I am trying to catch up with my fellow A to Z Blogging Challengers
I am going to go back to my years as a special education teacher (in three different states) and make My I:
Individual Educational Plan or IEP
It is probably one of the most misunderstood documents in educational history. So we will start from the beginning.
The definition of Individual Education Plan/Program from Education.com
The Individualized Education Program (IEP) is a written document required for each child who is eligible to receive special education services. It is provided to a student who has been determined first to have a disability and, second, to need special education services because of that disability. The IEP, the team that develops it, and what it must contain are governed by Part B of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and amendments to it. The IEP provides information on children’s current levels of performance and directs the special services and supports that are provided to students who have IEPs. It includes provisions for defining annual goals, evaluating progress, and formalizing what is to be a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) for the student with the disability.
If you would like to see the “Official” definition along with a lot of education jargon and details go to idea.ed.gov
All of this sounds wonderful at first glance, but the problems start when parents of these students do not understand what exactly their child is/is not provided with so they can access the curriculum the same as their age/grade level peers. But who can blame them?? It is a pretty daunting task to read all of the laws, rules and regulations.
Throw in a child with special needs, a job, and the ups and downs of life, in general, and it really gets foggy. I have seen parents come into meetings with looks of fear and confusion which makes me queasy because no one should ever have those feelings about their child’s education– no matter WHAT!!!
As a teacher, I want my students’ parents to enter my room with a feeling of comfort and assurance. I want them to be able to ask me anything!!! Even if they think they should already know because their child has had an IEP for years or they think it will offend me!!
I NEVER judge a parent’s ability to wade through the education jargon. I know, as a parent myself, all they want is a loving environment where their child can learn along with their peers.
So with all that being written, I have decided to answer a couple of key parent questions (about IEPs) that have come up many times when I was a special education teacher.
If my child is given an IEP, will they be “labeled” for life?
Honestly, the correct answer is no, and maybe yes. The word “label” often has a very negative connotation in special education. Unfortunately, because it is a legal, government document that allows for specific modifications and accommodations to be made to an otherwise state official curriculum, we must give students “labels” connected to their disability or learning difference.
Sidenote: Being a member of the labeled society– I have Attention Deficit Disorder, I hate that we refer to a child’s learning DIFFERENCE as a disability. I don’t have a disability because I cannot focus for an extended period of time without meds. I am just different. I have a college degree, a job and am a productive member of society– well, for the most part anyway! That is why I like the term “Learning Difference” as opposed to disability. Forgive me– it is something that gets up in my crawl as my grandmother used to say!
Ok, ok– back to the question– notice the focus problem with me, now??? 😉
A student’s label can change over time or they can no longer need special education services and then, would not require a label at all. However, I want to point out that IF a student does require special education services for the length of their education, a label can provide an immense amount of assistance when it comes to receiving the best education possible. So a label is not necessarily a bad thing.
Think in terms of a student going off to college. If a student has been labeled during their k-12 years, they may be able to receive similar services in college to help them be successful there also. Most of the colleges I have been involved with have very good programs that are happy to provide students with modifications and accommodations across all areas of their college years.
What are the legal requirements of an IEP?
The legal requirements for the Individualized Education Plan/Program include what must be included in the IEP and the specifics of the process of how it will be implemented.
An IEP team must meet to write the IEP (as a committee in agreement) within 30 calendar days of the date that the child was determined eligible for special education services, and must reconvene every calendar year to assess the student’s progress and alter the plan as needed. Also, if a child has moved from a different school district, a team must meet to write an IEP for the child’s new district of service within 10 days (number of days may vary depending on the state of residence) of receiving the child’s IEP from their former district.
The team must include:
- the child’s parents (or guardians)
- a special education teacher (who provides instruction to the child)
- a general education teacher(who provides instruction to the child)
- a school or local education agency administrator (school counselor or additional teacher of service, for example)
- any other service provider (i.e. speech therapist, or occupational therapist)
- and, if appropriate, the child.
Sometimes, a person involved may fill more than one role during the meeting. For example, the general education teacher may also be the school/local agency representative.
The child’s participation is required when the IEP includes a focus on transition services, which must start by age 14 in most states but the age can vary. Other individuals may be members of the team, if the parents or school deem it necessary.
What are modifications and accommodations in an IEP?
It is important to state that Individual Disability Education Act does not specifically define accommodation or modification, but there is an unofficial agreement concerning the proper definitions within most educational entities.
An accommodation allows a student to complete the same assignment or test as other students, but with a change in the timing, formatting, setting, scheduling, response and/or presentation. This accommodation does not alter in any significant way what the test or assignment measures.
A modification is an adjustment to an assignment or a test that changes the standard or what the test or assignment is supposed to measure. Examples of possible modifications include a student completing work on part of a standard or a student completing an alternate assignment that is more easily achievable than the standard assignment.
I found both of these definitions at Wrights Law. It is an excellent source of special education information. They also have an excellent PDF document concerning accommodations and modifications. Click here to get your copy.
What if, as a parent, I do not agree with the school’s opinion about my child’s services?
As a parent, you have the right to voice any grievance you have with their decisions. It is important to remember that the IEP is written by the committee. It is NOT a decision based on one person’s opinion or their individual recommendations. Honestly, I have been in very few IEP meetings when the parents and service providers do not agree. For the most part, everyone sitting in these meetings, wants what is best for the child.
However, it is a parent’s right to disagree and it is the committee’s responsibility to document any grievances.
Should I sign an IEP that I do not agree with?
Yes. Like I mentioned, any disagreements should be documented. This does not mean that you must leave it at that. Your signature is not necessarily a gold seal of approval.
There are other actions to take if an agreement cannot be reached by all committee members. You can ask for (in writing to the school district) a mediation and/or due process hearing concerning the disagreements among the committee.
In most cases, when a district receives this request, they have 10 days to reply and schedule this process. Honestly, I have been a part of only one or two Due Process hearings in my career. They do not happen very often because, in most cases, the committee has the child’s best interest in mind and is willing to discuss until everyone is satisfied with the plan. However, if you are not happy with your child’s plan, do not hesitate to ask for additional hearings. It is you and your child’s right.
The reason I say sign the IEP is so that your child CAN receive services.
If you decline services, your child will not get the modifications or accommodations the IEP outlined. This could be detrimental to your child’s academic progress and their self esteem! In my opinion, it is much better to accept services, and follow up with another meeting, or mediation rather than refuse services all together.
If there are federal laws outlining special education, why so certain parts of the law vary from state to state??
Think of it as the federal regulations are the floor, and the states then get to set up their own ceilings. In other words, the federal government states outlines for the minimum requirements and services, but the states can each decide how much more they will define deadlines, requirements, and processes. Therefore, state laws about special education can vary to a certain degree, but the basis (federal laws) are the same.
Those are the most frequently asked questions (in my experience) about IEPs. If you have additional questions and are having trouble with finding answers, leave me a comment and I will try to find answers for you!
What has been your experience with Special Education? I would love to hear your stories.
Now I must go Stomp Out Ignorance!! I know. I know. It sounds corny, but the kids love when I say it!!