More about the IEP

An IEP is an individualized education program. It's a legal contract between you and the school that describes the specialized instruction and support that the school will give your child. What does an IEP include? Which specialized services your child will get. How often they will get them. What school or program your child will be in. How often or if they will be out of the regular classroom. If they will get transportation to and from the school or program. If they will get Extended School Year Services.

Extended School Year (ESY) means that your child will get some services through the summer. An IEP should provide this when a child is likely to lose progress during summer vacation.


What kind of specialized services might be in the IEP?

Here are some examples: One on one or groups sessions with learning specialists. A special education teacher working with your child and others in the classroom. Therapies like speech, occupational therapy, or physical therapy. A plan to help with behavior issues. Counseling for coping with social or emotional issues. Help with special devices or equipment a child may need.


You and the rest of the school team will develop a specific program that describes the services your child needs. Remember, these are just some examples!


What happens next?

  • You and the school will create an IEP Team and have a meeting

  • You and the rest of the Team will decide together what services your child should get

Click the boxes below to learn a bit more about IEPs and see a helpful glossary:

An IEP is an Individualized Education Program. It's a legal contract between you and the school that describes specialized instruction and support that the school will give your child.


  • There is a federal law called the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). This gives children with disabilities the right to an education that meets their unique needs. So if a child needs special help in order to learn at school, the school system has to give them extra services.
  • An Individualized Education Program, or IEP, is a document that describes these extra services under IDEA that the school agrees to give your child to help them meet their educational needs. It is a legal contract between you and the school.

How it works:

  • You, the parent, and the rest of the IEP Team work together to define your child's goals and develop a unique IEP to help address and achieve these goals.
  • This program will be created using the IEP form at an IEP Team meeting.In this Guide, we will walk you through each section of the IEP form.

Keep reading the next pages to learn about the whole process! If you would like to look at the IEP form now, click the link at the bottom of the page.


Sources: Federation for Children with Special Needs,Mass Advocates for Children, MA DESE

Special education involves a lot of terms and abbreviations that may be new to you.

Here is a list of some common words and phrases that you will probably hear:


504 Plan:

A set of accommodations, or changes in the classroom environment to help your child follow the regular curriculum. It is less formal and involved than an IEP and does not change the instruction itself. For example, a student who uses a wheelchair but doesn't need academic supports would have a 504 plan. See Accommodations below for other examples. A student who has allergies or needs nursing services may also have a 504 Plan. A student who qualifies for a 504 plan has not been identified as having one of the disabilities listed in IDEA.


Changes that the teacher can make in the classroom to help your child learn more effectively. For example: they may rearrange the classroom, let your child take more time for tests, or give them certain types of learning aids. Accommodations are NOT changes to the education content itself.


An attorney or non-attorney who focuses on helping parents and students resolve problems with schools.

Assessments (Standard):

Tests given to all students. Students with disabilities may need accommodations for these tests, which will be written in the IEP. Certain students may need alternate assessments, depending on their disability.

Bureau of Special Education Appeals (BSEA):

A state office that conducts mediation, advisory opinions and hearings to resolve disputes about special education.

Dispute Resolution:

The process that parents and schools go through when they cannot agree on something related to special education services.

Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE):

This is every child’s right, even if they need special services. All students ages 3 to 22 can get a public education at no cost to the family that is appropriate. They have a right to fully take part in school life, including after-school activities. FAPE differs for each student because each has unique needs. What is “appropriate” for each child will be different, but it means more than just getting by.Every child's education should challenge them to the best of their abilities.

General curriculum:

The IEP will discuss "accessing the general curriculum." This means being able to follow the teaching plan for each subject in a typical classroom. In Massachusetts, the general curriculum is described in Curriculum Frameworks. (This will open in a new tab or window.)

General Education classroom (or teacher):

This refers to a regular classroom or teacher, NOT the special education ones. (Also called Typical classroom.)

Individualized Education Program (IEP):

A document that describes your child's goals for meeting their educational needs, and the special services they will get in order to meet these goals. It is a legal contract between you and the school.It addresses academic and other services, including different kinds of therapies, counseling and transportation.

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA):

The federal law that gives children with disabilities the right to have equal access to a free and appropriate public education. (See FAPE above.) It requires public schools to give them the services they need to meet their own educational goals.

Least Restrictive Environment (LRE):

The IDEA law (see above) requires that students with disabilities must be taught with their non-disabled peers as much as possible. The closest they can get to being in a typical classroom is called the "least restrictive environment," or LRE.If extra supports and services will allow your child to make progress in the regular classroom, then that’s what the school must offer. Only if that’s not possible will your child go to a more restrictive setting like a special education classroom. The most restrictive environment is a special education school or hospital-based setting.


Changes to the educational content or material itself. Teachers may have to modify some of what they teach in order to bring it in line with what a child is capable of learning. To compare, accommodations change how a student learns the material. A modification changes what a student is taught or expected to learn.


The school or type of classroom where your child will be taught. Based on your child's needs, these range from the regular public school classroom to a special education classroom, a separate school, or a special program in the home or at a hospital.

Procedural Safeguards:

These are specific procedures that are required by law to protect the rights of students and parents. They include timelines, consent, and rules for getting an evaluation for your child and creating the IEP.

RTI: Response to Intervention.

This is a system of interventions that tries to help your child who is struggling in school. There are different layers of interventions that increase in intensity. When a lower level doesn't work, the school will try the interventions at the next level.

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.

This is part of the federal law that gives children with disabilities the right to get services and accommodations in public schools

Special Education (or SPED):

Specifically designed teaching, at no cost to parents, to meet the unique needs of a child with a disability. This includes teaching in the classroom, in the home, in hospitals and in other settings, including physical education (gym class).

Stay Put:

This phrase means that the student is entitled to the services and placement that were agreed to in the last IEP. If there is a dispute about a new IEP, the student can "Stay Put" until the dispute is resolved.

"Typical" student:

A student who does not have disabilities.


Sources: IDEA, MA DESE, Federation for Children with Special Needs,



Sources: Federation for Children with Special Needs, MA DESE