What is an IEP?
For some students, a new school year could be a time of excitement, happiness, and joy. A new school year is also intimidating and it could bring new challenges that can get in the way of positive learning experiences and outcomes, especially for students with disabilities. In preparation for a new school year, parents and students face new questions that can bring worry and anxiety. Questions such as “Will I like my teacher?”, “Is the new school inclusive for students with disabilities?”, “Is the built environment accessible?”, and “Are the teachers prepared to teach students with disabilities?” All of these questions can bring a lot of anxiety to students.
Know your child’s rights
In order help students to be successful in school, it is extremely important for parents to be knowledgeable and involved in the education process. Parents are the best education advocates until the student is able to speak up for themselves. Parents should know the rights that safeguard students with a disability. All students have the rights to a free and appropriate public education (FAPE). The student might have the right to accommodations such as more time while taking a test or taking a test on a computer instead of a written test.
Here are some ways to be an effective advocate for your child:
• Be informed about your child’s learning needs.
• Keep organized records including report cards, progress reports, Individualized Education Program (IEP), medical records, evaluations, and others.
• Build relationships with teachers, psychologist, therapists, and other support staff.
• Ask questions about what is written in the IEP. Make sure you understand what is written in the IEP.
• Communicate with your child and ask if the proposed accommodations are being used.
• Communicate regularly by emailing the teacher and by attending PTA meetings and conferences.
What is an IEP?
The law requires that students classified as needing special education have an IEP. The school staff has the responsibility to provide special education services that are documented by an IEP team during a meeting. The IEP team includes the student and his or her parents, the student’s teachers, a counselor, an administrator, and a special education coordinator or teacher. The IEP has two general purposes: 1) to set reasonable learning goals for a student, and 2) to state the services that the school district will provide for the student. This is why it is so important that you understand and help develop your child’s IEP.
Be an active IEP team member
Parents know their child strengths, abilities, and what makes them unique. This information is relevant and necessary during the IEP meetings. Parents are one of the most important members of an IEP team. During an IEP meeting, communicate what is important to you and to your child, your concerns, your child’s interests, likes and dislikes, and learning styles. By being an active IEP team member, you can ensure that your child’s IEP is developed with thought given to long-term needs for a successful adult life.
The school must make a reasonable effort and accommodations to ensure that you can attend and participate in the meeting. For example, if needed, a school should provide an interpreter for you. The school is responsible for informing you about the meeting and informing you of your rights and where to find help in understanding them. If you can’t attend the meeting, the school should find alternative formats for you to participate such as individual or conference telephone calls or video conferencing.
The school is responsible for carrying out the child’s IEP and that every teacher and service provider know their specific responsibilities for carrying out the IEP. The IEP team will determine annual goals for the student. Appropriate assessments should also be discussed to ensure these goals are met. Progress reports must be given to parents at least as often as parents are informed of the progress of students withouth disabilities.
What if the parent has a dispute?
The student’s IEP is reviewed by the IEP team at least once a year. Parents can request for the IEP to be reviewed sooner if they have any concerns. Again, parents are part of the review process and they can agree, disagree, or make suggestions for changes to the initial IEP. The meeting can be facilitated by an impartial person that is not an active member of the team but, rather, is there to keep the IEP team focused on developing the child’s program while addressing conflicts as they arise.
The Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) has safeguards in place to ensure that parents can dispute and resolve conflicts to provide free appropriate public education. If parents do not agree with the IEP, they may discuss their concerns with other members of the IEP team and try to work out an agreement. There are several options, including additional testing, an independent evaluation, or asking for mediation, or a due process hearing. They may also file a complaint with the state education agency.
Formal approaches to resolve a dispute
In mediation, parents and school personnel meet with an impartial person (mediator) and they talk openly about the areas where there is a disagreement. Mediation provides a positive, less adversarial approach to resolving disputes between parents and school systems. With the assistance of a skilled and impartial mediator, the parties involved in the dispute can communicate openly and respectfully about their differences as they try to reach an agreement.
A formal state complaint may be filed by parents or a local or out-of-state organization. The complaint is written directly to the State Education Agency (SEA). The complaint must describe what requirement of the IDEA the school has violated.
During a due process hearing, each party has the opportunity to present their views in a formal legal setting, using witnesses, testimony, documents, and legal arguments that they believe are important for the hearing officer to consider. Since the due process hearing is a legal proceeding, a party will often choose to be represented by an attorney.
Resource for a dispute resolution
The Center for Appropiate Dispute Resolution in Special Education (CADRE) serve on behalf of the Office of Special Education Programs at the U.S. Department of Education. CADRE works to increase the nation’s capacity to prevent and resolve special education and early intervention disputes by fostering productive home/school/provider partnerships and the use of collaborative processes to improve outcomes for children and youth with disabilities. CADRE assists states with implementation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) procedural safeguard provisions and the development of high-performing dispute resolution systems through the identification and dissemination of exemplary practices related to program design, implementation, evaluation, and improvement.
Your state will have specific ways for parents and schools to resolve their differences. If you would like to find out more details about the process for your state, contact the the local department of special education to access the state’s guidelines. If you are not able to find the information locally, contact the State Department of Education and ask for a copy of their special education policies. You may also wish to call the Parent Training and Information (PTI) Center in your state. The PTI centers help to resolve problems between families and schools or other agencies.
Developing an IEP is a learning process. You will be more comfortable with the IEP process with time. Always be prepared to fully participate during the IEP process. Make sure your mind is in a good place when you attend the meetings. Some of the information shared in the meetings can be very emotional, and this can hinder your ability to reason and make the best decisions for your child. After a meeting, you might be asked to sign the IEP document. Know that you are not required to sign the IEP immediately. You can ask for more time to think about what was discussed and how the interventions, accommodations, and modifications proposed in the meeting will affect your child. Finally, remember that when parents and schools work in unison, there is a better chance for positive results.