You’re walking to the school’s conference room with your child’s special education teacher, heading to the annual Individualized Education Program (IEP) meeting. This process is familiar by now—your child was found eligible a few years ago. Yet, the long table of six, seven, or eight other professionals is always a bit daunting at first glance. Who are all of these people? You recognize most of them, but not everyone. They seem so comfortable with one another, casually chatting as you enter. “Deep breaths,” you tell yourself. Everyone here is on the same team.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) of 2004 is the federal education law that makes sure the IEP team is multidisciplinary, which means it’s a sizable team. Usually, there are at least five people present, but there easily could be up to nine or 10, depending on the unique needs of your child. IDEA requires people with different roles, expertise, and professional qualifications to attend. Why is that? Why isn’t the meeting just between you and your child’s special education teacher? In this blog article, I will explore how a multidisciplinary IEP team is essential for your child’s success.

The multidisciplinary nature of an IEP team is very important for reasons that may not be obvious. Each member plays a critical role in identifying and analyzing the student’s strengths and needs. Each has specific and valuable insight into the student’s education program. Here are some examples of how different team members may have useful insight:

  • The conversation about a student with a learning disability involves more than discussing data from their math intervention. When a member of their IEP team shares observations about their difficulty making new friends, the team realizes this student needs more social and emotional support to help them thrive.
  • A student with an emotional disability could have underlying academic deficits that need to be addressed. When the school psychologist shares the results of the student’s most recent evaluation, it becomes clear that the team needs to discuss options for reading remediation and testing accommodations.
  • A student with a physical disability requires careful planning to ensure a safe environment. When the school nurse, physical therapist, and transportation coordinator attend the IEP meeting, the whole team feels confident in its ability to meet the needs of this student with a complex medical condition.

Regardless of the disability type, students with IEPs need adults with specialized knowledge and experience on their team.

Who is required to attend an IEP meeting?

According to IDEA, certain people are required to be at IEP meetings. These people are:

  • You! The parent or caregiver plays an important role in the evaluation process and all IEP meetings. When appropriate, your child may also participate in the meeting.
  • A general education teacher if your child is, or may be, participating in the general education environment. If your child is new to a school, one who teaches children of the same age may attend.
  • A special education teacher for your child.
  • A school administrator who is knowledgeable about special education and the general education curriculum. This person must also have the ability to make decisions about school resources and supervise special education teachers. This role can also be referred to as the local education agency (LEA).
  • A professional who can interpret evaluation results. This may include a school psychologist, speech-language pathologist, occupational therapist, physical therapist, or school nurse, for example. In some cases, the special education teacher may fill this role.
  • Others invited by you or the school. You may choose to invite a family member or friend to help you listen and take notes, or a professional advocate* or healthcare provider. If you are inviting someone, be sure to let the school know in advance so it can plan accordingly.

*Note: If you invite a professional advocate, the school will likely also invite its legal representation. Other examples of individuals who could be invited are a representative of the school district’s transportation services, a behavioral consultant, a court-appointed special advocate (CASA), or a translator/interpreter.

It is in your child’s best interest for all IEP team members to attend the IEP meeting. However, there are occasions when someone may not be able to attend the scheduled meeting. Parents may provide written permission for them to be excused. If the team member’s content area is expected to be discussed at the meeting, they must submit written input for the IEP team to review at the meeting. If you do not wish for them to be excused, the meeting will be rescheduled for a later date when all members can be present.

Case study

The value of a multidisciplinary IEP team

Ms. Moore is a special education teacher and the IEP case manager for Micah, a sixth grade student with a specific learning disability. His learning disability impacts his progress in math, reading, and writing. Micah also has epilepsy. His IEP disability classification is under “Multiple Disabilities,” as he has both a learning disability and a health impairment. Micah’s IEP team usually consists of eight or nine adults with different specialties:

Parents

Parents

Micah’s parents attend whenever their work schedule allows both of them to be present. They are experts on their son and have holistic insight about his progress to share.

General Education Teacher

At least one general education teacher

Usually, Micah’s math and language arts teachers attend the meeting. They each have important data to share regarding his academic progress as well as updates about how his accommodations are working in the inclusion setting. They help Ms. Moore monitor Micah’s progress. His math teacher is also his homeroom teacher and has a helpful perspective on his peer relations and social skills.

Special Education Teacher

A special education teacher

Ms. Moore is responsible for managing the flow of information about Micah. She writes and updates his IEP, provides and monitors classroom and testing accommodations, and schedules and leads meetings.

Special Education Coordinator

The special education coordinator

The special education coordinator attends this meeting as the LEA representative. This role may also be referred to as the school district representative. At Micah’s school, the special education coordinator is a school administrator who has the ability to make decisions about school resources, such as transportation services.

School Nurse

The school nurse

The school nurse attends to provide information about Micah’s seizure action plan. She confirms his daily medication schedule and reviews the instance earlier this school year when he had a seizure at school. All steps of the seizure action plan were followed appropriately.

Physician

Physician

Micah’s physician attends several of his IEP meetings by phone. She is not required to attend by law, but Micah’s parents invite her, and her medical insight is invaluable to helping the team feel secure in its ability to manage his seizures at school.

School Counselor

School counselor

At the transition meeting at the end of fifth grade, Micah was referred to school counseling to help with his transition to middle school. It is difficult for any student to manage a chronic illness such as epilepsy. The school counselor helps Micah cope with his illness as well as the added stresses of learning differences and adjusting to a new school.

The most cohesive and effective IEP teams are those whose members collaborate and communicate well with one another. It is important for school personnel and parents to remember that although opinions may differ at times, it is everyone’s job to advocate for the best interest of the child. When the IEP team includes professionals across disciplines, it is poised to develop and implement strong, data-based IEPs that really work.

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About the Author
Kelley Spainhour is a special education professional with a decade of teaching and leadership experience. She is passionate about the unique needs of children with medical needs and enjoys collaborating in multidisciplinary contexts. Kelley currently serves as a special education consultant and writer.