An IEP – or an Individualized Educational Plan – is the blueprint and backbone of your “special needs” child’s educational plan while they are in school.
This of it as the gameplan for your child’s education.
To some parents new to the IEP process, it can be confusing and overwhelming. They may not be aware of their child’s right to a free, appropriate public education. It can be invaluable to have a knowledgeable attorney by your side, advocating for the well-being of your child.
The individualized education program (IEP) document ideally is developed as a collaborative and cooperative effort between parents and school personnel, describing a child’s abilities and needs, and prescribing the placement and services designed to meet those unique needs. Indeed, the U.S. Supreme Court noted that the central vehicle for this collaboration is the IEP process. The IEP is the cornerstone of the IDEA that sets forth the free appropriate public education that is offered to a child with a disability eligible to receive special education and related services under Part B of the IDEA.
The state must make a free appropriate public education (FAPE) available to all resident children between the ages of 3 and 21, including children with disabilities who have been suspended or expelled from school.
A. Who attends the IEP meeting?
- The parent(s) or holder of educational rights
- A regular education teacher if the child is or may be participating at all in regular education
- A special education teacher, where appropriate, at least one special education provider of the child
- An educational agency representative who is qualified to provide or supervise the provision of specially designed instruction to meet the unique needs of children with disabilities, is knowledgeable about the general curriculum and about the availability of resources of the school district
- The individuals who conducted the assessments or individuals who are qualified to interpret the results of the assessments
- Other individuals at the discretion of the parents or school district who have knowledge or special expertise regarding your child
- Your child when appropriate
B. Parent Input
Parents are active participants in the IEP process. If a school district infringes on a parent’s rights to participate in the IEP process, it usually results in the denial of FAPE to the student with a disability, even if the IEP offers an appropriate education as a substantive matter. Where procedural violations are found to be mere technical violations that have not harmed the student, however, a court or hearing officer may decline to intervene. However, if those violations interfere with a parent’s right to participate in the IEP formulation process, they are likely serious IDEA violations that deny FAPE.
C. Report Cards and Grades
While good grades can be evidence of a child benefiting from his education, they do not, as a matter of law, conclude that a school district provided FAPE. In fact, the 2006 IDEA Part B regulations expressly caution that: “Each State must ensure that FAPE is available to any individual child with a disability who needs special education and related services, even though the child has not failed or been retained in a course or grade, and is advancing from grade to grade.
D. Try to tape record all IEP meetings
The school districts generally allow it so long as they are also recording. It is extremely important to record all IEP meetings. Much too often, school districts write one-sided meeting notes on the IEP. A recording of the IEP is the best evidence to show what was discussed at the meeting.
E. Mandatory components of the IEP
A statement of the child’s present levels of educational performance including:
- How the child’s disability affects his/her involvement and progress in the general curriculum
- For preschoolers, how the disability affects the child’s participation in appropriate activities
- IDEA 2004 requires that the statement include present levels in academic achievement and functional performance.
A statement of measurable annual goals, including short term objectives that will:
- Meet a child’s needs to enable him or her to be involved in and progress in the general curriculum
- Meet all the child’s academic and functional needs that result from his/her disability.
Example: A goal in the area of reading decoding:
Inappropriate goal: The student will improve reading.
Appropriate goal: The Student will decode words at the fifth grade level, in isolation, of 3-4 syllables with 90 percent accuracy as measured by teacher charted records.
For children who are taking the regular state assessment of academic achievement, annual goals are still required, but short-term objectives are not. For children taking alternative assessment of achievement, both the goals and objectives are required.
3. A statement of special education and related services, and supplementary aids and services to be provided to the child and a statement of the program modifications or supports for school personnel that will enable the child:
- To advance appropriately toward attaining annual goals
- To be involved in the general curriculum as well as extracurricular and nonacademic activities
- To be educated and participate with non-disabled children in these activities.
4. An explanation of the extent, if any, to which the child will not participate with non-disabled children in the regular class and other activities, including:
- Statement and supporting evidence that indicates why the student’s disability prevents him/her from being educated in a less restrictive environment with the use of supplementary aids and services
5. A statement of any modifications or accommodations necessary so that the child may participate in student achievement tests. If such tests are not appropriate for the child, an explanation why not and how the child will be assessed
6. The date services, modifications and accommodations will begin and the frequency during the school day, location and duration of these services and modifications
7. Special education and related services and supplementary aids must be based on peer-reviewed research to the extent practicable. Peer-reviewed research is generally considered to be research that is reviewed by qualified and independent reviewers to ensure that the quality of the information meets the standards of the field before the research is published; reducing the term to a single definition is difficult because the review process varies depending on the type of information to be reviewed.
8. Extended school year services
9. For students 14 years old, a statement of the transition services needs
10. For students who are 16 years old, a statement of the required transition services. Transition services at the child’s sixteenth birthday to include appropriate measurable post secondary goals based upon age appropriate transition assessments related to training, education, employment, and where appropriate, independent living skills. The services to be identified include courses of study needed to assist the child to reach the transition goals.
11. One year before a student turns 18, a statement explaining that the student has been informed of his/her educational rights and they will transfer to the student at age of eighteen.
Other important components of the IEP:
- The concerns of parents and strengths of child
- All evaluation results, including independent assessments
- If behavior impedes learning, the IEP team must consider strategies, including positive behavioral interventions
- If a child is Limited English Proficient, include linguistically appropriate goals, objectives, programs and services
- Braille instructions if appropriate for visually impaired students
- Deaf or hard of hearing students, consider student’s language and communication needs
- Assistive technology considerations.
F. Signing and Writing on the IEP document
Signing the IEP
At the end of the IEP, the school district will ask you to sign the document. You don’t have to sign it on the spot. Think about what the district has offered. You can ask for a break or even take it home and return it another day. Of course, if you agree with the entire IEP, it is always best to sign it so the program can begin immediately.
Before you sign, however, ask to read the entire document (including the IEP notes) and make sure everything agreed upon is documented accurately. You can also agree on certain parts, but not others (e.g. you agree on related services, but not placement – sign the document and state that you agree with the services but not placement). If you disagree with parts of the IEP, spell out your disagreements on the parent dissent page.
Writing on the IEP
Make sure that you know what statements are entered onto the IEP document and state any objections immediately. This is especially important on the IEP notes. Every IEP has a page where someone on the school staff is writing down notes during the IEP meeting. If you disagree on a particular issue, make sure your objections are accurately documented in the IEP notes. If the note taker does not write down your position, then request a separate page. Label this page “parent dissent” and record your point of view and ask that it is attached to the IEP.
You have an absolute right to state your position, but if the school district does not attach your dissent, indicate the following on the signature page: 1) that you do not agree with everything in the IEP document, and 2) that you want to attach a dissent but the school administration would not allow you to do so. Then speak with an attorney to discuss what actions may be taken to challenge the IEP.
Special education law is complex; you may have many more questions that have not been addressed here. Feel free to contact us to discuss your child’s particular situation.