There’s a lot of confusion regarding parent signature on the IEP. Depending upon what state you reside makes all the difference in the power of your consent to the IEP.

According to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), parental consent is required for the initial evaluation and implementation of services. That means that when the student is first being tested and evaluated for services, a parent must sign in agreement to have their child evaluated and also sign the IEP and consent to the actions offered in the IEP for the initial phase of the IEP process.

What happens after that depends on what state you live in. Of the 50 states, only four require a parent’s signature on all IEPs after the initial phase. Those states are Massachusetts, California, Montana, and Virginia. The other 46 states do not require a parent’s signature on subsequent IEPs before automatically implementing the IEP. 

Now, because I live and advocate in California, parents have the power to refuse to sign the IEP, which means the district cannot move forward with implementing the IEP. This is huge when it comes to parent rights.

If you live in one of the four states in the nation that requires a parent signature, you are a very fortunate parent. I’ve always been baffled with the fact that there are 46 states in the nation that don’t give parents the opportunity to advocate and work with their IEP committee to have their concerns and requests resolved without filing for due process.

How can this possibly be adhering to a parent’s right to be an equal IEP team member if the school can make a decision and implement that decision without considering the parent’s position? They may act as though they take into consideration the parent’s argument, however, if the district knows they have the power to make the overriding decision to do what they want even if the parent disagrees, how is the parent an equal IEP team participant?

In Massachusetts, California, Montana, and Virginia, when a parent disagrees, they have the option to sign the IEP with exceptions or not sign the IEP at all. If the parent signs with exception, that means they can agree to parts of the IEP and disagree with the parts they are in dissent and those dissent issues will not be implemented.  Parents have the right to call another IEP meeting to revisit the dissent issues where the parent has the opportunity to negotiate with the team in an effort to come to a resolution that the parent can live with and the IEP team also can agree to.

If the IEP committee and the parent cannot compromise and meet somewhere in the middle to resolve the parent dissent, parents have the option to request a Dispute Resolution Meeting where they can meet with a special education administrator (typically the Director of Special Education), to have their concerns heard and resolved.

As an advocate, this process has given me the opportunity to resolve 95% of my client’s issues, without filing for due process. In all 46 other states, there is no compromise or negotiation with the IEP committee and the parent’s only option is to file a complaint or file for due process. 

A state complaint holds little resolve, as most districts really don’t care if the state slaps their hand with a violation. This leaves parents with the option to file for due process, an expensive and daunting endeavor that may not lead to a successful outcome.

On the other hand, having the district obligated to obtain parent consent causes the school to adhere to parent participation rights and obligates the IEP team to ensure that parents are fully informed. In the 46 states that don’t require parent consent, the cards are stacked against parents, leaving them in a position to have to hire an attorney if they don’t agree with the IEP offer.

Those parents must follow the procedural safeguards handouts that must be given to them at the very beginning of the IEP meeting. The safeguards explain how the IEP can be contested and what is required to make that happen.

In all 46 other states, not signing the IEP does not demonstrate or wield power over the process, as the district holds all the rights, and the IEP and services can still move forward without a parent’s consent.

In the 46 states that do not require parent consent, it is the law that procedural safeguards include:

Opportunity to present and resolve complaints through the due process complaint and State complaint procedures, including—

  1. The time period in which to file a complaint;
  2. The opportunity for the agency to resolve the complaint; and
  3. The difference between the due process complaint and the State complaint procedures, including the jurisdiction of each procedure, what issues may be raised, filing and decisional timelines, and relevant procedures.

So, if a parent doesn’t take the steps listed in the procedural safeguards, which means the complaint process or due process, they are left powerless to know how to challenge the school.

In those 46 states, withholding a parent signature on an IEP does nothing to ensure that the school stops moving ahead with the recommendations in the document.

As an advocate in California, my focus is parent training because parents actually have power to present their position in the decision-making process during their child’s IEP meeting. In Massachusetts, California, Montana, and Virginia, those districts are obligated to respect a parent’s position and input which levels the playing field because if parents don’t consent to the districts offer, they have options to negotiate outside due process.

In the 46 other states that don’t require a parent to consent, what motivation does the school have to honor parent concerns when they know they are not required to obtain a parent signature to authorize the implementation of the IEP? Those districts are well aware that they hold all the power to make their own decisions about a student’s educational program. District staff bank on the fact that most parents won’t move forward with filing for due process and as such, the cards are stacked against the parents.

Overall, the IEP process is not a level playing field. In every state and with every parent, it is already hard enough to learn parental rights and navigate the IEP process in order to ensure their child’s unique needs are being met according to IDEA. In my opinion, withholding a parent’s right to disagree by refusing to sign the IEP is a blatant violation of parent rights and gives districts license to disregard parent input and parent concerns.

So, what can we do about this? 

parent movement! 

Now, trying to change IDEA at the federal level will most likely not happen. But it can be done at the state level. In each of the 46 states that don’t require parent consent, those parents must ban together to demand revision of their state special education code to require parent consent to the IEP just like Massachusetts, California, Montana, and Virginia.

Parent movements are how IDEA was born in the first place. Parent movements created civil rights laws and many other laws on the books. Parents have power and can create change, if it is done in large groups and in an organized fashion.

Cheering you on always!


If you haven’t joined our Private Special Education Parent Empowerment Facebook Group yet, you should check it out here.

Here’s what parents are saying about the group:

“I can assure you and everyone here that I have learned more on your page than I have from my school district. I appreciate you and applaud you for what you do as it is NOT easy! You give us guidance and you have a place in the heavens for your selfless work and service to our special needs children and their families. Thank you Valerie!” ~Reyna

“Valerie, you’re amazing and I am so appreciative of everything you post on your Facebook pages!” ~Katherine

Valerie Aprahamian is a special education advocate, IEP strategist, and speaker. She speaks on behalf of parents to protect the rights of neurodiverse children to receive the supports they need in public school.

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