An Individualized Education Plan (IEP) is the written document which guides your child's educational program. It provides detailed information about your child's annual goals, special education services, supports, modifications, accommodations and aids as well as information about your child's present educational performance and transition services, if appropriate.
The IEP is drafted at an IEP Team meeting. The IEP Team which includes the parents, general education teacher, special education teacher, district representative who is knowledgeable about district programs and resources, therapists, evaluators, the child, if appropriate, and other relevant participants, will develop the IEP.
In order to make sure that the IEP is drafted well and includes all of the relevant information, the parent might find it useful to ask the following types of questions at Team meetings:
- In what way is my child legally disabled? Federal law requires that a child be disabled according to the definition set forth in the statute in order to qualify for special education. However, it is important for the parent to make sure that the proper disability (or primary disability if a child has more than one disability) is identified so that proper services can be provided.
- In what ways does my child's disability require changes in the school setting? In other words, how does the disability affect my child's ability to learn in the way in which the curriculum is typically provided to general education students? The term "special education services" encompasses a broad array of changes to the typical school setting. You want to make sure that the types of services that your child is going to receive are tailored to meet the needs of his or her disability. For example, some children with disabilities that present with attention issues may need to be removed from the classroom for small amounts of time during the school day in order to work directly with a special education teacher. Other students might benefit from a one on one paraprofessional in the classroom. Ask the school district to be specific in its recommendations about changing the typical school setting for your child and insist that they tie any proposed changes to your child's specific needs.
- What kind of specially designed instruction will benefit my child? By definition, a student is eligible for special education if he or she has a qualifying disability and is in need of specially designed instruction. Specially designed instruction means adapting the content, methodology or delivery of instruction to address the individual needs of the child that result from the child's disability and to ensure the child access to the general curriculum so that the child can meet the district's academic standards. The Team must therefore consider what type of specially designed instruction will benefit your child, based on your child's needs, not upon the needs of all children with the same disability or the availability of resources in the school district.
- What academic standards make sense for your child? As a parent, you want to make sure that your child is challenged to the greatest extent possible given his or her disability but that the child is not put in a position in which he or she can never realistically meet the academic standards set forth by the district. The IEP should explain the specific standards that your child should be able to achieve, given proper instruction and support, in one calendar year (or less time if agreed upon by the IEP Team.)
- What is the least restrictive environment (LRE) in which your child can learn effectively? The law requires that students with disabilities be educated with their non disabled peers to the greatest extent possible. That means that the Team should first consider whether a child can remain in the regular classroom, for all or part of a day, with supplementary aids and supports. If it is determined that the child cannot learn effectively in the general education classroom with proper aids and supports then the child can be educated in a separate class for part or all of the day. A separate school can also be considered. It is important to remember that while there is a legal preference for keeping children in the general education classroom as much as possible, that preference only exists if the special education student can learn effectively in such an environment.
- Who is going to provide the agreed upon services and where will the services be provided? Once the IEP Team, including the parent, reaches a consensus about special education services, it is important for the parent to ask who is going to provide the services and for the Team to document the answer in the IEP. For example, the Team might agree that the child needs 5 thirty minute sessions of special education instruction weekly. The parent should ask whether a certified special education teacher will be delivering the services or whether a paraprofessional or general education teacher will be responsible for the delivery of services. Also, the parent should inquire about whether the services will be provided in the general education classroom, in a small group setting or whether they will be 1:1 services.
There is a lot to think about while the Team is drafting the IEP. The questions described above are meant to help the Team focus on your individual child and create a truly individualized education program that will help the child learn effectively and progress to the greatest extent possible.