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  • Writer's pictureWandro & Associates

The Individualized Education Plan - What Is It, and How Can it Help Your Special Needs Child?

Parents of children with special needs face a great many challenges caring for their children, and education for children with disabilities presents a distinctly confusing and overwhelming process. At W&A, we are able to guide parents through the special education system and help them ensure that their special needs child is receiving the same advantages in life that children without disabilities receive. We often receive questions about IEPs, and to that end, we write this article to help answer a few questions about the IEP process and provide some guidance to parents struggling to make the right decisions for their special needs children.

Each public school child who receives education and related services must have an Individualized Education Program (IEP) that is designed for that individual student. The idea behind the IEP is that it creates an opportunity for school personnel--including teachers, school administrators, and special education personnel, parents, and students to come together to create and improve educational results for children with disabilities.

The IEP process is one of the most critical elements to ensure effective teaching, learning, and better results for all children with disabilities.

The Basic Special Education Process under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)

The following are the general steps taken to determine whether a student is qualified for an IEP:

1. Child is identified as possibly needing special education and related services.

  • "Child Find" -- The State is obligated to identify, locate, and evaluate all children with disabilities in the State who need special education and related services. A child may be identified by "Child Find" or parents may be asked if the "Child Find" system can evaluate their child.

  • Referral/Request -- A school professional can ask that a child be evaluated for a disability. Parents may also contact the school to ask that their child be evaluated. Parental consent is required before the child may be evaluated, and the evaluation must be completed within a reasonable time after the parent gives consent.

2. Child is evaluated.

The evaluation will assess the child in all areas related to their suspected disability. The results from the evaluation will be used to decide if the child is eligible for special education and to make important decisions about the appropriate educational program for the child. If the parents disagree with the evaluation, they can take their child for an Independent Educational Evaluation and request that the school pay for the independent evaluation.

3. Eligibility is decided.

A group of qualified professionals and the parents examine the evaluation results. They then decide if the child qualifies as a "child with a disability" as it is defined by IDEA. If parents disagree with the eligibility decision, they may ask for a hearing to challenge it.

4. Child is found eligible for services.

If the child is found to be a "child with a disability," he/she is eligible for special education and related services. The IEP team must meet within 30 calendar days after the child is determined eligible to write an IEP for the child.

5. IEP Meeting is scheduled.

It is the school's responsibility to schedule and conduct the IEP meeting. The school must:

  • contact the participants, including the parents;

  • notify parents early enough to make sure they have an opportunity to attend;

  • schedule the meeting at a time and place agreeable to both the parents and the school;

  • tell the parents the purpose, time, and location of the meeting;

  • tell the parents who will be attending; and

  • tell the parents that they may invited people to the meeting who have knowledge or special expertise about the child.

6. IEP meeting is held and the IEP is written.

Certain individuals are required by law to be involved in writing a child's IEP. These include:

  • Regular Education Teachers

  • School System Representative

  • Transition Services Agency Representative(s)

  • Parents

  • Others with knowledge or special expertise about the child;

  • A person who can interpret evaluation results;

  • Special Education Teacher(s) or providers; and

  • Student (as appropriate).

7. Services are provided.

It is the school's obligation to ensure the child's IEP is being carried out as written. Parents are given a copy of the IEP, and each of the child's teachers and service providers has access to the IPE.

8. Progress is measured.

Parents must be regularly informed of their child's progress and whether that progress is sufficient for the child to meet his/her goals (as documented in the IEP) by the end of the school year.

9. IEP is reviewed.

The child's IEP must be reviewed by the IEP team at least once a year, but parents can request more frequent reviews. The IEP can and should be revised as necessary based on the child's progress. Parents must be invited to attend IEP review meetings, where they can make changes, agree or disagree with the IEP goals, and agree or disagree with placement.

If parents do not agree with the IEP, they should try to work out their concerns with the other members of the IEP team. If that fails, there are other options for the parents, including additional testing, an independent evaluation, mediation, or a due process hearing. Finally, parents may also file a complaint with the state education agency, but should consult a lawyer before doing so.

10. Child is reevaluated.

The child must be reevaluated at least every three years. The purpose of the reevaluation is to confirm if the child is still a "child with a disability" as defined by IDEA, and to assess what the child's educational needs are. The child's parents or teacher can ask for a new evaluation, and a child must be reevaluated more often than every three years if the conditions warrant it.

Contents of the IEP

By law, the IEP must contain certain information about the child and the individualized education goals for that child designed to meet his or her needs. In very basic terms, the information an IEP must contain is:

  • Current performance of child -- the IEP must state how the child is currently doing in school.

  • Annual goals -- goals that the child can reasonably accomplish in a year, broken down into short-term objectives or benchmarks.

  • Special education and related services -- the IEP must list the special education and related services to be provided to the child.

  • Participation with non-disabled children -- the IEP must explain the extent to which the child will not participate with nondisabled children in regular class and school activities.

  • Participation in state and district-wide tests -- the IEP must state what modifications in the administrations of state- or district-achievement tests are necessary for the child.

  • Dates and places -- when services will begin, how often they will be provided, where they will be provided, and how long they will last.

  • Transition service needs -- when the child is 14 years of age, the IEP must address the courses he or she needs to take to reach his or her post-school goals.

  • Needed transition services -- when the child is 16 years of age, the IEP must state what transition services are needed to help the child prepare for leaving school.

  • Measuring progress -- the IEP must state how the child's progress will be measured and how the parents will be informed of that progress.

At W&A we have attorneys who specialize in education law and can help guide you, your family, and your child through this confusing process. We know that you want the best for your child, and we can help you get it. Call us today if you have a child with special needs and you need guidance through the special education system. We can help.


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This Wandro & Associates Update is intended to inform firm clients and friends about legal developments, including recent decisions of various courts and administrative bodies. Nothing in this Practice Update should be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion, and readers should not act upon the information contained in this Update without seeking the advice of legal counsel.

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