The term “IEP” comes up often when discussing special education programs in public schools. If you have a child with a disability who’s about to enter school, or if you think your child may have a learning disability because he or she is struggling in school, you may want to learn more about IEPs if you haven’t already.
What is an IEP?
An IEP is a legally binding document that lists exactly what types of special education your child will receive and the reasons why. This will include your child’s disability classification, placement, services and therapies, academic and behavioral goals and plans, percentage of time in regular education, and progress reports from teachers and therapists.
In the U.S., the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires public schools to develop an IEP for every student who has a disability and who meets federal and state requirements for special education.
How Do I Know My Child is Eligible for an IEP?
Before the school can prepare an IEP for a child, they must determine whether or not the child is eligible. The child’s disability must have an adverse effect on his or her educational progress. If you think your child is having trouble learning in school and could benefit from a specialized education plan, you should contact your child’s teacher and ask to have your child evaluated. If the teacher does not think an evaluation is necessary, you can also go to the school counselor or special education department and request an evaluation.
The school will complete a full evaluation of the child in the areas of suspected disability. Then the qualified professionals from the school meet with the parents to review the results and the child’s current performance in school in order to determine whether an IEP is needed.
If you do not agree with the school’s evaluation, you also have the right to take you child to have an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE).
What Happens at an IEP Meeting?
If your child is found eligible for an IEP, an IEP team must meet to write an individual plan for the child within 30 days. The team includes the student and the student’s parent(s) or guardian(s), along with at least one special education teacher, regular teacher, school district representative, and someone who can interpret the child’s evaluation, such as the school psychologist.
The team discusses and develops a plan specifically tailored to the child’s needs, whether or not the school district has pre-existing programs for those needs. Just because a school district has never had a child with needs like yours doesn’t mean they can’t provide the services he or she requires.
After the initial meeting, annual meetings are held to evaluate your child’s progress and to develop the program for the next year. Your child is also entitled to a reevaluation every three years, so part of these annual meetings is to determine whether or not a reevaluation is necessary.
How Should I Prepare for an IEP Meeting?
IEP meetings can be very emotional and difficult. Sometimes they are very open and honest, but there can also be game-playing, intimidation, and disagreements. The beginning stages of the evaluation and planning process can be especially hard because you may feel as if professionals only see your child for his or her disability. A number of problems can arise during the meetings as well. You may not agree with the school’s recommendations. You may want you child moved to a different classroom or school. You may feel that the school isn’t doing enough to help your child achieve his or her educational goals.
Don’t be discouraged – these meetings can also be wonderful opportunities to collaborate with the school and help your child in ways you could not do on your own. But if issues do arise, you may consider consulting a qualified professional outside of the school to come up with alternatives.
The best thing to remember is that your child is entitled to a “free and appropriate education” through IDEA. You don’t have to settle for anything less than what you feel is necessary. When working with educational professionals and bureaucracy, you can get the best results by using their terminology. For example, you could request to have a highly-structured classroom format because it is the “most appropriate” solution for someone with your child’s disability. You’ll sound like more than a concerned parent – you’ll show them that you truly understand what’s best for your child.
Andrea Erins has been a college professor for 16years and writes about various topics related to education. She is the owner of the site Education Degrees.