What is an IEP and who gets one?
Simply put, IEP stands for Individualized Education Program, but knowing the acronym is the easiest part of the IEP! An IEP is the document that guides the special education and related services of a student with a disability. In Louisiana, the following disabilities are covered under special education law: autism, intellectual disability, deaf-blindness, developmental delay, emotional disturbance, hearing-impaired, multiple disabilities, orthopedic impairment, other health impaired, specific learning disability, traumatic brain injury, visually-impaired, and speech or language impairment. Students who are found eligible for special education services for one or more of the above disabilities will have an IEP.
How Do I Know if My Child Is Eligible?
When a child is suspected of having a disability, a series of steps are taken by the school. First, the student is provided with intensive academic interventions. Providing interventions is helpful for preventing over-identification of students who may not need special education services. Then, for a student who does need more support than the interventions have provided, he or she will be evaluated by pupil appraisal services to determine eligibility for special education services. It is important to know that parents may also request a special education evaluation be performed with their child.
Special education evaluations are provided at no cost to the family. Once parental permission is obtained for the initial evaluation, a team of professionals including a school psychologist, an educational diagnostician, and an IEP facilitator will begin assessing your child for need areas.
The educational evaluation should cover all potential need areas including: vision and hearing, academic needs, functional needs (such as potty training and self-care), physical and occupational therapies, speech therapy, physical access to the environment, adapted physical education, and other related service areas. The evaluation must be completed within sixty business days of obtaining parental consent. Once the evaluation is complete, the pupil appraisal team will use legal guidelines to determine if your child is eligible for special education and related services.
My Child is Eligible. Now What?
Once your child is determined to be eligible for special education services, an IEP will be created. IEPs are written by the child’s IEP team, which includes: a general education teacher, special education teacher, parent, the child (when appropriate), principal, and all service providers who will work with the child such as therapists and specialized teachers. An IEP should be:
Individualized: specific to your child and his/her individual needs
Educational: meets your child’s individual needs in a way that will grant access to educational curriculum
Program: not a one stop shop! The program should be ongoing, provide for areas of growth, and set observable and measurable goals.
What is included in an IEP?
The IEP is an all-encompassing document that should include basic information about your child, areas of strengths, areas of need, information about behavior, medical needs, assistive technology, communication needs and more. Any information that the child’s teacher needs to know to help the child be successful in school should be included in the document. All areas that were found to be weaknesses during the evaluation should be addressed on the IEP.
IEPs go into effect on the day designated on the paperwork, most often the day of the IEP meeting. After the IEP is written, it has a one year expiration date. This means that the IEP must be reconvened before the one year expiration date. However, parents can ask for an IEP meeting at any time!
Private versus Public School IEPs:
One question that I am frequently asked is if a child in a private school can have an IEP. The answer can be a bit complicated. Only public schools can access the State Electronic Records (SER) IEPs. Individualized Education Programs are what drives a special needs student’s educational program in the public school setting. However, I have worked with many private schools who are enthusiastic about meeting the needs of their special needs learners. In this case, a private school IEP can be created. This IEP will not be in the state system, but can be followed by the private school. Private schools are not obligated to provide special education services and are not held to the same rigorous legal standards as public schools.
If a parent has concerns about the IEP, don’t wait! As a special education professional, I always encourage parents to speak up! As a parent, you are your child’s best advocate! You know your child better than anyone and know when something doesn’t feel right. Sometimes simply speaking up and asking questions can spark new or improved strategies to be used.
If a parent is concerned that the IEP is not being followed, my first advice is to document! Document everything because without documentation, your argument may just be an opinion. But, with documentation and data, changes can be made. Finally, the IEP is a legally binding document, not a suggestion! If you need help navigating the often confusing special education system, ask for a meeting with the teacher, school, or outside advocate!