What is an IEP?

The Individualized Education Program, typically called IEP, is a legal written document for each child with a disability that is developed, reviewed and revised in accordance with the law called Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). An IEP is meant to supplement or replace the curriculum that governs the education program for children who do not have disabilities. The IEP is the legal document that will guide teachers and other educational professionals in the methods and strategies that will be used to educate the child. As parents, you have a significant role to play in the development of the IEP for your child. Each IEP should include a written statement of the child’s strengths, parent concerns for enhancing the child’s education, results of the initial evaluation and the academic, developmental and functional needs of the child.

Who creates the IEP?

The IEP Team is made up of the parent, student, school psychologist, school nurse, special education teacher, regular education teacher, school social worker, special education coordinator, occupational therapists, physical therapists, speech language pathologists, behavior specialists and building principal or administrator.

When there is concern that a child may need special education services, the school district has 60 days, after receiving the parent’s signature of approval, to complete the evaluations and meet with the parent. The evaluation process is conducted by a Multidisciplinary Evaluation Team (MET). MET members are determined based on the information received at the referral. Each specialist prepares a written report of findings to review with the team and the parent(s). Parents can request a copy of the reports up to a week prior to the meeting.

Parents meet with the MET to review their findings and if special education services are appropriate, the MET and the parents together become the IEP Team and develop the IEP. However, the parent can adjourn the MET meeting and request that it be reconvened within the next 30 days, in order to have additional time to review the findings.

Parents have an important role in helping to set the goals and objectives and they may invite to any meeting, person(s) they would like to include for any reason. Should parents not feel qualified to take on this responsibility, they can request an advocate to assist them at meetings (the school district must provide a list of agencies that supply advocates from their school district). If you do exercise this option, allow sufficient time to secure an advocate. It is highly recommended by some districts that minutes of all IEP meetings be recorded and signed as documentation. The minutes are not legally part of the IEP but can serve as a reference if needed.

One time a year the school district is required to offer to the parents/guardians a copy of Procedural Safeguards (a written account of the legal rights afforded to parents and children).

Are the guidelines the same for every state?

Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (2004) is an amendment to the original IDEA reauthorized by Congress in 2004. The Amendment defines that each state must be within the statutes and guidelines consistent with federal law. State laws must not diminish or reduce the rights of children receiving special education but may provide children with more rights and protections. The rules vary from state to state and when state law conflicts with federal law, federal law is supreme.

The Initial IEP

The initial IEP is the most challenging IEP to create because it serves as an educational guide and justifies the need for the federal funding of programs and services. Be aware that the meeting may take more than an hour because identifying the needs and services sometimes requires in depth IEP Team discussions.

For a child with a disorder of the corpus callosum, having a written report or letter that details the child’s medical condition(s) and explains how these conditions impact all academic, social, physical and emotional capabilities can be quite beneficial. The report/letter should come from a neurodevelopmental pediatrician, a child psychiatrist, or a neurologist. As a parent you should be able to report when the child achieved various developmental milestones: crawling, cruising, early sounds, first words, first sentences, etc.

The initial IEP will sometimes need to go through several revisions, particularly if progress is made very quickly. Do not hesitate to call an IEP meeting if you have concerns about your child’s progress.

The Ongoing IEP

The IEP is reviewed annually by the team and subsequent IEPs tend to build on the previous one. Present Levels of Academic Achievement and Functional Performance will be reviewed, followed by discussion of the child’s progress on Objectives and Goals. Items from the Objectives and Goals may be either closed out or renewed and new goals may be added. It is essential that Objectives and Goals in the IEP be verifiable and measurable on an annual basis. Each item must include details about what the child is expected to achieve and how that achievement will be measured. It is very important that the goals and objectives are developmentally appropriately for your child. The following sections of the IEP relate to funding of related services, supplemental supports that might be needed, state mandated formal assessments, and the accommodations that are needed for the child.

If at any time, during the year you wish to hold a conference to discuss your child’s IEP goals and objectives, you have the legal right to call a meeting.

Transition Services

The term Transition Services means a coordinated set of activities that are designed to improve a child’s academic and functional achievement in such a manner that facilitates the child’s movement from school to post school activities. Post-school options include post-secondary education, vocational education, integrated employment (including supported employment), continuing and adult education, adult services, independent living, or community participation. Transition is based on the child’s individual needs, strengths and weaknesses, and preferences and interests. It may include instruction, related services, acquisition of daily living skills and a functional vocational evaluation.

Before the IEP and/or Transition Meeting

Before the IEP meeting, parents can acquire or prepare the following documents for any IEP and/or Transition conferences:

  • A written summary of the parents’ view of the current educational status of the child. This is helpful so that you remember what you want the team to know about your child.
  • You should be able to rely on the IEP Team to provide test scores and evaluations that were performed by school personnel.
  • Bring any outside reports and test scores from any evaluations that have been recently obtained.
  • It is a good idea to compose a list of the educational and ancillary services you believe your child will need to make ‘appropriate’ progress in general education and as they transition out of high school. The Team will come prepared with their recommendations for your child. Keep in mind that the key to a smooth transition for your student is rooted in collaboration between parent and school.

The IEP process sometimes includes informal discussions between the parents, teachers, and members of the IEP Team and it is a good idea to have a notebook to write down ideas that are put forward in these discussions. Keep copies of all documents in a safe place. Do not hesitate to ask the case manager if you have misplaced documents because school districts maintain a database where items can be retrieved should you need them.

During the IEP Meeting

Come prepared to make decisions at the IEP meeting but do not feel pushed into any decision that you are not ready to make. It is appropriate to ask for a meeting be adjourned, if you need additional time or information. Individual teachers and specialists will present their view of your child’s capability and recommendations for future programs. If your child is placed in a setting that you disagree with, request existing data to be reviewed to consider the “least restrictive environment.” Sometimes the least restrictive environment changes as a child develops and matures because needs change. It is appropriate to request that minutes be taken during the meeting so that you have a written account of the meeting and/or audiotape the meeting for your records.

Concluding the IEP Meeting

At the end of the meeting, be sure you have a list of action Items for all parties. These items are formally recorded on the page called, Prior Written Notice. These items are directed based on verbal agreements made during the meeting. You will be asked to sign an attendance sheet confirming that you participated in developing the IEP. You can sign that you participated; however, it is advisable to request and review the draft IEP before signing the working (finalized) IEP signature page. If you do not sign within 5 or 10 days (check the law for your state) the IEP can be implemented without your signature. You have the right to refuse to sign or to sign that you are in disagreement with the IEP. Any changes that you would like to see made might require additional IEP meetings before the IEP is finalized.