Last Updated on August 28, 2023 by Michelle Ball
By Michelle Ball, Sacramento California Expulsion, Special Education, sports/CIF, College, Education and School Attorney/Lawyer for Students since 1995
Okay- you went to your child’s IEP meeting, and have a proposed IEP (Individualized Education Program) plan. The IEP team is telling you to sign the student’s IEP plan (which is 40+ pages long). You like the team members. They are so nice to you and your child, right? They are telling you to “just sign” the student’s IEP plan now, so why not…?
STOP. There are some steps parents must take before signing a student’s IEP plan, regardless of peer pressure at any IEP meeting.
Parents Do NOT Have To Sign the IEP Plan at the Meeting
Some parents tell me that their IEP teams say they have to sign IEP documents before leaving IEP meetings or they lose all the services offered. Not legal.
No parent can be forced to sign any IEP plan, at a meeting, or afterwards, period.
Get a Copy of the IEP Plan Before Signing
Parents also report that sometimes IEP teams refuse to let them have a copy of the IEP document after the meeting. Some teams may also refuse to give parents a copy of the proposed IEP plan to review. No. A parent should be given a copy of the IEP document upon request. Get a copy at the meeting.
Wild Statements About Mandatory IEP Plan Signatures Should Be Consensually Recorded
IEP team members telling a parent they MUST sign the IEP plan or lose everything, or cannot take a copy with them, are fibbing. In that situation, if a parent has a recording device with them, I would suggest taking it out, and asking permission to record what the IEP team member is saying. Parents must have permission to record.
Why Not To Sign the IEP Plan At the IEP Meeting?
Why shouldn’t a parent just sign the IEP plan? Because usually they have not read what was actually written in the document.
IEP team members don’t want to stand around while a parent reads twenty-plus IEP pages. The parent should take the proposed IEP plan for quiet review, away from the eyes of the IEP team members, before signing.
Most IEP Plans Have Errors
I can recall only one or two proposed IEP plans I have reviewed that did not need changes to the documents prior to parent signature. What is said at the IEP meeting, and what is actually written into the student’s IEP plan, can be drastically different.
People have different impressions of the same thing. The school staff member writing the IEP plan, while frantically trying to keep up with the IEP meeting, may miss or misunderstand something, or just write it down wrong.
Review the Proposed IEP Documents Thoroughly
Parents must review, review, review the proposed student IEP plan. They must check the IEP documents over in detail, preferably in a quiet place, undisturbed. Any IEP meeting notes taken by a parent should be used as needed to verify what was said. If there is any doubt what was said, the parent can also review their recording of the IEP meeting.
Another IEP Meeting and Plan May Not Occur For A Year
IEPs must be held annually, and if a parent just signs an IEP plan and never reviews it, any mistakes will last at least that long. IEP mistakes can damage a student’s education until the next annual IEP meeting or longer.
Big Mistakes in Signed IEP Plans Means Big Losses In Educational Services
If a mistake in the IEP document is big, such as a reduction in speech and language or occupational therapy services, the student will suffer. Taking away just 15 minutes of occupational therapy a week means a reduction of 8 hours over the next 32 weeks of school!
Losing 8 hours of occupational therapy is not great for a student who needs those supports. The student may fall behind in their progress and may never be able to recoup that educational loss.
It Is Hard To Take Things Out After an IEP Plan is Signed
Although IEP teams will say they can “reconvene any time,” and other reassuring words, it is much harder to take something out of a student’s IEP after a parent consents to it. Handle mistakes right after the document is written.
When an IEP plan is developed, it is fresh in the minds of IEP team members. Informing IEP personnel that something is wrong is fast and easy if it is caught quick.
Correct IEP Plan Notes
Don’t forget to look in the proposed IEP plan notes when reviewing. Did the notetaker misquote a parent or a parent’s representative in the IEP notes?
I have been misquoted in IEP notes terribly, supposedly saying the EXACT OPPOSITE of what I actually said. I said that the student should not have a certain plan, and they said that I wanted that plan. This is not a small discrepancy and must be found and resolved in the IEP promptly.
Schools Rely on Signed IEP Plans
School personnel look at signed IEP plans and try to implement them. If an IEP plan says a parent wants one hour of behavior support per week for a student, and it is signed, that is what the school acts on. If a parent wanted three hours of student behavior support, there is no easy way to recoup the missing services later.
Special education attorney Michelle Ball helps parents with IEP issues, interpreting the IEP plan, reviewing IEP notes, recording IEP meetings, and attending IEP meetings with families. As a 504 and special education lawyer in Sacramento California, she assists parents throughout California, in locales such as Colfax, Palm Springs, San Jose, Shasta, Yuba City, Grass Valley, Auburn and the Bay Area.