Special Education: The Individualized Education Plan (IEP)

Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), children with disabilities have the right to a free and appropriate public education. In other words, public schools are required to provide special education to meet the individual needs of each child, free of charge, until the age of 21. In Michigan, services are provided until the age of 26.

To receive these specialized, tailored education services and to monitor progress, the school often creates an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), which includes services (such as speech therapy, occupational therapy, social work, special resource room), monitoring of progress, and annual goals.

The IEP may include:

  • Statement of your child’s current abilities and school performance
  • Education goals, which may include adaptive, social, and academic goals
  • Special education services
  • Accommodations the school may provide
  • Planning for transitions after high school is complete

Who qualifies for an IEP?

It is important to note that not all students with a learning disability will receive special education services with an IEP. There are 13 conditions that are covered by IDEA:

  1. Specific learning disability (such as dyslexia)
  2. Other health impairment (such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder)
  3. Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
  4. Emotional disturbance (such as depression)
  5. Speech or language impairment
  6. Visual impairment, including blindness
  7. Deafness
  8. Hearing impairment
  9. Deaf-blindness
  10. Orthopedic impairment (such as cerebral palsy)
  11. Intellectual disability
  12. Traumatic brain injury
  13. Multiple disabilities

How are services delivered?

The way these services are delivered depends on what each child’s needs are. Some children may be in a standard school environment, where they receive 30 minutes per week of speech therapy outside of the classroom. Other children may receive extra assistance on specific topics they may be struggling with. Other children may benefit from placement in a resource room for the duration of the day, which can serve children with similar needs. The law indicates that each child will be placed in the least restrictive environment (LRE) possible so children can be included in a regular classroom if this is possible for their learning needs.

What are the practical steps to requesting an IEP?

If you feel your child may benefit from additional services at school and would like to request an IEP, the following are steps to requesting one:

  • Provide, sign, and date a written note to the school requesting evaluation of your child for appropriate educational needs and services.
  • The school will provide a parental notice and consent note within 10 school days for you to sign. This will indicate you consent to an evaluation for your child.
  • After this form is signed, and within 30 school days, the school will complete the comprehensive Multidisciplinary Evaluation by a Team of professionals (called the MET) for your child.
  • Once complete, the school will schedule a meeting with you and the IEP team, which could consist of your child’s teacher, special education specialists, psychologist, social worker, occupational therapist, and speech therapist. At this meeting, you can discuss concerns and suggestions for improving your child’s education. The school will review results of the MET and outline services and goals for your child. You will be provided with a copy to sign.
  • After this meeting, services will be implemented within 15 school days.

How often are changes made to an IEP?

The school is required on at least a yearly basis to review your child’s IEP to go over goals, programs, and services. However, parents are welcome to request a progress meeting prior to this yearly review if they have any additional concerns. Re-evaluation for special education eligibility must be considered by the IEP team at least every three years.

Can children in private schools receive IEPs?

The law does not require private schools to provide special education services. However, parents can ask the public school district to evaluate for special education services, even if their child is in private school. If the public school agrees to evaluate your child, this will occur at no additional cost. The law allocates funding for children in private school to receive services from public schools. However, there is a possibility the private school would provide fewer services than what would occur in public school.

What is the difference between a 504 plan and an IEP?

A 504 plan offers all children with disabilities (who may not meet any one of the 13 diagnoses for an IEP) access to an education. A 504 plan may include some special education services but not to the extent an IEP would provide. There are generally fewer procedural safeguards in a 504 plan.

Additional resources:


Reviewed by Tiffany Munzer, MD Updated January 2018