What is an IEP? IEP stands for Individualized Education Plan. This is a written document that is developed for each public school child who is eligible for special education. The term "special education" can scare off a lot of parents. This simply means that the general education program isn't meeting the needs of the student so they require an individualized plan with accommodations to help them reach their goals. The IEP is meant to address each student's unique learning difficulties and include specific goals to target them. It is a legally binding document and the school must provide everything it promises in the IEP.
Who qualifies for an IEP? Students from age 3 through high school graduation or the maximum age of 22 (whichever comes first) may be eligible for an IEP. Before an IEP is written, the student must qualify for special education. By federal law, the multidisciplinary team must determine 2 things:
That the student has a disability
That the student requires special education and related services to benefit from the general education program
If your child is struggling to maintain good grades, that does not necessarily mean that they will qualify for special education. Once concerns for the student are brought up, 2 things will occur:
Anyone who suspects a student is struggling can request an evaluation: this includes parents, teachers, a counselor, or a doctor
Depending on the areas of concern the school psychologist and other professionals (such as the Speech Therapist) may give the student a series of tests. They might also do observations of the student in the classroom.
These school evaluators don't offer "diagnoses." Diagnoses can be made by a physician or another medical professional outside of the school to determine medical conditions such as ADHD. The school evaluators cannot make these diagnoses.
The multidisciplinary IEP team then decides whether or not the student needs special education services in order to learn in the general education curriculum.
The school and parents review the evaluation and determine whether the results show that the student requires services and supports in the classroom.
If the IEP team agrees that the student needs services then they create an IEP
There are 13 disabilities that a student can be found to have in order to qualify for an IEP:
Other health impairment (i.e. ADHD)
Specific learning disability (i.e. dyslexia)
Speech or Language Impairment
Traumatic brain injury
Visual impairment, including blindness
What happens at an IEP meeting? The law requires that once a year the IEP team reviews the IEP. The IEP team can meet more often that once a year depending on the needs of the student. The point of the meeting is to make sure the student's IEP is working for them. It gives an opportunity for parents to discuss their child's strengths and weaknesses with teachers. If the student didn't meet any or all of his goals, you can discuss new ideas to help the student. This may mean modifying the goal, adjusting expectations, or giving the student more/different kinds of services/supports.
The IEP meeting is when parents, teachers, and the school can give and get input on how the student is doing. The IEP needs to be revised as the student makes progress and faces new challenges in the academic curriculum.
Who attends the IEP meeting? The IEP Team will attend every IEP meeting. The IEP team includes:
At least one of the student's general education teachers (unless the student does not work with general education teachers)
At least one special education teacher or other special education provider
A school district representative
A school psychologist or other specialist (Speech Therapist) who can interpret the student's most recent evaluation and test results
The student (when it is felt appropriate)
A team member can be excused from the meeting if both the parent and the school agree to it. The parent can invite someone who they feel understands their child's needs to attend the IEP meeting. Anyone who can't attend in person can participate by conference call or video chat.
What is discussed at the IEP Meeting? The IEP being discussed at the meeting is considered a draft IEP. Some schools create the IEP in advance and then share it at the IEP meeting. Other schools develop it together during the meeting. Since it is a draft, suggested changes can be made during the meeting. Every IEP meeting will cover these things:
Present level of performance (PLOP): The case manager (or team leader) will write a statement about the student's current level of academic and functional performance and goals. This is based on data and observations.
Annual goals: The team reviews the progress the student has made toward meeting his annual goals then together they develop new or revised goals. The goals will be specific, measurable, and unique to the student.
Individualized supports and services: The team will discuss how well the student's accommodations, modifications, and specialized instruction are working. Then the team updates the supports and services to match the student's PLOP and new goals.
The results of the student's most recent evaluation, if there is one: Every student will be re-evaluated every three years. The school psychologist or other professionals (Speech Therapist) conducting the evaluation will explain the results at the IEP meeting.
What is in an IEP? Each IEP will look different as they are made to cater to each student's unique needs. Every IEP however, will contain the following things:
The student's present level of educational performance (PLOP)
The results of the student's evaluations and tests
Special education and related services to be provided (i.e. if the student is receiving Speech Therapy it will state this and the frequency that they will receive it)
Accommodations and modifications: these help the student to be successful in the general education curriculum; Accommodations are changes in how a student learns and participates, i.e. being given extra time on tests. Modifications are changes in what is taught to or expected, this is the grade-level expectations a student must meet
Supplementary aids and services: Supports to help a student learn in the general education classroom, i.e. a one-on-one aide, highlighted classroom notes, or assistive technology
Annual educational goals
A description of how the student's progress will be measured and reported to the parent
An explanation of how much the student will participate in general education classes and extracurricular activities
The date the IEP will go into effect
Depending on the student's age and situation it might also include:
A transition plan: services and supports to help a student graduate from high school and achieve post-high school goals
Extended school year services: some students may receive special education services outside of the regular school year such as during the summer
How does it start? Until a parent gives consent, the school can not start providing special education services. At the end of the IEP meeting, the parent will be asked for signed consent to the proposed IEP. If a parent doesn't feel comfortable, they have the right to take the IEP home to review it. If a parent isn't satisfied with the proposed IEP, they have different options:
Accept only parts of the proposed IEP
Refuse the entire proposed IEP
Ask for another meeting to discuss concerns
If the parent and school cannot come to an agreement, IDEA gives parents the following options:
Ask for a mediation session: a mediator helps each party express and understand their positions to help the group reach and agreement
File a due process complaint: If the parent is not satisfied with the results of the mediation they can request a due process hearing by writing an official letter. This is a formal meeting where parents and school officials present arguments and evidence to a hearing officer or administrative law judge.
Hold a resolution session: Before the due process hearing the school district will hold a resolution session. This is a meeting between the parents, members of the IEP team, and a district representative.
File a civil lawsuit: This is the most extreme option available, it requires parents to hire an attorney and go through extensive legal proceeding.