active participant in their child’s IEP.

  30. SHARON wrote: “[In NY,] Signing this form constitutes signing the IEP.”

    I live in NYS and have never seen or signed a single form “agreeing” to an IEP. I’ve signed the attendance form always.

    It was always my understanding that if parents didn’t agree, or IEP changes needed to me made, at the ‘final’ CSE you get that on the record and schedule another meeting to make necessary changes. If there is a total stalemate between parents and district, parents move to initiate due process.

    In regards to the Wrightslaw post re: parents being a part of the IEP team, I believe some administrators try to influence their staff by indicating that perhaps, they (the district) hold all the cards in IEP/CSE process. The statement reads to me more like a power statement rather than (obviously) reality.

  31. Now I’m confused here – IDEA is a federal law – which mandates that parents agree to the IEP – federal law supercedes all state laws – so how can a state law take away any rights that are given under federal law?

  32. In New York State, the IEP developed at an IEP annual review, triennial review, or initial evaluation conference, must be sent to the parent within 10 business days of the meeting. Along with the IEP, parents should receive several other forms to fill out. One requires parents to indicate what related services the child will be receiving, and whether or not those services will be provided in the public school or in the private area. Another form is for transportation.

    The most important form, however, is one called an Options Letter. This form includes information on the services to be provided, the public school where those services will be given, and the mandate. There is a tear-off at the bottom which parents are supposed to sign and send back. If the parent wants the services, but does not want the student to receive them in the public school (perhaps the child is enrolled in private school), then the parents must indicate this in a note that they date, right on the form, copy the entire form, and send it back. No services can be initiated unless the Department of Education receives this form. It is very important to check pages 1 and 9 of the IEP and make sure the listed services are the same as that listed in the options letter. Errors are frequently made, and generally, they are NOT in favor of the children.

    Signing this form constitutes signing the IEP. You are agreeing to the provided services. Page 2 of the IEP, which is signed at the meeting itself, is only an attendance sheet, and you are NOT agreeing to anything when you sign it.


  33. The significance of a signature on an IEP means different things in different states. I learned this when we received an email from a parent in NY. She said parents received a copy of the IEP in the mail before school began – but she had not received her child’s IEP. Her question: “How long does the school have to provide parents with the IEP?”

    I was surprised by this question so I started asking questions. In some states, signing the IEP means the parent attended the meeting. In other states, signing the IEP means the parent gives their consent to the services in the IEP. In some states, no one signs the IEP at all.

    Perhaps those of you who are reading this can let us know what the practice is in your state.

    We live in Virginia where parents give consent to the IEP. When the State Dept of Ed wrote their proposed special ed regulations for IDEA 2004, they eliminated parental consent, thus eroding parental rights. This caused a firestorm of protest. We are waiting to learn what VDOE plans to do.

  34. Susan: I agree with you 100 percent. Providing information so everyone – parents, teachers, related service providers – can be educated is our goal.

    You are right on about disagreements too. People do not see things the same way or feel the same way about issues. There is nothing inherently wrong with disagreements. If people don’t continue to search for solutions that all can live with, disagreements can go bad very fast. ~ Pam

  35. I admire and am impressed with the special education teacher who sent this comment to wrightslaw. He or she is in it for the kids and is searching for information and answers.
    The key is the EDUCATION OF US ALL! If parents and educators alike educate ourselves on the IDEA and work together we can create better outcomes for children with disabilities.
    Will we always agree? Nope. We most certainly won’t. Do we throw the relationship out the window? Nope. I don’t always agree with my husband, but I don’t throw the relationship out the window. Why would we as parents do that with the school? When this happens with the school the child loses.

    I too often see it happen. It becomes about who is right, the school or the parent, the focus is not on the child anymore, but the fight in the name of who is right.

    Again, the key is the education of us all!

    Kudos to the special ecuation teacher who sen this comment and Amen to the Columbo approach.

  36. I love the Columbo approach! I have used it successfully in many instances. As both a parent and as an advocate, when you ask that kind of question, especially with the regs in hand, it opens the door for a face saving, win-win reply. You can nod your head and say that it makes much more sense now and thank you for clearing that up. Sometimes one member of the team is simply misinformed. I always give the chairperson the opportunity to correct the record by directing my question to the chair. If the meeting is being tape recorded, even if the misinterpretation prevails in that particular meeting, the record will show that you brought the inaccuracy to their attention and they still did not comply.

    If a higher ranking person corrects the situation, I always am sure to speak to that person afterward and thank them for the clarification.

  37. This sounds like an ID-10-T miscommunication error.

    Some parents are under the impression that by refusing to sign the IEP, It can not be implemented. Signing the IEP only implies that the parent was present when the decisions were being made and had an equal opportunity to voice their opinion.

    If a parent refuses to attend an IEP meeting,
    changes can be made to the IEP without their signature.

    Perhaps this is what your Special Ed Director was trying to communicate.

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