Sunday, November 1, 2009

Let's Talk IEPs!!

Let’s talk IEPs!
Last time I blogged about the very beginnings of the special education process, through the evaluation step. This time, let’s talk about determining eligibility and developing the Individual Education Program (IEP). IEP development is one of the most important, if not the most important step, of the whole process. Without a solid IEP, we can have inappropriate services and placements, both of which can cause real problems for kids, families, and school districts.
First off, we need to look at the evaluation information and determine whether or not a child qualifies, or is eligible, as educationally disabled. There are two prongs to this decision. The team first looks at whether or not the child has a disability, such as a learning disability, ADHD, an emotional disturbance, or a speech and language impairment. Then, the team must consider whether or not the disability impacts the child’s ability to learn and whether or not the child needs “specialized instruction” and “related services” in order to learn. If the child has both a disability and the need for specialized instruction, then the child will qualify as educationally disabled under the federal special education law (IDEA 2004, or the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act).
Once the team makes the decision that a child is eligible, the next step is developing the IEP. The school has 30 days, once the parent signs agreement to the eligibility decision, to create the IEP. (of course, at any time, if the school and parents disagree, there are dispute resolution mechanisms that families and/or school districts can pursue….I will talk about those in upcoming posts)
So what is an IEP, exactly? Here is the quick version:
IEP stands for “Individualized Education Program”. The IEP is the document that the team creates that describes the strengths and needs of the student, current levels of performance, the goals for the year for the student---what the team thinks the child needs to work on and improve, and the objectives—shorter term benchmarks to measure progress toward the bigger goal. The IEP also includes the services and related services that the school will offer as support and instruction to the child. The IEP will outline things such as whether or not a child will have a one on one aide, whether or not the child will work with other specialists such as a reading specialist, speech and language pathologist, or occupational therapist, and whether or not any special equipment is needed, such as a computer, an FM transmitter system, or books on tape, etc. The IEP also lists any special accommodations or modifications the child needs in the classroom or during the school day. Things like a quiet room to take a test in, having modified homework requirements, having the teacher use a lot of visuals, readings provided at the student’s level, use of a skeletal outline to take notes, etc. A decision about ESY (extended school year) is also a section of the IEP, and one of the most important things in an IEP for older students is the Transition Plan. This HAS to be included in the IEP in NH of a student who is 16 and up. The transition plan, which I will devote a whole other post to later, needs to include activities and supports to prepare students for the world after high school---whether that might be the world of work, college, the military, etc.
Once the team drafts the IEP, a parent has 14 days to sign or consent to the IEP. I always recommend that parents take their time in making the decision on the IEP. Parents shouldn’t be pressured to sign it right away. Parents can sign that they agree to the whole document, they can agree to the IEP with exceptions, or they can disagree with the whole document. Once parents signs the IEP, a decision about the student’s placement will then be made.
Lots of questions and discussion can be had in meetings about IEPs. What makes a good IEP? What are appropriate services? What does the school need to offer to make sure the child has access to FAPE (free appropriate public education)?
Creating a solid, appropriate IEP is paramount in the special ed process. What are your questions surrounding IEPs? More details on how to develop an IEP coming up……..

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