Skip to main content

Expert Q&A

What should we do if we disagree with the school’s interpretation of the IEP accommodations?

My daughter is 14 and has had an IEP for eight years. She is now in middle school and her IEP seems ambiguous; the teacher, caseworker, and I have different definitions concerning her accommodations. For example: study guides - if the teacher hands out a note packet to the entire class, she has informed me that this is considered my daughter’s study guide. I feel as if the playing field is not being leveled for my daughter to succeed in the LRE.


Dear Linda,

Your question relates to concerns about ambiguities in the IEP that are resulting in conflicts over appropriate accommodations. Unfortunately, because the IEP is based on what is written and how those words are interpreted, there often are disagreements as to what the provisions of the IEP mean.

These disagreements are unavoidable, but can be reduced by careful attention to the wording of the IEP. As much as possible, it is useful to spell out the detail of what the various accommodations mean - how will study guides be provided, by whom, and when. If an accommodation is specified as “as needed,” how is that decision made and by whom? Under what circumstances will a student be given extra time for homework or tests or be allowed to use a quiet room? What are the criteria for deciding if a student needs reduced quantity of work and who will modify the work? When may a student use a word processor or tape recorder instead of writing things by hand? If books on tape are needed, who will order them and when will they be available (before the material is being addressed in class)?

There are an infinite number of variations, but the more that ambiguity is removed, the more accountability there will be and the less chance there will be for conflicting interpretations. However, sometimes there is a risk that micromanagement of the language of the IEP will itself produce conflict and disagreement, so it is important to pick your battles.

In addition, if there is dispute over the meaning and implementation of an accommodation, you always have the right to ask that the IEP be modified to reflect your interpretation and/or that an IEP meeting be held to discuss the problem. The school is not obligated to accept your position, but this at least creates a means to put the problem on the table and try to resolve it.

If it can’t be resolved, you retain the right to seek a due process hearing to prove that the accommodation, carried out in the way you feel is needed, is necessary for your child to receive an appropriate education. You will need to be able to prove why this is needed and should consult with a knowledgeable special education attorney or advocate before taking this step. However, sometimes, schools will reconsider their position in mediation or a resolution session in order to avoid having to go through a due process proceeding.

Back to Top