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The Complete IEP Guide

How to Advocate for Your Special Ed Child

Get the educational services and support your child deserves

Secure your child's education with the vital information offered in The Complete IEP Guide. Get everything you need to:

  • draft goals and objectives
  • get the services your child deserves
  • resolve disputes with your school district
  • Product Details
  • Federal law guarantees every child a free, appropriate education, and the goal of the Individual Education Program (IEP) is to assure that every child with special needs receives what the law promises.  But if you have a special ed child, you know that your family must make sure the school follows through.

    This powerful book covers:

    • eligibility rules and assessments
    • working with outside experts
    • developing your child's ideal educational program
    • preparing for and attending IEP meetings, and
    • resolving disputes with school districts.

    The 10th edition includes summaries of important court decisions, expanded information on independent evaluations and bullying, and additional real-life tips. It provides key forms, sample letters, and resources you need at every stage of the IEP process. With it, you can make sure your child gets a good education—the education he or she deserves.


    “The essential guide for any parent preparing for an Individualized Education Plan (IEP).” - Library Journal

    “This guide is a godsend…” - New Orleans Times-Picayune

    “Help[s] parents advocate for their child’s educational needs.” - Providence Journal

    Number of Pages
    Included Forms

    • Request for Information on Special Education
    • Request to Begin Special Education Process and Evaluation
    • Request for Child’s School File
    • Request to Amend Child’s School File
    • Special Education Contacts
    • IEP Journal
    • Monthly IEP Calendar
    • IEP Blueprint
    • Letter Requesting Evaluation Report
    • Request for Joint IEP Eligibility/Program Meeting
    • Progress Chart
    • Program Visitation Request Letter
    • Class Visitation Checklist
    • Goals Chart
    • IEP Material Organizer Form
    • IEP Meeting Participants
    • IEP Meeting Attendance Objection Letter
    • IEP Preparation Checklist
    • Letter Confirming Informal Negotiation Results
    • Letter Requesting Due Process 
  • About the Author
    • Attorney Lawrence Siegel

      Lawrence Siegel has been a Special Education Attorney and Advocate since 1979, and has represented children with disabilities extensively in IEPs, due process, complaints, legal action and before legislative and policy bodies. Mr. Siegel has lectured and consulted with advocacy and parent groups throughout the country and is a member of the California Advisory Commission on Special Education. He has written special education legislation that has been adopted in several states and is the author of Least Restrictive Environment: The Paradox of Inclusion (LRP Publications, 1994). Mr. Siegel is the founder and Director of the National Deaf Education Project which works to ensure that the fundamental communication needs of deaf and hard of hearing children are part of the educational system. In 2004-5 he was appointed to an endowed chair at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C. for his  work as an advocate of special education.  He lives in Fairfax, California, with his wife Gail.

  • Table of Contents
  • 1. Introduction to Special Education

    • What is Special Education?
    • What Is an IEP?
    • Being Your Child’s Advocate
    • Getting Help From Others

    2. Overview of Special Education Law and the IEP

    • The IDEA and State Special Education Laws
    • What IDEA Requires
    • Individualized Education Program
    • Working With Your School District
    • Some Overriding IEP Principles

    3. Getting Started: Tips for All Parents

    • First Steps
    • Obtain Your Child’s School Records
    • Harassment

    4. Getting Organized

    • Start an IEP Binder
    • The Yearly IEP Cycle
    • Sample Year in the Life of Your Child’s IEP
    • Keep a Monthly Calendar
    • Track Your Child’s Progress

    5. Developing Your Child’s IEP Blueprint

    • Begin at the End: Define Your Child’s Needs
    • Preparing an IEP Blueprint
    • Other Sources of Information for the Blueprint
    • What’s Next?

