What is it?

Students in Special Education have an IEP meeting once a year to review progress, chart goals, and evaluate what services the student will receive for the upcoming year.

Who attends?

The meeting is usually attended by teachers, speech pathologists, occupational therapists, psychologists, a school representative and a district representative, the student (when appropriate), the student's parents or guardians, and any advocate the parents want to bring.

Why so many people?

The teachers and therapists are there to give reports and set goals. The school and district reps are there to make sure the budget isn't squandered and there is no danger of lawsuit if the child doesn't reach the goals set. The student attends when he or she can understand and be a productive part of the meeting, and the parents are there to make sure their child's educational needs are met.

So why is the IEP so scary for parents of special needs kids?

Because first they get to hear how far below normal their child is performing from the reports. It can be heartbreaking - especially if this is the first complete report of the child's skills and abilities. Tears are par for the course.

After that there are the recommendations of the experts. The experts are very hard to question. Is a half hour of speech therapy enough for a child who only has three words? What does OT mean? Is it individual or is it group? All the questions one wants to ask seem occur only on the way home.

The district representatives make it worse...interrupting the experts when they seem like they may be offering more services than the district is willing to pay for - so parents might feel that they aren't getting the whole picture.

Finally it's the parent's turn to talk. What should parents ask? How are they sure their child is getting everything he or she needs? Parents who have no experience and no help can feel powerless and bulldozed by everyone at the table. They are asked are asked to sign papers signifying that they understand and agree to the therapies offered.

So what should a parent do?

Educate yourself about the law. US law says that special needs children are entitled to "free appropriate education in the least restrictive environment". The law is also very specific about rights during an IEP meeting including:
   -the right to bring anyone to the meeting the parent desires including doctors, therapists, lawyers (though this is a last resort!) and friends
   -the right to an interpreter if English is not their first language
   -the right to not sign the IEP if they don't agree with any portion of it
   -the right to a second opinion paid for by the state/school district (depending on area)
Always remember that the decision-making process is 50/50. The school, experts, and administrators share one vote, and the parents have the other vote. The power is on the family's side.
Get support. Find an appropriate parenting organization for parents of special needs kids. Look in the yellow pages under parent support or parenting or visit The Technical Assistance Alliance for Parent Projects at http://www.taalliance.org/. If nothing local is listed call Easter Seals. They will help find doctors, advocates, and other services so parents are not alone.

A /msg in my inbox from noder Jennifer brings up a wonderful point. Often gifted and talented kids go through the same administrative process: "I was in gifted education and did my IEP every few years. Might want to add that in as falling under special ed too. My IEP was great-- gave me a lot more academic freedom in secondary school."

Thanks to Lometa, deep thought, and Jennifer for insightful additions to this write up. If you have experience in the IEP process, from a teacher, administrator, parent, or student viewpoint, I encourage you to node it below.

The IEP plays a dominant role in the special education process. As a major component of IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), the IEP is designed to facilitate an appropriate education for each student in the least restrictive environment. The IEP essentially occurs when the non-discriminatory evaluation team takes their evaluation and puts it into action. They design goals for the student, what educational requirements the student has, how they can best facilitate learning and basically how they can meet the needs of the student, including transition issues. For example, Regina must legally be placed in the least restrictive environment as per IDEA. Her IEP team, then, must decide what that environment is and set up goals and guidelines that will guarantee the her success. It’s important that the team include the parents, the teachers, and other officials so that the all bases are covered and the needs of the student are expressed.After the plan is set, the child’s additional resources/services/needs, such as resource room time, are often met through specialized instructors.

Components of the IEP

  1. Present level of performance: how the student is doing at the moment, using clearly specified descriptions/definitions. (Judy has mastered some fine motor skills, which include coloring in the lines, etc)

  2. Goals, Objectives, Benchmarks: by listing specific goals, making a plan of attack, and constructing success points, there is no confusion about what sort of education is appropriate for the student. (Robert’s goal is to make the transition into the work force. To do that he will apply for a job, receive training, etc. We will know Robert has been successful when he has received praise from employers, when he’s been with the company for so long, etc.)

  3. Special Education Services: what does the child need in addition to the regular classroom resources? How can we provide these services, and how often do they need to be provided? (Rachel is hearing impaired. She will need her teacher to wear a special microphone/headset so she can hear him well.)

  4. Related Services: what needs does the child have which cannot be met at school? (Ben is seeing a therapist to learn anger management skills.)

  5. Justification of Non-participation: the IEP team must have valid reasons for excluding a child from a particular activity to make sure the LRE requirement is being met. (Andrew will not participate in p.e. class when there are strenuous activities because of his severe asthma and heart palpitations.)

  6. Modification of State Assessments: will mandatory testing have to be modified for this student in order to be accurate? How so, and why? (Libby is dyslexic and will need longer than the allotted 45 minutes for the reading comprehension portion of the test.)

  7. Timelines: alongside specific expectations, estimations of time needed are paramount. These timelines should extend from previous IEPs into future plans whenever possible. (A timeline of Jake’s transitional phase helps his parents see visually how he is being prepared for life after school.)

  8. Measurement of Progress: Exactly how the team will determine the student’s growth and achievement is an important component of the IEP as it constructs a solid determinant of the student's success. (Carolyn’s behavioral conflicts will be charted on a map. Every time Carolyn misbehaves, a check is placed on the chart. If the checks become fewer and further between, that’s progress.)

  9. Transition: Once the student has reached the age of about 14, the IEP will need to include ways in which s/he is being prepared for life outside of school. This helps the student realize the myriad of possibilities available after high school and also provides support so that s/he may explore those possibilities. (Randy has an after-school job and is learning with the help of his team how to care for himself, keep a budget, etc.)

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