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Parents need to prep for annual IEP reviews

by Chloe Wiley
May 15, 2008


Courtesy of Mary Mulae

Children's Law Group attorney Mary Mulae discusses the importance of active parent participation in the IEP process.

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  • Each public school child who requires special education and related services must have an IEP under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
  • The IEP is an important document for children with special needs and for those who are involved in educating them. It is designed to improve teaching and student performance.
  • Each child’s IEP maps out the education program created to meet that child’s specific needs.
  • The IEP is reviewed each year to determine the child’s progress towards meeting the established goals. Adjustments are made according to needs and progress.
  • The following may be involved in the IEP writing and review process:
    -Parents: report observed progress, needs and concerns
    -Regular and Special Education Teachers: provide strategies and modifications that would help the child learn and achieve, monitor individual instruction
    -District Representative: supervises special education resources provided
    -Student: if the parent chooses for them to participate
    Any other individuals that have information to offer about the educational services provided

*information obtained from Chicago Public Schools and the U.S. Department of Education



  • Many parents seek her services when their children have been in special education classes for a number of years and have not seen any progress.
  • They have strong suspicions that the services outlined in the child’s IEP are not being provided by the school and have questioned until the point of frustration.
  • Usually, she will attend an IEP meeting along with possible CPS attorneys to handle the matter.
  • If this does not result in the child’s needs being met, a due process hearing may be pursued.
  • Mary Mulae is an attorney with Children’s Law Group in Chicago

It is one thing to create a beautifully detailed Individualized Education Program for a student needing special services ranging from speech therapy to modified instruction. But the implementation is a whole different story.

Chicago special education students do not always receive appropriate services outlined in IEPs and experts say informed parents can make sure that does not happen to their child.

Parents have an absolute right to participate in the IEP process from start to finish. With annual reviews taking place this time of year Medill Reports spoke Thursday with Mary Mulae, special education litigation attorney and parent of a child with learning disabilities.

Medill Reports:
  What are the IEP basics that parents should know?

Mary Mulae: They need to view it as the blueprint for their child’s education. It identifies where their child is at academically, functionally and socially. Deficits are defined in the plan and it maps out how to make meaningful progress by breaking things down into annual goals.

The key is to make sure those goals are measurable and benchmarks are set to check progress throughout the year. I see IEPs all the time, no kidding, with goals like: Frankie will improve his reading. This is a high school student. If you don’t know what the reading level is,  how can you know what progress is made? Make sure the goals set are measurable!

MR:  For 25 years you have sat in thousands of IEP meetings. What do you find should happen in meetings yet often does not?

MM: I rarely go to a meeting where the discussed progress of the child is actually meaningful progress. When parents look at a child’s grades and know that they can’t read and are struggling with their homework, you have to start saying I don’t agree with these goals. At the annual IEP meetings concerns need to be brought up to make sure the plan for next year is meaningful.

MR: How can parents prepare for the annual IEP review meetings?

MM: They need to review IEP progress reports, which should have been received throughout the year. Look at them carefully and compare to IEPs from the year before. Parents should think about what they want to see included in the IEP for the next year.

It’s critical for these kids that parents have the big picture in their heads: if you see your child in college, how are they going to get there? What skills are they going to need? Make sure those skills are included in the IEP as early as possible.
Parents shouldn’t just sit and take what the schools say.

They should be able to feel strong about bringing up things like friendship and bullying. The federal special education laws are focused not only on academics but also ensuring that the child is able to function as an adult.

MR: What should parents check for before they sign the pile of IEP paper work?

MM: I’ve found some Chicago IEP forms that have a little box on the front that says I agree or I don’t agree and they have been pre-checked I agree. So, parents have to make sure they check for things like that. If you do not like the goals or measures in the IEP, make sure you write that down somewhere in the paper work.

One thing that needs to definitely be discussed and is often not, is EYS [Extended School Year]. The box for that is also checked no. EYS is for a child who might regress if they do not keep up with skills. Take a copy with you when you leave! Often schools will say they will send a clean copy later; you have the absolute right to leave that day with that form.

MR: How can I check to make sure my child is really receiving the services and that they are not just listed on the paper?

MM: The best source is your child. Check with them on a daily, weekly basis. Also, all of the services providers [speech, resource, etc.] are required to keep daily logs describing what they worked on with each child. Ask to see them.

MR: For parents who do not have a child with an IEP, what are some signs that a child may need those services?

MM:  When my son was 3, I noticed that he had speech and development delays that did not necessarily scream special education, but I was still concerned. I noticed he wasn’t talking or playing like his peers, so we had him evaluated and discovered that he did in fact need individualized services.

As a parent you shouldn’t wait. If you have a hunch that something is wrong—you are probably right. It’s not just the earlier identified the better, it’s something you must  get going right away. Get feedback from your child’s teachers; ask their thoughts on specialized instruction.

MR: How does a parent go about getting those services for their child?

MM: First, you have to have the child evaluated. You can go through the school district, but the thing is it may take a very long time. If parents can do it, I suggest they go through an outside institution and there are some that offer services at low costs.

This way you save time and you have an objective evaluation of that child’s skills. The evaluation will determine if the child is eligible for specialized instruction and related services. Then the IEP process can begin.