    6. Evaluations

    • When Evaluations Are Done
    • Evaluation Components
    • Evaluation Plans
    • Meet With the Evaluator
    • Reviewing the Report
    • Reevaluations
    • Final Evaluations

    7. Who Is Eligible for Special Education?

    • Eligibility Requirements
    • Preparing for the IEP Eligibility Meeting
    • Attending the Eligibility Meeting
    • Joint IEP Eligibility/Program Meeting
    • If Your Child Is Not Found Eligible for Special Education

    8. Exploring Your Options and Making Your Case

    • Review the School District’s Information
    • Keep Tabs on Your Child’s Progress
    • Explore Available School Programs
    • Find Out About Related Services
    • Compare Your Blueprint With the Existing Programs and Services
    • Generate Additional Supporting Information
    • Independent Evaluations
    • What If the District Hasn’t Done an Evaluation?
    • Requesting that the District Pay for an Evaluation

    9. Writing Goals

    • Skill Areas Covered by Goals
    • Developing Goals
    • When to Draft Goals
    • Writing Effective Goals

    10. Preparing for the IEP Meeting

    • Schedule the IEP Meeting
    • The IEP Meeting Agenda
    • Organize Your Materials
    • Draft Your Child’s IEP Program
    • Establish Who Will Attend the IEP Meeting
    • Final Preparation

    11. Attending the IEP Meeting

    • Getting Started
    • Simple Rules for a Successful IEP Meeting
    • Become Familiar With Your School’s IEP Form
    • Writing the IEP Plan
    • Signing the IEP Document
    • Parent Addendum Page

    12. Resolving IEP Disputes Through Due Process

    • Timeline for Requesting Due Process
    • When You Can go Straight to Court Instead of Using the Due Process Hearing
    • Before Due Process: Informal Negotiations
    • Typical Due Process Disputes
    • When to Pursue Due Process
    • Who Can File?
    • Your Child’s Status During Due Process
    • Using a Lawyer During Due Process
    • How to Begin Due Process
    • Preparing for Due Process
    • Mediation Specifics
    • Due Process Hearing
    • Hearing Decision and Appeals

    13. Filing a Complaint

    • When to File a Complaint
    • Where to File a Complaint
    • What to Include in a Complaint
    • What Happens When You File a Complaint

    14. Lawyers and Legal Research

    • How a Lawyer Can Help
    • Do You Need a Lawyer?
    • Finding an Attorney
    • How Attorneys Are Paid
    • Resolving Problems With a Lawyer
    • Doing Your Own Legal Research
    • Key Court Decisions About Special Education and the IDEA
    • Online Legal Research

    15. Parent Organizations

    • Join a Parent Organization
    • Form a Parent Organization

    16. How to Use the Companion Page on

    • Using the Forms from the Companion Page
    • Editing RTFs
    • List of Forms


  • Sample Chapter
  • Chapter 1:
    Introduction to Special Education

    What Is Special Education?

    The details and reach of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act are remarkable—no other law in this nation provides such clear and unique legal protection for children. Congress first enacted the IDEA in 1975 because public schools were frequently ignoring children with disabilities or shunting them off to inferior or distant programs. The IDEA set forth a number of legal mandates for children receiving special education. The most important ones are:

    • Your child is entitled to a “free appropriate public education” in the “least restrictive environment.”
    • Your child is entitled to a comprehensive evaluation of his or her needs and the district cannot evaluate your child without your approval unless they take you to a due process hearing and prevail.
    • Your child is entitled to have a written individualized education program (IEP) that is developed by an entire team, including you and school representatives, on at least an annual basis.
    • Your child’s IEP must include measurable annual goals.
    • Your child is entitled to “related services” that will help your child benefit from his or her special education.
    • Your child is entitled to placement in a private school at public expense if the school district cannot provide an appropriate placement.
    • Your child is entitled to be educated as close to home as possible and in the school your child would attend if not disabled.
    • You can ask for a mediation and hearing before an impartial third party if you do not agree with the district about any component of the IEP, including even whether your child is eligible for special education.
    • Your child’s IEP cannot be unilaterally changed by your school district. First, you must agree to that change.

    What Is an IEP?

    The acronym IEP can refer to several different things:

    • the initial meeting that determines whether your child is eligible for special education (the IEP eligibility meeting)
    • the annual meeting at which you and school representatives develop your child’s educational program for the following school year (called the IEP program meeting), or
    • the actual detailed, written description of your child’s educational program.

    The written IEP should include:

    • the specific program or class for your child (called “placement”)
    • the specific services (called “related services”) your child will receive, and
    • other educational components, such as curricula and teaching methods.

    There is one major caveat, however, in the rights that the IDEA grants to your child. The IDEA does not require that the school district provide the best possible program. The program that is individualized for your child only has to provide an appropriate educational experience. An appropriate educational experience is one that is reasonable, given your child’s particular needs. For instance, you may feel that the private school across town would be the best for your child in terms of accelerating his or her growth. But if the district’s program can provide a reasonable chance at growth, the law does not require the district to pay for private school placement. Or, you may feel that although three hours of speech therapy a week will work, six hours would be great. The IDEA does not require “great.”

