IEP Team Membership
At the core of special education and related services are the needs of student. But, who decides what these needs are? The answer is the IEP team. The IEP team develops the Individual Education Plan for the student and is responsible for its implementation throughout the year. The question remains --- who decides the needs of the student? The answer to this question is found in our nation's major special education law, IDEA 2004. This law mandates that the IEP team is composed of specific professional roles (not necessarily people) who must agree on what special education and related services a student with an exceptionality will receive. Those roles are identified below.
IEP Team Membership
The "parent" of a student.
The general education teacher of the student.
The special education teacher of the student.
A school administrator (or administrative representative).
A person who can interpret the educational implications of test results.
Others who represent specific services or agencies needed by the student (as invited).
The parent is arguably the most important role within the IEP team. The parent has the ultimate control of special education for the child, including the ability to remove special education services completely if the parent elects to do so. No other member of the IEP team is legally entrusted with that ability.
In addition, the parent must give consent for large-scale changes to the IEP. *See Note 1 and Noe 2 below.*
States may define "parent" differently, but it generally means the biological parents of the child. It may also mean a person (or agency) who is legally responsible for educational decisions of the child. This would often apply to court-ordered custody given to non-biological parents, adoptive parents, or "surrogate" parents as assigned by other governmental agencies.
In Kansas, a "step-parent" or foster parent would not have educational decision-making rights for a child living in their care.
Foster care agencies (including case workers, case managers, and/or family support workers) are not considered parents and cannot represent the child on the IEP team as such.
In Kansas, anyone who has been identified as an "education advocate" by Families Together is given parental rights for specific children in foster care. In this case, a foster parent could have parental rights, if they were assigned as that student's "education advocate."
The technical definition of parent may be found in the Kansas Special Education Process Handbook. You should review your state's definition on this important question.
The General Education Teacher
If the student receives any general education classes, a general education teacher is required to participate in the IEP development process.
Some severely disabled students will not have general education teachers on their IEP teams, if the child receives 100% of their instructional time in special education settings. This is a rare occurance, as most students' Least Restrictive Environment includes at least some time in a general education setting.
For children in early childhood (preschool) special education classrooms, the special education teacher is also the general education teacher (since general education programming is not required for preschool students.)
General education teachers often offer input into the student's academic performance, cooperation with peers, social development, behavioral concerns, and other general observations about the student's performance and needs.
The Special Education Teacher
For students who only receive related services, there would not be a need for a special education teacher to be included on the child's IEP team.
In most schools, the special education teacher creates a draft of the student's special education plan and proposes that plan to the remainder of the IEP team at the student's IEP meeting.
The special education teacher will sometimes be called the "case manager" for the student. This special education term is not applied in all school districts, but it's common enough that I think it should be mentioned here.
School Administrator (or Administrative Desginee)
The school administrator's role on the IEP team is to offer insight into what programs and services are available at the school.
Some local education agencies (school districts) require that the school administrator who attends these meetings also be able to commit school resources to a child, if the IEP team decides that this is warranted. Other school districts do not require that the school administrator in attendance have the authority to commit such resources or funding.
Because school administrators are often regularly busy and relatively few in number, IDEA 2004 allows that administrators send a designee in their place when they will not be attending an IEP meeting. This "administrative designee" role is often filled by a school counselor, school psychologist, or other highly-trained professional.
A Person who Can Interpret Educational Implications
Of all the required participants, this one is the most vague, because it does not reference a specific job title.
On the positive side of that coin, its ambiguity also makes filling this position within the team relatively easily. Most educators will be able to explain what recent test scores mean (and what to expect because of those results), which means most teachers would be able to fill this role.
School psychologists often explain cognitive test results during evaluation, eligibility, and placement meetings.
IDEA 2004 states that when a student turns 16, they become a part of the IEP team. It further states that they are members when they are 15, if they will turn 16 during the course of the IEP year (which would be about 364 out of 365 students!)
It also allows students to be invited to meetings when it is age appropriate before they turn 16. In Kansas, for example, it is common practice to invite gifted students to their IEP meetings prior to age 16.
The student often plays a large role in developing their IEP in high school settings. They are needed to provide input on their transitional needs and indicate their plans for secondary education.
In Kansas, students are invited participants at their IEP meetings if they will be 14 during the IEP year. This is a full two years younger than the federal requirement.
Representatives of Other Agencies or Specialized Services
There are some students for which additional services are considered which fall outside the realm of school responsibilities, or may need school-based services which are not typically part of special education plans.
For example, students who are 18 years old and planning on attending college the following year may benefit from inviting a local college/university official to the IEP meeting to speak about services for students with disabilities at their institution.
Another example would be for a student who will be graduating from high school and would likely benefit from community-based adult services (such as employment assistance or independent living skill development).
Sometimes other educational professions who are not typically part of the IEP team should be invited to attend such meetings. For example, a medically-fragile student may benefit from having the school nurse attend the IEP meeting to discuss health and medical concerns. Another example would be to invite the school counselor or behavioral specialist for students diagnosed with emotional or behavioral disorders.
These individuals are not automatically part of every IEP team, and therefore need to announced to the parent as invited guests. Their participation is not mandated by law, but is allowed by law.
Important Notes to Remember:
Note 1: IEP teams may make small changes (less than 25% of setting or service) without parental agreement to such changes. Changes regarding 25% or more must be approved through the parent.
Note 2: Each member of the IEP gets an equal weight on the IEP team when making recommendations for the student. However, the parents have the final authority to accept or reject major changes.
Note 3: Some roles on the IEP team can be shared by the same person. For example, the general education teacher can play the role of the general education teacher and the person who can interpret educational implications. School psychologists are often serve as the person who can interpret education implications and as the administrative designee. As long as the roles of team are filled, there is no specific requirement as the number of people on the team.
Note 4: It should be mentioned that the IEP team is different than the student's general education intervention team. The required members of manifestation determination review meetings are also different than IEP team membership requirements.
Note 5: For further reading on the topic, see here.
Note 6: Sometimes a school or a parent will want to invite a lawyer to attend an IEP meeting. These are not required IEP team members, and therefore need to be invited by either the parent or the school to attend. One party should inform the other party that the attorney is attending, so that the other party may also invite their attorney to attend. As you might guess, this tends to lead to adversarial meetings and can be detrimental to cooperation of all parties involved. The best advice is that lawyers should not attend IEP meetings. This guidance is particularly ironic because it comes from a special education law firm (who you might think would want to be present at IEP meetings!)
Note 7: Be sure to also check out the information I've provided on the IEP information page.
Note 8: The fewest number of people at an IEP meeting is typically four: the parent, the special education teacher, the general education teacher, and an administrator. However, I have also seen IEP meetings with close to 20 people. It really depends on the types of services the student receives as to how many individuals will play a part in developing the IEP.