Do Not Sign Your IEP!

You do not have to sign your IEP immediately at the end of the IEP meeting!

IEP meetings are exhausting. They can last as long as three hours, or longer! I have heard of ones that lasted six hours. I’m sure there are ones that have lasted even longer than that and have covered more than one day.

At the end of such a long, draining meeting, imagine yourself finally satisfied that you’ve covered everything. You’ve discussed classroom behavior, aides, therapies, interventions, and strategies. You’ve perhaps argued. Or you’ve argued… a lot! The meeting has been tense and stressful. There can even be extraneous issues you’ve had to deal with. For our meeting, I discovered the room they use at our child’s school is often very warm. I have learned to go to the meetings in layers and bring water to drink!

But, you’re finally done and ready to get out of there. Then, just as you’re about ready to leave, a school official says, “Okay, one last thing… sign here.” What do you do?

My advice:  Don’t sign.

Huh? You can’t leave until you sign, right? Wrong.

Legally, you can take your IEP document home with you. I am encouraging you to do just that. I am informing you to politely look at that school official and respond, “We’re not going to sign it right now but will you please put it in an envelope so we can take it home and review it?”

They have to let you take it home. I’ll say that again… They have to let you take it home! Do not let a school official tell you that you cannot leave until you sign!

The school district has no right to force you to sign this document right away. They want you to sign it. They want it all done and filed away. They want the end of this long, treacherous IEP meeting to finally be over. They want to check mark your child’s name as “Finished.”

Don’t do it.

You have the right to take your child’s IEP home with you and review it. The school district CANNOT FORCE YOU TO SIGN IT RIGHT AWAY. Do not let them tell you that you have to sign. This is wrong and illegal.

I know I’m repeating myself here, but this is very important and often misunderstood.

You not only have the right to take your child’s IEP home with you, you even have the right to  have another set of eyes or two look it over. We have a friend who teaches a graduate course on IEPs. After each IEP, we fax him our child’s IEP. He looks it over for us and gives suggestions.

With those suggestions, we always keep in mind that our friend presides within a different state, but often he comes up with a nugget or two that is very important.

This is what I suggest you say to your school district representative: “We want to take the IEP home and we will look it over and return it, signed, in two or three days.”

I say two or three days because it is an appropriate time frame. Two or three weeks, not so much. Yes, you may end up with it for four days, or even five. No sweat.

However, please do not tell them two or three days and then keep it for three weeks. Try to look it over with fresh eyes the next day and return it as soon as you possibly can. Do your best to get it back to your child’s school, signed, and within those first few days. It’s your word and make it count!

What if you don’t want to sign it?

You can do one of two things. Return it unsigned. Tell them why you refuse to sign and simply hand them the document back. Schedule another IEP meeting so the entire team can discuss your reservations. Preferably, attach a written statement stating exactly why you refuse to sign.

Or, can sign the IEP but make sure you sign it in the appropriate place. The IEP documents we use have a box that says something to the effect that you are signing the IEP document yet disagreeing with the IEP contents. There is official wording there. Just make sure you not only sign the correct box but I’d also recommend writing beneath that line exactly why you’re filling in this box instead of the “approved” box.

What does not signing mean?

Your child’s school district and your child’s IEP team have to meet again to discuss why you checked that box. You must resolve the issues with your child’s IEP and this should occur within a reasonable time frame. These unsigned issues are outstanding issues and your child’s IEP team must find answers to those problems.

More importantly, not signing your IEP means your child’s previous IEP (if you have one already in effect) must stay in effect until replaced by a fully completed and signed new IEP. So, if an IEP is not completed, for whatever reason, the old IEP remains in effect until it is replaced by a new IEP.

One more thing to keep in mind about not signing your child’s IEP is this… After the first time you take your child’s IEP home to sign (or not), simply by requesting to do this and doing it properly, you’ve sent your child’s school and school district a pretty strong message.

One, that you know your rights as a parent of a child with special needs. Two, that you’re serious about your child’s educational needs.  And three, the school district will (hopefully) learn not to pressure you in the future.

They’ll get to know you as a parent who knows their rights, one who takes charge, and one who follows through with your promises. You’ll create a workable relationship with your child’s IEP team. And, nothing is more important than finding a team that focuses only on the good of your child.

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