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  • Writer's pictureMarina Diambri

Understanding Individualized Education Programs (IEPs): A Guide for Parents and Students in Illinois

How to build a legally successful IEP
IEP Building Blocks


In Illinois, every student has the right to receive a quality education tailored to their unique needs, regardless of any disabilities they may have. Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) play a crucial role in ensuring that students with disabilities receive the necessary support to succeed in school. If you are a parent or student in Illinois navigating the realm of IEPs, this blog post is for you. We will discuss the basics of IEPs, discuss the legal framework in Illinois, and offer tips to help you make the most of your student's IEP. As an Illinois education and school law attorney, I am here to provide students with valuable insights into IEPs, their importance, and how to navigate the process.

What is an IEP?

An Individualized Education Program (IEP) is a legally binding document developed for students with disabilities in Illinois. It outlines the specialized educational services, support, and accommodations necessary to help these students access a free and appropriate public education (FAPE). IEPs are designed to meet each student's unique learning needs and provide a roadmap for their educational journey.

The Legal Framework in Illinois

IEPs in Illinois are governed by state and federal laws, including the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Some key points specific to Illinois include:

  1. Eligibility: To qualify for an IEP in Illinois, a student must have a disability that falls under one of the 14 categories recognized by IDEA. These disabilities may include autism, specific learning disabilities, emotional disturbances, and more.

  2. Evaluation: The process of developing an IEP begins with a comprehensive evaluation to determine a student's specific needs. This evaluation involves a team of professionals, including educators and parents, and is conducted at no cost to the family.

  3. Team Collaboration: Developing an IEP is a collaborative effort. Parents are essential members of the IEP team and should actively participate in the decision-making process.

  4. Individualization: As the name suggests, IEPs are highly individualized. They must be designed to meet the unique needs of the student and address their specific academic and functional goals.

  5. Annual Review: IEPs are not static documents. They should be reviewed and updated at least once a year to ensure they remain relevant and effective.

The IEP Team

IEPs are created through a collaborative process involving various individuals, including:

  1. Parents or guardians

  2. Special education teachers

  3. General education teachers

  4. School administrators

  5. Specialists, such as speech therapists, occupational therapists, or school psychologists

  6. The student (when appropriate)

The IEP team meets regularly to discuss the student's progress and make any necessary adjustments to the plan.

Key Components of an IEP

  1. Present Levels of Performance: This section describes the student's current academic and functional abilities, which serve as the starting point for developing goals and accommodations.

  2. Annual Goals: Specific, measurable objectives that the student is expected to achieve within a year. These goals are designed to address the student's unique needs and challenges.

  3. Services and Accommodations: The IEP outlines the specialized services, support, and accommodations required, such as speech therapy, extended testing time, or assistive technology.

  4. Placement: This section specifies where the student will receive their education. Some students may receive instruction within a general education classroom, while others may benefit from a more specialized environment.

  5. Transition Plan: For older students, the IEP includes a transition plan outlining goals and services to help them prepare for life after high school.

Rights and Protections

Students with IEPs are afforded several rights and protections under federal and state law, including:

  1. The right to a free and appropriate public education (FAPE).

  2. Protection from discrimination and the right to equal access to educational opportunities.

  3. The right to have the IEP reviewed and updated annually.

  4. The right to participate in IEP meetings and voice their preferences and concerns.

  5. The right to dispute decisions regarding the IEP through due process procedures.

Navigating the IEP Process

  1. Establish open communication: Maintain regular communication with your IEP team, including your parents, teachers, and specialists.

  2. Set goals: Be an active participant in setting your academic and personal goals. Your input matters.

  3. Self-advocacy: Learn to speak up for your needs and preferences during IEP meetings. The IEP is YOUR plan, and your voice is essential.

  4. Regular review: Stay involved in the process by reviewing your IEP and progress throughout the school year.

  5. Seek legal advice when needed: If you encounter any issues or concerns related to your IEP, consult with an education and school law attorney for guidance and advocacy.


In Illinois, IEPs are a vital tool for ensuring that students with disabilities receive the support they need to succeed in school. As a student with an IEP, it's important to be an active participant in the process and advocate for your unique needs. Remember that you have rights and protections in place to ensure you receive a quality education that paves the way for your future success. If you ever encounter challenges, do not hesitate to seek legal advice to help you navigate the complexities of Illinois education and school law.

Please contact Marina Diambri at if you believe your student would benefit from legal representation.


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