Frequently Asked Questions About IEPs

What is an IEP? 

In 1975 that President Ford made public schools accessible to children with varying abilities through the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (Public Law 94-142), or IDEA. IDEA requires that students receive Individualized Education Programs (IEPs). An IEP is a legally binding agreement between the school district and student’s family. It details special education resources, accommodations, and related services for each child.  The U.S. Department of Education provides a guide to the IEP, and resources for parents and families.  

Free and Appropriate Public Education

Individual Education Plans are binding agreements that uphold each child's rights to receive a free appropriate public education, also known as FAPE. More information on FAPE in Spanish and in English is available, along with the Department of Education’s Interpretation of FAPE.  

Who joins an IEP meeting? 

Schools and families meet annually to establish student and family goals, and to determine actionable steps to achieve desired student outcomes. The IEP team often includes service providers, family members, educators and district personnel, and family advocates. At least one general educator and special educator must be present to consider the potential resources, accommodations, and services available for each student. School district representatives, school psychologists, and school-based therapists use their expertise to determine eligibility for services. The most common services that children receive are speech therapy, occupational therapy, and physical therapy.  

How should I prepare for an IEP meeting? 

Families are expected to actively participate in IEP meetings, and the US Dept. of Education, Office of Special Education, provides guidelines for families preparing for IEP meetingsIEP checklists for families also help prepare for IEP meetings. Additionally, families from linguistically diverse backgrounds must request interpreters, translations, and effective language assistance to communicate important information and encourage family participation. Worksheets to prepare for IEP meetings also help families identify their children’s goals. Many families also benefit from reviewing assessment reports before the meeting for more effective IEPs.  Families and professionals are encouraged to share draft goals and educational outcomes as soon as possible. 

Do I need to sign the IEP on the day of the meeting?

At IEP meetings, education teams typically aim to agree on services and individual education plans during the initial meeting. However, families are encouraged to wait if they have concerns about the plans. Families can reschedule IEP meetings to continue the discussion when they are not ready to finalize education plans. This can be particularly helpful if an IEP meeting lasts more than two hours. Families may also amend IEPs throughout the year. Families can also request independent evaluations, reject proposed services and findings, or challenge the placement or services offered.   


Center for Parent Information and Resources (October 6, 2021). Key Terms to Know in Special Education, Newark, NJ, Anonymous. 
Fialka, J., & Fialka-Feldman, E. (2017). IEP Meetings: Building Compassion & Conversation. Educational Leadership, 74(7), 46–51.
Lipkin, P. H., et al. (2015). "The Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) for Children With Special Educational Needs." Pediatrics 136(6): e1650-e1662. 
Lo, L. (2012). Demystifying the IEP Process for Diverse Parents of Children with Disabilities. TEACHING Exceptional Children, 44(3), 14–20.


The UCSF | UC Berkeley Schwab Dyslexia & Cognitive Diversity Center does not guarantee the accuracy or completeness of external resources. Sharing available information is not endorsement of viewpoints expressed from external sources, nor is it a substitute for advice from medical professionals.