    The key to preparing to advocate for your child is to focus on showing that the program and services you seek are appropriate. This book will explain the crucial steps in doing so, including:

    • how to state your child’s needs as specifically and narrowly as possible, and how to make sure those needs are reflected in program components. For example, it is one thing to say “my child needs help with his expressive language”; it is quite another to say “he needs three hours a week of one-on-one speech help to work on his articulation and verbal pragmatics.” The first statement is much too broad; the second is specific and clearly states what assistance your child needs.
    • how to provide specific proof of your child’s needs, by using an evaluation, a report, or a testimony from an educator or professional who can specify what your child needs, why, and for how long.                           
    • how to provide the evidence that backs up your position. It is always best if someone inside your school district—whether the classroom teacher, service provider, assessor, or administrator—agrees with you about what your child needs. But because you may not always have that support, you may need an expert outside of the district to describe your child’s needs and recommend placement and services that will address those needs.
    • how to use the proof you gather in the IEP process and, if the IEP team fails to agree with you, how to present it in a due process mediation or hearing.
    • what to do when the district fails to follow the legal requirements set forth by the IDEA.


    IDEA Statutes and Regulations

    The laws that govern special education under the IDEA are primarily found in two places:

    • statutes enacted by Congress and codified in the United States Code beginning at 20 U.S.C. § 1400, and
    • regulations issued by the U.S. Department of Education and published in the Code of Federal Regulations beginning at 34 C.F.R. § 300.1.

    The regulations clarify and explain the statutes. The statutes and regulations you need are on this book’s Companion Page; see Chapter 16 for the link.


    Being Your Child’s Advocate

    This book also highlights the practical aspects of being an advocate for your special education child. While these may seem obvious, it is always helpful to be reminded. The tips below can make the difference in whether or not you obtain an appropriate education for your child.

    Organization, Organization, Organization

    The path to success begins with meticulous organiza­tion, starting with knowing when there should be an IEP meeting and keeping track of your child’s progress. File copies of all letters you write to the school district, as well as notes you make of what people say and when. For example, suppose your child’s teacher tells you on Wednesday afternoon that your child needs speech therapy. You ask why and he explains. When you get home, you sit down and record the details (the date, time, place, and content of your conversation). This information may be vital at the next IEP meeting, when the issue of speech therapy comes up.

    Always Ask Why

    If you don’t know, ask. And if an answer is provided and you don’t feel it explained things fully, ask again. You are not an expert in IDEA law, but you will know enough of it to recognize the key components. If something does not make sense to you, or if an administrator says, “Well, we just don’t do it that way,” ask why. If he or she refers to a law (a statute or regulation) or a policy, ask to see a copy of it. If that does not work, write a letter asking for the information. You might phrase it like this: “You said last week [date] that the district could not provide my child with a one-on-one aide, that it was district policy [or because of budget cuts, or because you didn’t think my child needed an aide]. I would appreciate it if you would provide me with the basis for that position. Is it part of the district’s written policy, is it your opinion, or is it part of the law? If so, please send me a copy of that law. Thank you.”


    It is likely that sometime during your child’s years in special education, you will go to an IEP meeting or have a conversation during which someone from the school district says something that offends you or makes you angry. Please keep in mind that you are more likely to persuade the district of your position if you act reasonably rather than in anger. Of course, though you have to be true to your own style and there is nothing wrong with being emotional, blowing a gasket does not usually work and only signals that the discussion has come to a close. If possible, in these situations it is best to be clear, precise, and determined. Give your reaction but be as measured and calm as you can, as in “I know you would not want to deny students what they need, but I believe that the reports we have submitted are clear and there is no doubt that my daughter needs a one-on-one aide, two hours a day. Her teacher said as much. I think your position is not based on evidence and I do not appreciate your tone of voice or the manner in which you are treating us. I hope we can resolve this positively through the IEP, but if not I can assure you we will proceed as we must.”

    Your Child’s Teacher

    Your child’s teacher is your best potential ally. My personal view is that teachers are as important as any working group in our nation. They teach, counsel, police, nurse, and often work all day, most nights, and many weekends to help children develop. And they do it for lousy pay, while shouldering a ton of paperwork (especially if they teach special education students), along with pressures from their own administration.

