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Getting a School to Follow Through on an IEP

By Fraser Targeted Mental Health Case Manager Meagan Murphy and Pam Dewey • individualized education plan, IEP, kids and an IEP, a childs IEP, schools and IEP, IEP school, following through on an IEP, education support, accessibility school, special education school, special education plan school, school and kids with disabilities, school and kids with autism, special education autism, special education disability • November 21, 2023

Children with disabilities have a right to an education. In fact, the right to free education for disabled children is protected by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

For children with disabilities who attend public school, that often means an individualized education plan (IEP). An IEP is a written plan that includes goals and supports to ensure a child with disabilities can successfully attend school. The plan may include the support of a paraprofessional, speech therapy, and other accommodations necessary assist the child at school.

Even though teachers and school staff help create an IEP, a school may not follow through on the plan, or only follow through on parts of the plan. 

“This can look a lot of different ways,” says Meagan Murphy, Fraser Targeted Mental Health Case Manager. “Perhaps a child’s IEP includes speech and occupational therapy, but the school only has a speech therapist on staff. So the child only receives speech therapy. Or maybe, the child has three goals outlined in their IEP, and the school says the goals have been completed, but in reality, the child has made hardly any progress.”

Make sure you understand the IEP

Understanding exactly what your child’s IEP says is important, so make sure you read through it entirely. A school is only obligated to support a child’s needs as they directly relate to school. Issues your child may be struggling with at home, like toilet training, may not be included in an IEP.

Put it in writing

If you feel the school isn’t providing all the accommodations or services outlined in the plan, Murphy recommends you write an email to request a meeting with your child’s IEP team.

“Writing an email not only provides a record of your request, it also allows you to write a thoughtful and calm response about what can be an incredibly emotional topic,” says Murphy. “I always tell parents that they should try to be as objective and fact-based as possible.”

Meeting with the school IEP team

Parents can bring a friend, relative or case manager along to the meeting. If you’re working with a case manager or therapist, they can also help you come up with questions before the meeting.

“I’ve attended IEP meetings before. I don’t typically say much, but I can listen, take notes and offer resources,” says Murphy.

At the meeting, a school may explain they can only provide part of what you’re asking for, for your child. They may also state they can’t afford to provide the therapy or support your child needs.

“A school’s lack of resources isn’t an excuse to not meet children where they’re at,” says Murphy. “It definitely shouldn’t stop parents from continuing to advocate for it.”

If a school says that won’t or can’t provide something you think your child needs for their education, ask them to put what they said in writing. PACER, a nonprofit that supports children with disabilities, also suggests that parents get creative when a school pushes back. states, “If, for example, the district has not been able to hire a speech-language pathologist, will they reimburse the parent for speech services from an outside provider? Or will the district purchase speech services elsewhere?” It’s okay for parents to suggest alternatives, so their child gets the care they need. “Not having an occupational therapist on staff isn’t an excuse,” says Murphy, “because the IEP is a legal document. That means if a school has agreed to make these accommodations, they must follow through on these obligations, legally.”

Murphy also points out that something as simple as a schedule change can improve a child’s school experience. She worked with a child who hated going to school in the mornings, partly because they had difficulty with transitions. Murphy worked with the school to allow the child to have 5-10 minutes of free time on their electronic device when they arrived at school.

“l just had a meeting with the family, and for maybe the first time, the child is excited to go to school. Small changes can make a big difference,” says Murphy.

Ask for a facilitated dispute resolution

However, if you still can’t come to an agreement with the school, your next step is to ask for a facilitated dispute resolution. This is a longer meeting with school administration, special education staff and teachers. Along with a co-parent or family member, you should consider asking a PACER advocate to attend with you. states, “PACER advocates can assist you in obtaining appropriate benefits and services for your child.” At this meeting, you’ll discuss why the school is providing certain services, try to come to agreement and decide next steps for your child’s IEP plan.

Escalate to the Minnesota Department of Education

If your child is still not receiving the services they need after the facilitated dispute resolution, your next step is to make a complaint to the Minnesota Department of Education to request a due process hearing. You request this hearing when the school district is in violation of your child’s due process and disability rights. For this hearing, you’ll want to have legal representation. You can reach out Autism Advocacy and Law Center, LLC. If an attorney isn’t in your budget, the Minnesota Disability Law Center or Mid-Minnesota Legal Aide may be able to assist you.

“But the best advice I can give parents who are struggling with a school following through on an IEP is to call PACER,” says Murphy. “Pacer is an amazing organization and a great resource. They love when parents call because most of the people working there are parents of children with disabilities too, and they also had IEPs.”