Parent's Guide to IEPs: One Tool to Support Students with Learning Disabilities

School is difficult enough without a form of learning disability. A learning disability makes it harder, but not impossible to succeed. With a proper support system in place, all SFUSD students can achieve and thrive.

What is an IEP?

IEP stands for Individual Education Program.  This means it is not simply an application for extra support. An IEP plans out the program of special education teaching, support and key services for students that need extra assistance in school due to a form of disability. 

Who is eligible for an IEP?

According to the SFUSD website, children identified with a disability that adversely affects their education may be determined as eligible for special education services.

Where should you go to begin?

Parents who believe that their children may have a disability must have their child go through the process of evaluation.  There are different options based on the age of the child:

  • Younger than 3-Golden Gate Regional Center Hotline Number (English, Spanish and Cantonese): 1-888-339-3305 Email:

  • 3-5-Contact Pre-School Intake Unit at (415) 759-2214

  • Attending SFUSD public school-Contact the School Principal

  • For all other evaluations, (e.g. speech, occupational therapy, etc.)- SFUSD Special Education Services at (415) 759-2222.

See our section on resources that can help with any struggles to reach these organizations. 

When is the best time to ask for an evaluation?

As soon as possible! It is imperative that once your child begins exhibiting signs of a disability which will or is affecting them in school, an evaluation is done. Once an evaluation is done, the IEP process can begin, in which a meeting with the school must be called within 60 days to finalize the IEP. It is only after this process that your child can receive the help they need. 

Why should you get your child evaluated?

School is difficult enough without a form of learning disability. A learning disability makes it harder, but not impossible to succeed. With a proper support system in place, all SFUSD students can achieve what they set out to. Sadly, unevaluated children with a disability can be viewed as lazy or can be disregarded as a lost cause. With an IEP, students can start a program which will get them back on track and succeeding in their schoolwork. There is undeniably a stigma that surrounds the word “disability.” However, embracing this “label” brings much-needed support to your child.  

If your child is not eligible for an IEP, it is worth looking into a 504 plan  Image credit:

If your child is not eligible for an IEP, it is worth looking into a 504 plan

Image credit:

How does the process work?

First of all, parents should be included in this decision-making process, and no decisions should be made without you. After being evaluated, a decision will be made on what definition of a child with a disability your child meets. The different categories of disability can be found here. If it is found that your child does not meet the disability criteria, you must be given information as to how to dispute this ruling. If your child is found to be eligible, a team will come together to form the IEP within 60 days. The team will include the parents, at least one regular education teacher, one special education teacher, a school system representative, a professional who can evaluate the results, representatives from agencies who may be paying for any of your child’s resources, other individuals who are related to the child, and the child, when appropriate. The school will then move forward with the plan and this should be reevaluated every year.

What is your role in the process?

Your voice is important! No decision should be made without meaningful parental participation and informed consent. This means your child’s school cannot have predetermined your child’s goals and IEP plan without your input. It also means you should get all the resources necessary to fully understand what you are agreeing to. This includes requesting and receiving relevant documents before the meeting begins and getting any necessary translation resources. You can walk out of the IEP meeting without signing your child’s plan; in fact, that is preferred. Take the IEP plan home and review it. Any concerns should be put into writing and delivered to the school administration. It is possible to agree with exception to the plan, meaning your child will start getting support, but you can still work with the administration on issues you have with the plan. 

How do I know if the plan is being followed?

Once a plan is set in place, your job as a parent is not over. Unfortunately, even when a school has your child’s best interests at heart, it can be difficult for administrators to give your child the focus and resources that they need. As a parent, you need to make sure that your child is getting the agreed upon help. The biggest step involves progress monitoring. This means checking in with your child and their case manager and making sure all academic (and social) goals are properly being met. This may include watching grades, receiving work samples, and getting Fountas and Pinnell reading assessments done on your child. This also means making sure short term objectives are being followed. Should you find it difficult to advocate on your own, there are support systems available to help.

Your child is struggling to get the support they need. What should you do?  

According to Lee Fisher, SFUSD Chair of the Community Advisory Committee for Special Education, the first step is going up the chain of command. This starts with your child’s teacher, then case manager, and principal. Next would be the assistant supervisor for your school, followed by the supervisor, then the director, and finally chief.  For a full organization chart, check here. If you find that you need extra support during the evaluation process, in forming an IEP, and holding the support team accountable to your child, there are resources that can help you. Parents can always reach out to us at PPSSF, but can also reach out directly to people and groups such as the Special Education Ombudsperson (currently unfilled), Support for Families of Children with Disabilities, Community Alliance for Special Education, and the Community Advisory Committee for Special Education. Parents are encouraged to attend the CAC’s monthly meetings, where they often host parent trainings and also make special education specialists (including the aforementioned chief and supervisors) available to consult. 

At what age does the IEP “run out”?

When your child graduates, the school district is still responsible for your plan until they are 22. This is especially relevant for students in continuing education programs. For more information on adult ed opportunities, check here and here. An IEP can also be helpful throughout the college process, including providing accommodations during SAT and ACT testing. While your SFUSD IEP will not directly transfer to a university, the paperwork and prior information on your child can be brought to the university’s Office of Disability Services (or some variation thereof).