The Individualized Education Program, called the IEP, provides individual support to students with special needs to obtain their education goals. This includes students with learning disabilities, as well as gifted and talented students. Fredericksburg Parent & Family recently spoke to S. Roni Avery, MEd., BSCE, BSIT, BBA; Educational Advocate & Cogmed Coach at Pediatric Partners for Attention & Learning on the IEWP process.
Fredericksburg Parent: What is an IEP?
S. Roni Avery: The IEP, Individualized Education Program, is a written document that's developed for each public school child who is eligible for special education used to manage a student's overall educational program. It is designed to address the student's specific and individual needs through established goals and to implement services that are appropriate in meeting the needs.
FP: Who needs an IEP?
SRA: Students with delayed skills and/or disabilities are provided IEPs that are directly related to their specific type of disability and their needs as identified through comprehensive assessments. Students struggling in school may qualify for support services, allowing them to be taught in a special way, for reasons such as: learning disabilities, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), emotional disorders, cognitive challenges, autism, hearing impairment, visual impairment, speech or language impairment and developmental delay.
FP: How is the need determined and by whom?
SRA: A child may be referred by two different methods:
Referral or request for evaluation. A school professional may ask that a child be evaluated to see if he or she has a disability. Parents may also contact the child's teacher or other school professional to ask that their child be evaluated. This request may be verbal or in writing. Parental consent is needed before the child may be evaluated. Evaluation needs to be completed within a reasonable time after the parent gives consent.
"Child Find." The state must identify, locate and evaluate all children with disabilities in the state that need special education and related services. To do so, states conduct "Child Find" activities. A child may be identified by "Child Find" and parents may be asked if the "Child Find" system can evaluate their child. Parents can also call the "Child Find" system and ask that their child be evaluated.
FP: Who administers an IEP?
SRA: A group of qualified professionals and the parents look at the child's evaluation results. Together, they decide if the child is a "child with a disability," as defined by IDEA. Parents may ask for a hearing to challenge the eligibility decision. The IEP team may also include additional individuals with knowledge or special expertise about the child. The parent or the school system can invite these individuals to participate on the team.
Parents, for example, may invite an advocate who knows the child, a professional with special expertise about the child and his or her disability, or others (such as a vocational educator who has been working with the child) who can talk about the child's strengths and/or needs.
The school system may invite one or more individuals who can offer special expertise or knowledge about the child, such as a paraprofessional or related services professional. Because an important part of developing an IEP is considering a child's need for related services, related service professionals are often involved as IEP team members or participants. They share their special expertise about the child's needs and how their own professional services can address those needs.
Depending on the child's individual needs, some related service professionals attending the IEP meeting or otherwise helping to develop the IEP might include occupational or physical therapists, adaptive physical education providers, psychologists, or speech-language pathologists.
By law, certain individuals must be involved in writing a child's Individualized Education Program. These are:
o the child's parents
o at least one of the child's special education teachers or providers
o at least one of the child's regular education teachers (if the student is, or may be, participating in the regular education environment)
o a representative of the school system
o an individual who can interpret the evaluation results
o representatives of any other agencies that may be responsible for paying for or providing transition services (if the student is 16 years or, if appropriate, younger)
o the student, as appropriate
o other individuals who have knowledge or special expertise about the child
FP: How are IEPs administered?
SRA: The IEP Team work together as a team to write the child's IEP. A meeting to write the IEP must be held within 30 calendar days of deciding that the child is eligible for special education and related services.
Each team member brings important information to the IEP meeting. Members share their information and work together to write the child's Individualized Education Program. Each person's information adds to the team's understanding of the child and what services the child needs.
Each team member administers assessments based on his or her area of expertise as a member of the team.
Before the school system may provide special education and related services to the child for the first time, the parents must give consent. The child begins to receive services as soon as possible after the meeting.
FP: What do the results tell the school system? How do the results affect the educational course of the child?
SRA: Virginia requires that all IEPs contain a present level of academic achievement and functional performance, commonly referred to as the present level of performance (PLOP), goals statement, accommodations and /or modifications and service statements. The IEP also includes the student's level of nonparticipation with peers in the general education setting, how the student will participate in state assessments, and methods of assessing and reporting student progress. In addition, for students beginning with the first IEP to be in effect when the student is age 14, the IEP must address secondary transition. It should be noted that in a standards-based IEP, the PLOP and some or all of the annual goals are connected to the specific grade-level SOL. This creates a program that is aimed at getting the student to a proficient level on state standards in addition to addressing functional and/or behavioral needs of the student, as needed.
FP: Can a parent contest or object to an IEP or to the results? What are a parent's legal rights in regards to IEPs?
SRA: Many school districts along with federal laws set specific timelines to ensure the development of an IEP moves from referral to providing services as quickly as possible. Be sure to ask about this timeframe and get a copy of your parents' rights when your child is referred. These guidelines (sometimes called procedural safeguards) outline your rights as a parent to control what happens to your child during each step of the process.
The parents' rights also describe how you can proceed if you disagree with any part of the CER or the IEP — mediation and hearings both are options. You can get information about low-cost or free legal representation from the school district or, if your child is in Early Intervention (for kids ages 3 to 5), through that program.
Attorneys and paid advocates familiar with the IEP process will provide representation if you need it. You also may invite anyone who knows or works with your child whose input you feel would be helpful to join the IEP team.
FP: Do you have any additional wisdom or concluding thoughts to share?
SRA: Parents have the right to decide where their kids will be educated. This choice includes public or private elementary schools and secondary schools, including religious schools. It also includes charter schools and home schools.
However, it is important to understand that the rights of children with disabilities who are placed by their parents in private elementary schools and secondary schools are not the same as those of kids with disabilities who are enrolled in public schools or placed by public agencies in private schools when the public school is unable to provide a free appropriate public education (FAPE).
Two major differences that parents, teachers, other school staff, private school representatives, and the kids need to know about are:
1. Children with disabilities who are placed by their parents in private schools may not get the same services they would receive in a public school.
2. Not all kids with disabilities placed by their parents in private schools will receive services.
The IEP process is complex, but it's also an effective way to address how a child learns and functions. If you have concerns, don't hesitate to ask questions about the evaluation findings or the goals recommended by the team. Parents know their child best and should play a vital role in creating a learning plan tailored to his or her specific needs.