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The Complete IEP Guide

How to Advocate for Special Education Services for Your 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 Individualized Education Program (IEP) is to assure that every child with special needs receives what the law promises. But 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 11th edition explains the law and provides key forms, sample letters, and resources you need at every stage of the IEP process. With it, you can ensure your child gets a good education—the education your child deserves.

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

    “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
    • Lawrence Siegel, Attorney · UC Law San Francisco

      Lawrence Siegel has been a Special Education Attorney and Advocate since 1979, and has represented children with disabilities extensively in IEPs, due process, complaints, and 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
    • Obtaining Your Child’s School Records
    • Harassment
    • Harassment Law

    4. Getting Organized

    • Starting an IEP Binder
    • The Yearly IEP Cycle
    • Sample Year in the Life of Your Child’s IEP
    • Keeping a Monthly Calendar
    • Tracking Your Child’s Progress

    5. Developing Your Child’s IEP Blueprint

    • Begin at the End: Defining 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
    • Meeting With the Evaluator
    • Reviewing the Report
    • Reevaluations
    • Final Evaluations

    7. Who Is Eligible for Special Education?

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

    8. What Is a Learning Disability?

    • Defining a Disability
    • Legal Definitions
    • Does Your Child Have a Learning Disability?
    • Finding More Information Online

    9. Exploring Your Options and Making Your Case

    • Reviewing the School District’s Information
    • Keeping Tabs on Your Child’s Progress
    • Exploring Available School Programs
    • Finding Out About Related Services
    • Comparing Your Blueprint With the Existing Programs and Services
    • Generating Additional Supporting Information
    • Independent Evaluations
    • What If the District Hasn’t Done an Evaluation?
    • Requesting that the District Pay for an Evaluation

    10. Writing Measurable Annual Goals

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

    11. Preparing for the IEP Meeting

    • Scheduling the IEP Meeting
    • The IEP Meeting Agenda
    • Organizing Your Materials
    • Drafting Your Child’s IEP
    • Establishing Who Will Attend the IEP Meeting
    • Final Preparation

    12. Attending the IEP Meeting

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

    13. Resolving IEP Disputes Through Due Process

    • What Is 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

    14. 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

    15. 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

    16. Parent Organizations

    • Joining a Parent Organization
    • Finding a Parent Organization
    • Forming a Parent Organization
    • Running Your Parent Organization

    16. How to Use the Companion Page on

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


  • Sample Chapter
  • Introduction to Special Education

    If you’re like many, you might find yourself overwhelmed with the special education process. Fortunately, it’s relatively straight-forward and begins with evaluations addressing your child’s eligibility. If your child is eligible, you’ll work with the school to determine education goals, program placements, and available support services.

    This first chapter provides an overview of what you can expect, with subsequent chapters explaining particular aspects in more detail. You’ll find helpful recommendations and other resources throughout the book, such as sample letters and forms. We also explain where to find the laws outlining your child’s special education rights.

    We cover all of the information in an easy-to-understand manner. However, if you find the information overwhelming, consider perusing each chapter’s table of contents first. Highlighting sections related to your child can help make the information more manageable and easier to find later.

    What Is Special Education?

    The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”) is remarkable in that no other law provides such clear legal protection for children. Congress first enacted the IDEA in 1975 because public schools were frequently ignoring the needs of children with disabilities or shunting them off to inferior or distant programs. Now, the IDEA guarantees your child a “free appropriate public education” in the “least restrictive environment.”

    The most important things your child is entitled to receive under IDEA are:

    • a comprehensive evaluation of your child’s needs
    • a written individualized education program (IEP) developed each year by you and school representatives
    • measurable annual IEP goals
    • related services needed for your child to achieve the IEP goals
    • attendance at the public school your child would typically attend, and
    • placement in a private school at public expense if the school district can’t provide an appropriate placement.

    You can ask for mediation and a hearing before an impartial third party if you don’t agree with the district about any component of the IEP, including your child’s eligibility for special education. Also, once the IEP is in place, the school district can’t change it without your agreement.

    What Is an IEP?

    Don’t be surprised if you hear the term “IEP” used several ways. The IEP itself is a detailed description of your child’s education program. However, the term IEP is also used when describing different events, including:

    • the initial meeting that determines whether your child is eligible for special education (the IEP eligibility meeting), and
    • 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).

    The written IEP will include your child’s placement, which is your child’s specific program or class. The IEP will also list any related services your child will receive and other educational components, such as curricula and teaching methods.

    Even though you can expect your child to receive a more valuable education under the IDEA, it doesn’t guarantee the best possible program. The school district must provide only an appropriate educational experience.

    For instance, you might know that the private school across town would best accelerate your child’s growth. But if the district’s program can provide a reasonable chance for growth, the district isn’t required to pay for private school placement.

    Or, you might feel that although three hours of speech therapy a week will work, six hours would be great. The IDEA doesn’t require “great.”

    The key to preparing to advocate for your child is to focus on demonstrating that the program and services you seek are appropriate. This book will explain the crucial steps in doing so and why stating your child’s needs as precisely as possible will help ensure the program adopted will reflect those needs.

    For example, it is one thing to say, “My child needs help with his expressive language.” It’s more impactful to say, “My child needs three hours a week of one-on-one speech help to work on his articulation and verbal pragmatics.” The first statement is too broad, making it easy to discount. The second is specific and clearly states the assistance your child needs.

