What is an IEP?
IEP stands for Individualized Education Program (alternatively called an “Individualized Education Plan,” “Individual Education Plan,” or some combination thereof).
The IEP is a legally binding document that spells out exactly what special education services your child will receive and why. It is the written educational plan for a student with disabilities, developed by a team of professionals (teachers, therapists, school administrators etc.) and the child’s parents, and implemented to provide specially designed instruction and related services in accordance with federal legal mandates, specifically The Individuals with Disabilites Education Act (IDEA). It is designed to meet the unique needs of one child. The IEP is decided at an IEP meeting. The IEP guides the delivery of special education supports and services for the student with a disability.
IDEA requires public school districts to develop an individualized plan for every child who qualifies as having one of the thirteen disabilities identified by IDEA . The special education evaluation determines if a student is eligible for special education services and if so, what programs are appropriate. School districts have an affirmative duty to identify, locate and evaluate children with disabilities. This duty, known as “Child Find” applies to children residing within the district who have or are suspected of having disabilities and, therefore, may need special education.
THE IEP PROCESS IS COMPRISED OF 5 STEPS:
1. Initial Evaluation Referral
A referral for an assessment can be made by a parent, a teacher, etc. It should be made in writing.
After receiving a referral, the school district has 15 CALENDAR DAYS to formulate an Assessment Plan and return it to the parent along with a copy of the parent’s rights and responsibilities. The school must have signed parental consent prior to assessing a child. Assessment must be performed by the appropriate professional; can include assessments by other professionals. Families should make sure that their children’s needs are addressed.
3. Determining Eligibility
If the evaluation shows that the child does, indeed, have a disability and that, because of that disability, he or she needs special education and related services, then he or she meets the criteria for special education and related services. After the Assessment Plan is signed and returned, the School District has 60 CALENDAR DAYS to complete the assessment, write a report, and hold an IEP meeting. Families can request a copy of the assessment one week prior to the IEP meeting.
4. IEP Meeting and design of Individualized Education Plan
Following the child’s evaluation the IEP team is assembled and the team of individuals sit down and writes an Individualized Education Program (IEP) for the student. Families may bring whomever they want, experts, therapists, professionals that are accustomed to working with the child and can provide helpful information regarding the child’s deficiencies and strengths. The IEP must include detailed description of the educational goals, assessment methods, behavioral management plan, and educational performance of a student requiring special education services. In addition any modifications that are required in the regular classroom and any additional special programs or services needed for the child to properly access the curriculum must be clearly stated. The school must have parent input and must provide appropriate placement based on the child’s needs. Families have the right to visit the classrooms prior to accepting a placement option. When families don’t understand what is being said, they should ask for clarification. At the end of the meeting, families do not have to sign the IEP; they can take it home and think about it.
(Note: If requested, the school district must provide families with an interpreter. Families also may request a translated copy of the IEP in their native language).
5. Implementation of IEP
After the IEP is signed and returned, the School District has 2 TO 3 DAYS for implementation. The written IEP will include your child’s classification, placement, services such as a one-on-one aide and therapies, academic and behavioral goals, a behavior plan if needed, percentage of time in regular education, and progress reports from teachers and therapists. The school must provide services as written in the IEP.
(Note: Three-year evaluations are required to determine whether the child continues to qualify for services. A once a year IEP is held in the interim to decide, alter or modify the next school year’s educational needs; parents can request an evaluation if they feel it is necessary. Likewise, a parent may call an emergency IEP at any time and request additional services and/or amendments.)
The first IEP meeting can be an overwhelming time for any parent. There is so much new information to take in as you begin to learn more and more about special education services and how they can best benefit your child. Our goal is for you to leave the IEP meeting knowing that you understood the process, asked the right questions, knew what you were signing and that the plan formulated meets your child’s every educational need.
If you have attended IEP meetings for your child in the past there is a good chance that you have felt shell shocked, dissatisfied and frustrated and if you are visiting us it must be because you are still feeling that way. Our aim is to do everything in our power to make sure that your child’s needs are met and in turn that you feel a sense of relief, satisfaction and closure regarding your child’s services.
Try as we may, sometimes conflicts and disputes will arise between the school and the parents when the parties are unable to reach a consensus at the IEP meeting regarding the correct educational approach for the child. The quest to obtain the services for your child typically turns adversarial when the school and the parents reach an impasse regarding the agreement of proper educational plan. A parent then will initiate a Due Process complaint (a lawsuit) against a school district.