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The necessary steps towards building an Individualized Education Program (IEP) that is tailored to a child’s specific needs begins with the parents. Parents/guardians must play an active role and work with the IEP team by attending meetings, working towards implementing necessary related services, providing input about the child, commenting on which specific goals they feel are most important, and following up on progress reports and reevaluations to establish that the IEP is indeed achieving its predetermined goals and educating their child. Contacting the school to request an IEP evaluation is the first step in the IEP process. It is the responsibility of the parent to write a formal IEP evaluation request, which must be conducted by the school within 60 days of receiving parental consent for evaluation under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). This initial evaluation is designed to determine if the student “qualifies as a child with disability and the nature and extent of the educational needs of the child.” 1 The public agency conducting the evaluation is required to use a number of assessment tools to gather functional, academic, and developmental information. These tests will assess general intelligence, reading comprehension, psychological states, physical abilities, and interfering behavior.2 The public agency conducting the assessment is at liberty to obtain a medical diagnosis to determine whether a child has a particular disability, but must do so at no cost to the parents.1 Parental consent is required for any evaluations and assessments conducted by the school, but it is generally recommended that parents provide consent to keep the channels of progress open and to maintain a congenial relationship between parties. The result of the evaluation will include valuable information such as teacher and parent reports, evaluations by professionals, letters from the child’s doctor or counselor, evidence of school performance, prior assessments and evaluations, and will conclude with a summation of your child’s eligibility for special education and recommendations for how to meet your child’s needs.2
Before attending the initial meeting to create the IEP for the child, parents should do research about programs, placement options, related services, supplementary aids, local or state parent organizations, parents who have completed an IEP evaluation for their child, special education lawyers, internet resources, and local special education professionals.2 Preparing for the IEP meeting will allow parents to create a “blueprint” of their child’s IEP goals, programs, placement options, related services, and supplementary aids that can benefit all parties involved. A child deemed as having a disability, as defined by IDEA, is eligible for special education and related services and the IEP team must meet to create an IEP for the child within 30 calendar days of being considered eligible.3 Due to this fact, it is often advantageous for parents to conduct their research prior to even requesting an initial evaluation. The IEP team generally consists of the parents/guardians, at least one regular education teacher, at least one special education teacher, a school system representative, a transition services representative, an individual that can interpret the evaluation results, others with specific knowledge or special expertise of the child, and, when appropriate, the student.3 It is possible for a person to fulfill more than one role as the school system representative may also be qualified to interpret the evaluation results, for example. By law, parents are entitled to participate in IEP meetings as equal members of the IEP team.4 In general, the IEP team will consider the strengths of the child, the concerns of the parents for enhancing their child’s education, the results of the initial evaluation or most recent evaluation, and the academic, developmental, and functional needs of the child.5
To help ensure a productive and informative meeting, parents should bring their child’s school and medical records, written materials received from the school/school district, research about various programs and related services, and a tape recorder to help get notes for their records. Parents should use the IEP meeting as an opportunity to express any concerns over their child’s educational goals and are allowed to bring a private educational consultant or their personal behavior analyst to the initial meeting.2 For example, if parents are concerned about their child’s speech delay they can request a speech therapist, which is covered as a related service under IDEA. Smart IEP goals should be specific, measurable, time-limited, realistic, and should include the direction of behavior (increase, decrease, maintain, etc.), the area of need (writing, reading, social skills, etc.), and level of attainment (without assistance, at a certain grade level, etc.).6 A child’s IEP should not only assist him/her with their present academic education, but should also help prepare him/her for post-secondary education, gaining employment, and, most importantly, achieving independent living. In developing these goals, the IEP team should utilize the child’s educational assessments and tests as a baseline level of performance to determine “areas of need arising from the child’s disability so that approaches for ensuring the child’s involvement and progress in the general curriculum and any needed adaptations or modifications to that curriculum can be identified.”7 Parents should not feel obligated to sign the completed IEP immediately (be sure to sign the attendance page, however), but instead take time to review the goals, services, and other considerations of the entire IEP document at their leisure. If parents do not agree with any portion of the IEP plan, it is recommended that they send an e-mail or handwritten letter to the special education administrator, the school, and school district detailing their uncertainties, and they should be sure to keep a copy of the letter for their personal records.2 The IEP should be implemented immediately after is signed and agreed upon by all parties involved.
The job of the school is to make ensure IEP is being carried out as written, but parents should monitor their child’s progress by reviewing their child’s work, regularly requesting progress reports from teachers, and by focusing on areas where their child is excelling or struggling for when it comes time for reevaluation of the IEP. In addition to parents receiving a copy of the IEP document, the child’s teachers and service providers are aware of and responsible for the implementation of the accommodations, modifications, and support services dictated by the IEP.8 Many parents find it helpful to organize all documents concerning their child’s education, including report cards, attendance/discipline records, evaluations, correspondence between parents and the school, forms and informational materials sent by the school, and all health and medical records for upcoming IEP evaluations. Although the IEP is intended to be developed for a one-year period, the IEP team can make revisions when they feel it would be necessary or beneficial for the child. However, the school district is required to provide parents/guardians “prior written notice whenever it proposes of refuses to initiate or change the identification, evaluation, educational placement, or provision of a free appropriate public education to you child.”9 The Office of Superintendent of Public Education (OSPI) provides many examples of helpful IEP-related documents for both parents and professionals.
Parents and teachers are able to request a reevaluation of the child’s IEP at no more than once a year, but under IDEA, the IEP must be re-evaluated at least once every three years, unless both the parents and the school agree it is unnecessary.5 However, parents or the can request the IEP be reviewed if either party feels the child is not making progress towards their annual goals or has made more progress than predicated and needs new ones to be written.8 Under IDEA, reevaluations can occur if the educational agency determines that the educational or related service needs or the child warrant a reevaluation OR the child’s parents or teachers request an evaluation.5 During the reevaluation, the IEP team will review the child’s existing data including past evaluation, state assessments, observations by teachers and related service providers, and ideas for improving the IEP from any member of the IEP team. The reevaluation will determine if the child still requires certain related services or if the child requires additional modifications to their special education or related services.5 As with the initial evaluation, parent consent is needed before any reevaluations can take place. If parents are dissatisfied with the school’s evaluation they can request additional testing, seek out an independent evaluation at no cost to them, or request mediation or a due process hearing (only when all other avenues have been exercised).8 It is recommended that parents keep records of all documents exchanged between them and the school concerning their child’s IEP.