    Your child’s teacher knows your child better than anyone else in the school system. If you can work directly and positively with the teacher, you will have a strong ally at the IEP meeting. That does not mean that the teacher will always agree with you; in the areas that she does, however, her input is vitally important. Respect your teacher’s intelligence, motives, and time. Be reasonable in your demands.

    Setting Realistic Goals

    One of the hardest things a lawyer sometimes has to say to a family is that their IEP goals are not supported by evidence. As a parent, I understand how difficult this is to hear. But there’s no way around it: By looking at the evidence as objectively as possible, and recognizing when there is insufficient support for some or all of your goals, you will more effectively represent your child and eliminate wasted time and resources.  

    Remember as well that neither party to the IEP—not the parents nor the school district—has to agree to anything, no matter how powerful the support is or how effectively one side makes its point. Parents are often frustrated when the school administrator simply says “No, we don’t agree about that.” But you want to yell, “My child needs it, the support is there for it, how can you possibly say that!?” Each party to the IEP has the absolute right to make a decision and stick with it. Parents who remain dissatisfied with the school’s position do, however, have a next step: They can challenge the school’s factual conclusions (such as whether your child is eligible) through mediation (see Chapter 13); and they can challenge the school’s interpretation of the law by filing a complaint (see Chapter 14).

    It is imperative that you represent your child with a solid understanding of the law and its plusses and limitations. Otherwise, the process will be one of continual frustration. Think of it as going into a process where you will be a better advocate by knowing where the challenges are.

    The IDEA’s mandates—goals, placement, and related services as close to home as possible—are not absolute but determined through the IEP process and, therefore, whether your child is entitled to a specific goal, placement, or service will depend on your showing the need. For example, if you feel your child needs a related service or you want your child in her neighborhood school, it’s possible your school district will disagree. You will have to prove your child’s need and then the specifics of the related service—how often, provided by whom, and so on. That the law says your child is entitled to a related service is a broad mandate that’s dependent on an agreement by you and the school district. You will need to specifically tie her special needs to the placement, goals, and services that you believe she needs to address her disability. As they say, the devil is in the details.

    If your child has learning disabilities. Nolo publishes a specialized version of this book just for parents of children with learning disabilities. Nolo’s IEP Guide: Learning Disabilities, by Lawrence M. Siegel, addresses issues of particular concern for children with learning disabilities, including commonly used evaluations, special eligibility requirements, teaching methodologies, and more. If your child has learning disabilities, you’ll want to use this more specific resource. Nolo will be happy to exchange this book for a copy of Nolo’s IEP Guide: Learning Disabilities. Simply call 800-728-3555 Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. PST, and one of our customer service representatives will be happy to help.

    Getting Help From Others

    Other parents, local groups, and regional or national ­organizations can be of great help as you wend your way through special education. The amount of information these folks have is amazing. Other parents and parent groups can be your best resource. Parents who have been through the process before can help you avoid making mistakes or undertaking unnecessary tasks. Most important, they can be a source of real encouragement. Chapter 15 provides further thoughts on ­making use of your local special ­education community.

    Note: Reference is made throughout this book to parents, but the term is used to include foster parents and legal guardians.

    What This Book Doesn’t Cover

    This book focuses on the rights and procedures for children between the ages of three and 22. Other important issues fall beyond the scope of this book. These include:

    • procedures for children under three
    • transition services that help children prepare for a job or college, including independent living skills, and
    • discipline issues including suspension and expulsion.

    Use the resources in Appendix B to get more informa­tion and support on these issues. (See Chapter 16 for the link.) If you need help, especially for the complex issue of discipline, you should contact a special education attorney. (See Chapter 14.)

  • Forms
  • This Book Comes With a Website

    Nolo’s award-winning website has a page dedicated just to this book, where you can:

    DOWNLOAD FORMS - All forms in this book are accessible online. After purchase, you can find a link to the URL in Chapter 16.

    KEEP UP TO DATE - When there are important changes to the information in this book, we will post updates

    And that’s not all. contains thousands of articles on everyday legal and business issues, plus a plain-English law dictionary, all written by Nolo experts and available for free. You’ll also find more useful books, software, online services, and downloadable forms.

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