Do IEPs Expire?

If you are wondering do IEPs expire, the short answer is simple: No, IEPs cannot expire.

An Individualized Education Plan (IEP) is a program of special education instruction, which includes present levels of performance, measurable goals, accommodations, services and supports designed to meet your child’s unique educational needs, as determined by your child’s IEP team. The program is binding upon the school and remains in effect until a new IEP is written or until the IEP team agrees that it is no longer needed.

What is an IEP?

An IEP is a written document developed by your child’s IEP team to help reach educational goals more easily than your child might otherwise because of a disability (or disabilities). It’s tailored to each child’s individual needs and outlines the special education program that teachers and other education team members should provide or follow (depending on their role as part of your child’s team) so the school can be sure to teach your child in a way that addresses how your child’s disability (or disabilities) impacts their learning. The goal is to enable your child to reach his or her full potential by developing a roadmap for success.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires that the IEP team include, at a minimum, the following people: you, the parent; at least one of your child’s general education teachers; at least one of your child’s special education teachers; a school district representative; and an expert who can interpret your child’s evaluation results. Depending on your child’s age or the policy of your district, your child may be included as part of the IEP team. Translators can also be considered as part of the team. Parents are also allowed to include other people, like advocates or friends, in IEP meetings.

Legally, students with IEPs join in traditional school activities and academic experiences as much as possible. IEPs ensure your child receives appropriate placement, not just in special education classrooms, but in areas where additional help is necessary. With an IEP, your student has special assistance when needed; otherwise they are free to interact with and participate in the activities of their peers.

Your child’s IEP should be reviewed at least annually as a matter of law, but also because practical considerations like ensuring that your child is making progress and examining whether new or different goals, accommodations, services, and supports are appropriate, should be scrutinized periodically. It makes sense to take the time to think critically about the IEP with an eye to ensuring that the plan has been, is, and will continue to be the right plan for your child. Unfortunately, some school districts will refer to this annual meeting as a “renewal” meeting. By doing so, the school district makes it sound like your child’s IEP is about to “expire” when it will not.

Why Do Schools Say an IEP Needs to be Renewed?

Some school districts will refer to the annual IEP review meeting as a “renewal” meeting. By doing so, the school district makes it sound like your child’s IEP is about to “expire.” IEPs do not expire. Ever. The IEP remains in place until the IEP team determines that special education is no longer necessary for your child or your child graduates from high school.
School districts have annual reporting obligations to the Georgia Department of Education. School district staff often confuse their reporting requirements to the Department of Education with their independent review obligations under the IDEA. While it is in everyone’s interest to review IEPs annually and there is a legal obligation to do so, the IDEA does not require that the IEP be “finalized” within that year.

To the contrary, the IEP is intended to be a dynamic, living document that changes with your child’s needs. In a sense, it is never “finalized.” The IEP is a roadmap of goals, accommodations, services and supports created for and implemented within a fixed period of time in order to allow your child to learn and grow as a student. So, while the school district may want to meet a reporting requirement imposed by the Department of Education intended to demonstrate compliance with the IDEA’s annual review requirements, failing to complete an IEP within that one year time frame does not mean that your child should be without the support provided in their IEP.

If the annual review process is as robust and dynamic as the IDEA intends, there will likely be outstanding questions, concerns or changes that come from the annual review process. There may be goals that roll over from one school year to the next. There may be completed goals that are removed from the IEP and new ones added. It may mean that changes to your child’s IEP will not be fully realized at the initial annual review meeting. It might take more than one meeting to get the IEP adjusted to address the appropriate goals, accommodations, services or supports for your child going forward from that date.

Until any changes to the IEP arising from the annual review process are written into the IEP and agreed upon by the IEP team, the prior IEP will be your child’s IEP. Your child’s IEP does not “expire” while you and your child’s school are working out those changes.

Bottom Line

Your child’s IEP does not expire, but schools will ask you to review it from time to time and, at a minimum, on an annual basis. The school district has a legal obligation to conduct at least an annual review, but the IDEA does not require that your child’s IEP be “finalized” on or before the one-year anniversary of the prior annual review meeting to remain in effect.

About Stone & Sullivan

Patricia Stone and Julia Sullivan devote a significant portion of their practice to Special Education Law issues.