Under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) is required for children with disabilities. Under this law, the public school system is responsible for providing special education services to your child. For children, the Act has different sections: Part B covers children from 3-21 years old and Part C covers from birth through age 2. Simply put, an IEP is a legal document that helps to define your child’s specific disabilities as well as show how his or her needs for learning will be addressed, what special considerations will be made, who will be responsible for what specific aspects of education, any specialized equipment that may be needed for achieving educational goals. This is a legally binding document and public schools are required to provide each service and piece of equipment that is written in the IEP.


Special educational services provided under the federal funding of IDEA are part of the Congressional budget and are subject to change from year to year. Your state’s department of education may supplement the funding available to school systems, again subject to funding authorized under state budget legislation. As you might imagine, there are high demands on these limited public resources so it is incumbent on both the school systems and the parents to ensure that while each child’s educational needs are being met, there is not a tendency to seek additional services/support or equipment that may be outside of your child’s immediate needs.

An IEP defines where your child is (in terms of placement) and the annual academic achievement for your child (educational goals). The IEP also indicates the supports, services, modifications, and accommodations that will be provided to help your child to reach these goals. Good IEPs also define what parents or guardians will do to help the child achieve certain aspects of the IEP goals. As your child reaches the end of his or her public schooling, the IEP should also help to define transition services that may be needed until your child is 21 (or 26 in some cases).

Signing the IEP

Because this is a legal document, BCF recommends that parent(s)/guardians not sign the IEP with the understanding that certain parts will be completed later or that details will be added as needed by the school system. Your signature indicates that you agree with everything that is in writing in the IEP. Parts that are described verbally can result in misunderstandings. Each change recommended by the school system should result in an amended IEP to be signed by the parent(s) or guardians and the school system.


  • US Department of Education: http://idea.ed.gov/
  • IDEA regulations (downloadable text) available on this webpage: https://sites.ed.gov/idea/statuteregulations/
  • Fact Sheet prepared jointly by US Department of Justice and US Department of Education on communicating with students who have vision or hearing disabilities. This combines requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and provides clarification on the interface of these two pieces of federal legislation and accompanying regulations: http://www.ada.gov/doe_doj_eff_comm/doe_doj_eff_comm_faqs.htm
  • Center for Parent Information and Resources: http://www.parentcenterhub.org/repository/iep/
  • For help finding your Parent Training and Information Center or Community Parent Resource Center, go to: http://www.parentcenterhub.org/find-your-center/
  • Understood (a website for learning and attention issues): https://www.understood.org/en/school-learning/special-services/ieps/understanding-individualized-education-programs#item0
  • Great Kids/Great Schools: http://www.greatschools.org/gk/articles/what-is-an-iep/