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Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) in a Nutshell

Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) in a Nutshell

So your child has been identified as having a disability. Perhaps you’ve had some concerns about their development and requested an evaluation for special education services. Perhaps your child is transitioning from Part C services (birth-3 years) to Part B (children ages 3-21). In any case, an evaluation has been done to show that your child qualifies for an IEP. Now what? 

Congratulations! You are now part of your child’s IEP team - and you are the most important member of it. You will help guide your child’s education for the remainder of their school years. Teachers will come and go, but you will be the one consistent member of your child’s IEP team. Required members of the IEP team include: you the parent(s), the special education teacher, a general education teacher, a representative of the school district who is authorized to make decisions, and a person who can explain the evaluation results like a school psychologist. Other possible members include the child themself, related school services staff, and others who know the child.

Within 30 days of completing the evaluation, the school must hold an IEP meeting. Often, the meeting which determines eligibility and the first IEP meeting are held together. Your child’s evaluation results and other data will help form the plan, which includes supports and services that will set your child up for success in school. IEPs are legally required for every child who qualifies for special education under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). There will be the initial IEP meeting, an annual meeting - the law requires one at least every 365 days, and a re-evaluation of your child every three years to ensure eligibility for continued services. 

At the IEP meeting, your child’s Present Levels of Academic Achievement and Functional Performance (or PLAAFP) which include evaluation results, your child’s strengths, and your child’s interests will be reviewed. The evaluation helps identify your child’s needs. Your child’s strengths and interests are important aspects as they will be the ways and means to build areas of need and guide approaches to support your child. Academic achievement is only one aspect of education; functional performance relates to areas such as social skills that are necessary for life beyond school. All of the information in the PLAAFP will be used to determine and state your child’s needs.

The next step in the IEP meeting will be to develop annual goals for your child. These goals need to be SMART-Specific (what the team would like to see the child be able to do), Measurable (collectable data), Active (use action words), Relevant (to your child’s unique needs), and Time limited (fit within the 365 days of the current IEP).  Inclusive goals should include phrases such as: with typical peers used for support, while engaged in the general education curriculum, and during naturally occurring times of the day.

After annual goals have been determined, the IEP team will now decide what types of supports and services are needed for the child to be successful. Supports and services can include behavior plans, any assistive technology your child may use to access the curricula, a communication plan, a health plan, or a literacy plan. 

Next the IEP team will need to determine appropriate placement for your child throughout the school day. It is important to discuss that special education within IDEA is not a place. Special education is supports and services brought to the student through the IEP. If we want children to live full lives as adults, we must make sure they are included in the same environments and opportunities as students without disability labels throughout childhood. Placement is not a decision to be based on a school district’s programs or historical ways of providing separate special education. Placement, just as all other aspects of the IEP, is unique to your child’s specific needs. IDEA states that to the maximum extent appropriate, children with disabilities must be educated in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE). IDEA also prescribes that placement is a decision made by the IEP team annually and is as close as possible to the child’s home. Where would your child attend school if they did not have a disability? This is often the neighborhood school. It is important to note that a child with a disability cannot be removed from the general education class because of needed modifications. 

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After placement has been determined, the IEP team will look at implementation. Throughout the current IEP year, the team will need to ensure there is progress towards the annual goals. You should receive a progress report on your child’s goals as frequently as the school issues report cards. Communication with the IEP team is important. Make yourself available to members of  the IEP team. Make sure you have the preferred contact information for key IEP team members. Often, a communication book is used between home and school to be sure that the family and school can share critical information - successes and questions. Don’t hesitate to request another IEP meeting. IEPs can be amended throughout the school year and you can request a meeting at any time.

The system of special education can feel overwhelming and is quite complex, but with the right tools and information you will manage your child’s education just fine. For more detailed IEP information we invite you to join us at our next free IEP training along with our other workshops and trainings. View them on our events and workshops schedule. You can call PEAK Parent Center with any questions.  We offer free parent advising. Simply call 719-531-9400 or email