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What is an IEP? (Individualized Education Program)

Authored By: Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma, Inc. LSC Funded

Information

What is an IEP?
A child with delayed skills or other disabilities might be eligible for special services that provide individualized education programs in public schools, free of charge to families.

An Individualized Education Program (IEP):

  • Is a written statement.
  • Is for a child with delayed skills or other disabilities.
  • Is developed, reviewed, and revised in a meeting at the beginning of each school year.
  • May be requested by either the school or parent at any time.
  • Describes the goals the team sets for a child during the school year.
  • Describes as any special support the child will need to help achieve them.

Who Needs an IEP?
A child who has difficulty learning and functioning.
A child who has been identified as a special needs student .

Typical reasons to request support services allowing a child to be taught in a special way are:

  • learning disabilities
  • attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • emotional disorders
  • mental retardation
  • autism
  • hearing impairment
  • visual impairment
  • speech or language impairment
  • developmental delay

How Are Services Delivered?
The goal of these services is to provide the child's education in the least restrictive environment possible.
Children stay in a regular classroom, but the child may be places in a special class if his needs are
best met in a special class.

Most cases:
Services and goals outlined in an IEP can be provided in a standard school environment.
Regular classroom or in a special resource room in the regular school.
(For example, one teacher may help a small group of children who need extra assistance while another teacher works with the other children on the same subject.)

Intense intervention:
May be taught in a special school environment.
Fewer students per teacher allowing for more individualized attention.
Teachers usually have specific training in teaching children with special educational needs.
The child spends most of the in a special classroom and joins the regular classes for nonacademic activities in which they do not need extra help.

The Referral and Evaluation Process
The referral process generally begins when a teacher, parent, or doctor is concerned that a child may be having trouble in the classroom, and the teacher notifies the school counselor or psychologist. The first step is to gather specific data regarding the student's progress or academic problems.

This may be done through:

  • a conference with parents
  • a conference with the student
  • observation of the student
  • analysis of the student's performance (attention, behavior, work completion, tests, class work, homework, etc.)


This information helps the school decide what strategies specific to the student could be used to help the child become more successful in school.
The student may be tested for a specific learning disability or other impairment to help determine qualification for special services.

The presence of a disability does not automatically guarantee a child will receive services.
To be eligible, the disability must affect functioning at school.

Eligibility
To determine eligibility, a multidisciplinary team of professionals will evaluate the child based on their observations; the child's performance on standardized tests; and daily work such as tests, quizzes, class work, and homework.

Who's On the Team?
The professionals on the evaluation team can include:

  • a psychologist
  • a physical therapist
  • an occupational therapist
  • a speech therapist
  • a special educator
  • a vision or hearing specialist
  • others, depending on the child's specific needs


As a parent, you can decide whether to have your child assessed. If you choose to do so, you'll be asked to sign a permission form that will detail who is involved in the process and the types of tests they use. These tests might include measures of specific school skills, such as reading or math, as well as more general developmental skills, such as speech and language. Testing does not necessarily mean that a child will receive services.

Once the team members complete their individual assessments, they develop a comprehensive evaluation report (CER) that compiles their findings, offers an educational classification, and outlines the skills and support the child will need. The parents then have a chance to review the report before the IEP is developed. Some parents will disagree with the report, but they will have the opportunity to work together with the school to come up with a plan that best meets the child's needs.

Developing an IEP
What am I supposed to agree to? The parent does not have to agree to anything.

What do I do? You want to talk to an advocate who will inform you of the content that you want in your child's IEP. Most importantly, you want the plan individualized and specific to address the needs of your child.

The IEP Meeting
The next step is an IEP meeting at which the team and parents decide what will go into the plan. In addition to the evaluation team, a regular teacher should be present to offer suggestions about how the plan can help the child's progress in the standard education curriculum.

At the meeting, the team will discuss your child's educational needs ? as described in the CER ? and come up with specific, measurable short-term and annual goals for each of those needs. If you attend this meeting, you can take an active role in developing the goals and determining which skills or areas will receive the most attention.

The cover page of the IEP outlines the support services your child will receive and how often they will be provided.
Support services might include special education, speech therapy, occupational or physical therapy, counseling, audiology, medical services, nursing, vision or hearing therapy, and many others.

If the team recommends several services, the amount of time they take in the child's school schedule can seem overwhelming. A professional may consult with the teacher to come up with strategies to help the child but doesn't offer any hands-on instruction. For instance, an occupational therapist may suggest accommodations for a child with fine-motor problems that affect handwriting, and the classroom teacher would incorporate these suggestions into the handwriting lessons taught to the entire class.

Other services can be delivered right in the classroom, so the child's day isn't interrupted by therapy. The child who has difficulty with handwriting might work one on one with an occupational therapist while everyone else practices their handwriting skills. When deciding how and where services are offered, the child's comfort and dignity should be a top priority.
The IEP will be reviewed annually to update the goals and make sure the levels of service meet your child's needs. However, IEPs can be changed at any time on an as-needed basis. If you think your child needs more, fewer, or different services, you can request a meeting and bring the team together to discuss your concerns.

Your Legal Rights
You are not required to sign and IEP and should not if you disagree in any way.

You have the right to review the IEP and can then either decide to sign or may attach comments on a form provided on the Oklahoma State Department of Education website http://sde.state.ok.us/.

If not all issues are adequately addressed, IEP team is required to convene as many meetings as it takes.

Specific timelines ensure that 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.

Public vs. Private Schools
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.'

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.

For more

information, the government has a website to educate anyone about IDEA: http://idea.ed.gov.

Last Review and Update: Apr 10, 2012
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