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Q&A on the Issues

Individualized Education Programs (IEPs)

New York Teacher
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The planning document for students with disabilities is called an individualized education program for a reason: The focus is on the student’s individual needs. The diligence and care that educators put into preparing for their students’ IEP meetings and developing IEPs are crucial to their academic success and emotional well-being. When crafting IEPs, you should consider every program and service on the continuum, whether or not it is currently offered in your building. Avoid cookie-cutter recommendations and be sure you know what each program and service offers. 

This Q&A answers many common questions regarding IEP planning and meetings, including updates from the 2023 contract. Members with additional concerns can contact the UFT at 212-331-6311 or email MaryJo Ginese, the vice president for special education, at

Special education teachers and school counselors in middle and high schools are often assigned to develop IEPs for students they do not serve. Is this permissible? 

No. According to federal law, the IEP team — which includes the parent and the teachers and related service providers who work with the student — is responsible for developing, reviewing and revising the IEP of a student with a disability (see the DOE's Special Education Standard Operating Procedures Manual [SOPM], IEP Overview and IEP Team Composition sections). School personnel who do not serve the student should not develop, review or revise the student’s IEP. UFT members who have been improperly directed by their administration to perform any of these tasks may ask their school’s Special Education Committee to raise the issue with the principal or file a confidential special education complaint.

Can an IEP be amended without an IEP meeting when the school does not offer the program or service on the student’s IEP? 

No, in this case, the IEP team must be convened to consider other programs and service options based on the student’s specific needs. If the team concludes that the student requires the service or program that the school does not offer, the school should consult with its Administrator of Special Education to request a Checklist for Organizing Resources (CORe) review (see the SOPM, Provision of Special Education Programs section). Likewise, when the student’s IEP team has student progress data that suggests the student should be considered for a change in program or services, an IEP meeting must be held to consider the change and revise the IEP (see the SOPM, IEP Team Composition section). 

Is it appropriate for the IEP team to consider whether a student requires special education support during clusters or special classes in elementary school or during electives or language classes in middle and high schools? 

Yes, the IEP team should discuss whether students with disabilities require support in any instructional, grade-bearing class. Teachers of such classes who are concerned about the ability of a student with a disability to access or participate in the class should bring their concerns to the attention of the student’s special education teacher. In addition, special education teachers should consult with general education teachers who also work with their students — including bilingual, English as a new language, cluster and specialty teachers — when preparing for annual review meetings (see the SOPM, Special Education Teacher Preparation for IEP Meetings section).

Are IEP-assigned paraprofessionals (individual and small group) required to attend related service sessions?

The management needs section of the student’s IEP must make clear the circumstances during the school day, including related services and nonacademic settings such as lunch and transitions, for which the student requires the support of a paraprofessional. IEP-assigned paraprofessionals must attend related service sessions if the management needs section of the IEP indicates the student requires services in that setting. Either way, related service providers should let paraprofessionals know how they can support related service goals in the classroom (see the SOPM, Special Considerations: IEP-Assigned Paraprofessionals section).

When are teachers supposed to hold IEP meetings for students with disabilities? 

IEP meetings should happen during instructional time or the teacher’s professional activity period. Under the 2023 DOE-UFT contract (Article 6B1d), IEP conferences can now also be scheduled during the 40-minute block of Other Professional Work on Tuesdays. If the meeting takes place during instructional time, the teacher’s class must be covered. IEP meetings should not be held during preparation periods. If a teacher loses their preparation period due to attendance at an IEP meeting, the teacher must be compensated (see Payroll Administration Memo No. 20 2000-1).

What help can the UFT provide if students are not receiving the support and services required by their IEPs or the school is not adhering to the special education regulations and requirements set out in the DOE’s Standard Operating Procedures Manual?

There are two avenues for resolving special education issues: your school’s Special Education Committee or the special education complaint.

Issues that can be brought to the Special Education Committee include the failure to properly staff special education classes, using integrated co-teaching teachers to provide coverage for absent teachers, violations of class size limits for special classes, failure to staff paraprofessional positions, combining special classes for clusters and physical education, and late arrival or early departure of school buses. The committee meets with the principal in the fall and spring and as needed during the rest of the school year.

A special education complaint should be filed for any issues specific to individual students, such as IEP program and service recommendations based on administrative considerations rather than student need. Other topics best handled through the special education complaint process include school budgeting for special education programs and services, violations of the rules governing ICT class size and composition, failure to process in a timely fashion parent referrals and staff member requests for special education referral, and the failure to provide behavior management training for paraprofessionals who work with students with behavior intervention plans.