    This book provides step-by-step information on how to do the following things:

    • Provide proof of your child’s needs using a professional or expert in the field.
    • Provide other evidence supporting your position.
    • Present evidence in a due process mediation or hearing when necessary.
    • Learn what to do when the district doesn’t follow legal requirements.
    IDEA Statutes and Regulations

    You’ll find the following IDEA statutes and regulations governing special education on this book’s online companion page—we’ve included the link in Chapter 17:

    • The statutes enacted by Congress are found in the United States Code beginning at 20 U.S.C. § 1400.
    • The U.S. Department of Education regulations are found in the Code of Federal Regulations beginning at 34 C.F.R. § 300.1.

    Both sets will apply in your case. The statutes contain the actual law written by Congress. By contrast, regulations are the procedures or rules needed to implement the law. They’re written by the agency responsible for carrying out the law, which in this case is the U.S. Department of Education.


    IIt is always best when someone inside your school district—the classroom teacher, service provider, assessor, or administrator—agrees with you about your child’s needs. But you might not always have that support. In such cases, you must be prepared to seek an outside expert to describe your child’s needs and recommend placement and services. We’ll explain when it might be time to get outside help.

    Being Your Child’s Advocate

    This book also highlights the practical aspects of advocating for your child with special education needs. While the tips below might seem obvious, they can make a difference in obtaining an appropriate education for your child.

    Organization, Organization, Organization

    Success begins with carefully documenting and organizing the information needed to justify an IEP meeting. After a program is in place, you’ll use the same organizational system to track your child’s progress. Here’s an excellent place to start.

    Keep copies of all correspondence, including the letters you write to the school district and those you receive. Even more critical, document what people say about your child’s needs and behaviors.

    For example, suppose your child’s teacher explains why your child needs speech therapy. When you get home, sit down and write out all the details, such as the conversation’s date, time, place, and the specifics discussed. You’ll use the teacher’s assessment to prove your child’s need for speech therapy at the next IEP meeting.

    Always Ask Why

    If you don’t know, ask. And if an answer doesn’t explain things thoroughly, ask again. You are not an expert in IDEA law, but you will know enough about it to recognize the key components. If something doesn’t make sense to you, or an administrator says, “Well, we just don’t do it that way,” ask why.

    If someone refers to a law, such as a statute, regulation, or policy, ask to see a copy. If necessary, write a letter asking for the information. You might phrase it like this:

    You said last week on [date] that the district could not provide my child with a one-on-one aide because of [district policy, budget cuts, assistance isn’t needed]. Could you explain the basis for that position and specify whether it’s the district’s written policy, the law, or your opinion? Also, please include a copy of the applicable policy or law. Thank you.


    Someone will likely make you angry or offend you at some point during your child’s years in special education. When faced with a challenging situation, remember you’re more likely to persuade the district of your position if you act reasonably rather than lashing out in anger. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with being emotional, but losing control will likely do nothing more than end the discussion. Instead, strive to be clear, precise, and determined while explaining your position in a measured and calm manner. For instance, you might try something like this:

    I know you would not want to deny students what they need, but the reports we submitted demonstrate my daughter needs a one-on-one aide for two hours a day, and her teacher agreed. I hope we can resolve this positively through the IEP, but if not, we will have to pursue our position further.

    Your Child’s Teacher

    Your child’s teacher is your best potential ally. If you can work directly and positively with the teacher, you will have a strong partner at the IEP meeting.

    Why does this matter? Because your child’s teacher knows your child better than anyone else in the school system, and the district will view the teacher’s input as vitally important. The better your relationship is with the teacher, the easier it will be to work toward developing an IEP in your child’s best interests. So respecting your teacher’s intelligence, motives, and time, and being reasonable in your demands, will benefit your child.

    Setting Realistic Goals

    One of the hardest things a lawyer sometimes has to say to a family is that the evidence doesn’t support their IEP goals. Parents find this difficult to hear, but there’s no way around it. Whether your child is entitled to a specific goal, placement, or service will depend on your showing the need. You must prove your child’s needs and that the related service meets those needs.

    Be prepared to justify how often, provided by whom, and so on. You will need to tie your child’s unique needs to the placement, goals, and services you believe necessary to address the disability. And the devil is in the details.

    To represent your child more effectively and avoid wasting time and resources, you’ll want to look at the evidence objectively and recognize when you can’t support your goals.

    Also, parents are often frustrated when the school administrator says, “No, we don’t agree about that.” But it can happen. Parents and the school district don’t have to agree to anything, no matter how powerful the support or effective the point might be. Each party to the IEP has the absolute right to make a decision and stick with it.

    Even so, parents who remain dissatisfied with the school’s position have recourse. You can challenge the school’s factual conclusions and eligibility determination through mediation. Or you can challenge the school’s interpretation of the law by filing a complaint.

    Getting Help From Others

    Other parents, local groups, and regional or national organizations can be of great help as you wind 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 importantly, they can be a source of real encouragement. Chapter 16 provides further thoughts on using your local special education community.

    Note: We reference parents throughout this book, but the term includes 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 on this book’s online companion page to get more information and support on these issues—we’ve included the link in Chapter 17. If you need help, especially with the complex issue of discipline, you should contact a special education attorney.


    We hope you enjoyed this sample chapter. The complete book is available for sale here at

  • Forms
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    Download Forms: The forms in this book are accessible online. After purchase, you can find a link to the URL in Chapter 17.

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