Parent’s Guide to Special Education and the IEP Process
Parent’s Guide to Special Education and the IEP Process
Whether your child has had an Individualized Education Program (IEP) in place for multiple years or you are just preparing for your first IEP meeting, the process can be intimidating. Here, we’ve answered four of the most important questions for you to understand in order to make the process smooth, productive, and above all, effective for your child.
What is an IEP?
An Individualized Education Program is an important legal document that, by law, every child receiving special education services through a public school must have. The requirement was born out of the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) and is intended to ensure that your child receives the services needed in order to be successful academically. An IEP addresses your child’s unique learning needs and educational goals. Your child’s school is required to provide everything that is promised within your child’s IEP.
What is included in an IEP?
An IEP has two broad purposes: to establish measurable and actionable annual goals for your child and to detail the special education, related services, and supplementary aids that he or she will be provided with. In order to do this, IDEA requires that every IEP contain the follow sections:
- A statement of your child’s present level of academic achievement and performance
- A statement of measurable annual academic and functional goals
- A description of how your child’s progress towards meeting annual goals will be measured
- A statement of the special education, related services, and supplementary aids and services which will be provided to your child
- A statement of modifications or supports for school personnel that will be provided to ensure that your child progresses toward the annual goals in a manner that is as inclusive with fellow students and the general curriculum as possible
- A statement explaining the extent, if any, to which your child will not participate in the mainstream classroom
- A statement of any individual accommodations that your child will be provided on state and district assessments
- The projected date for services to begin, and their expected frequency, location, and duration
How is your child’s IEP developed?
Your child’s IEP will be developed through an annual meeting between yourself, your child (where appropriate), and the IEP team at school. If necessary, these meetings can be held more than one time per year. As described by the Center for Parent Resources and Information, in addition to yourself and your child, the IEP team is made up of the following members:
- At least one of your child’s regular education teachers (if your child participates in the regular education environment)
- At least one of your child’s special education teachers or providers
- A representative of your child’s public agency (usually your local school system) who is qualified to provide or supervise special education
- An individual with the expertise to interpret the instructional implications of your child’s pertinent evaluation results; depending on your child’s unique disability, this may be another member of the IEP team (for instance, a special education provider) or another expert, such as a counselor or medical doctor
- At the discretion of you or the school system, other individuals with specific knowledge or expertise about your child (IDEA does not clearly define requirements for what individuals are or are not eligible. Common examples would be a close relative, another professional who has worked with your child, or a paraprofessional employed by the school district.)
What’s your role in the meeting?
The IEP meeting is an opportunity for all of the members of your child’s IEP team, yourself included, to come together for a discussion of your child’s evaluation results, strengths, and needs. At the meeting, every member of the team will have the opportunity to share thoughts and concerns before cooperatively developing the required elements to be included in the IEP. The GreatKids organization suggests several things that you as a parent can do to ensure a productive IEP meeting that results in a plan for your child that you feel comfortable with:
- Prepare for the meeting ahead of time. Do your research on the IEP process (you’re off to a great start here!) and go in with your goals and concerns already determined and put down on paper.
- If you have had any evaluations on your child conducted privately and wish to share those results at the meeting, send copies of the reports to the rest of IEP team ahead of time.
- During the meeting, be sure to ask for all of the clarification you need—don’t be afraid to ask questions of the experts you are working with!
- Keep in mind that a final decision about your child’s IEP does not need to be made at the meeting. You have the right to take the drafted IEP home to review before signing, and if you disagree with the IEP, you are not required to sign off on it. You can request another meeting.
Throughout the entire IEP process, remember that the overall goal of the plan, your child’s team, and yourself are the same—to ensure that your child’s unique needs are met. With research, preparation, and cooperation, the process can be hugely beneficial for your child. Interested in learning more about Individualized Education Programs? Understood.org and the Center for Parent Information and Resources both have extensive libraries of materials to help parents understand the IEP process.
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