Demystifying the IEP

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Individual education plans (IEPs) help kids with learning differences succeed in the classroom.

For kids with learning disabilities, the typical classroom setting can be problematic. Alexa of Clermont County experiences high anxiety in a regular classroom setting related to sensory issues that inhibit her from fully participating in life. In the past, she’d sometimes get so uncomfortable in a loud classroom that, following her mother’s advice, she’d head to the bathroom to calm down.

“She’s high functioning and intelligent,” says Alexa’s mom, “She just needed help.”

Fortunately for Alexa and thousands of other kids, the Individual Education Program (IEP) can be put in help to customize a child’s learning experience. The Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA), passed in 1975 requires that public schools develop an IEP for every student with a disability who is found to meet the federal and state requirements for special education.

The IEP in a Nutshell

In essence, the IEP is a handwritten individualized document of services created for a child by the child’s teachers and special education experts along with parental input. The IEP includes annual, measurable goals for a child with a disability. In other words, it’s a concrete plan for your child that you can monitor as time goes along. The goals included in the IEP are monitored throughout the school year to make sure the child is making progress.

How do I know if my child needs an IEP?

Children may need an IEP for a variety of reasons and parents pursue IEPs based upon their child’s needs. Plans are created for kids with autism, hearing impairments, specific learning disabilities and other physical or mental health disabilities.

An IEP includes two parts: academic and life functioning. If you are concerned with your child’s social skills, behavior problems, toileting, mobility or other daily

life activities it may be necessary to pursue an IEP for him. Even if your child excels in academics, perhaps makes honor roll, but has a condition (such as a diagnosed anxiety disorder) an IEP may prepare him better for learning and life.

Pursuing an IEP

You have to be your child’s advocate when it comes to going after what he needs educationally. If you know something is keeping your child from functioning typically at school you can take the following steps:

Step 1: Handwrite a request to your child’s school asking them to evaluate your child for an IEP.

Step 2: The child will be assessed by a team that will include a school psychologist, teachers of your child and perhaps other specialists. The assessment (which must be completed within 60 days of parental consent to assess) includes academic and functional performance. The assessment is deemed an Evaluation Team Report (ETR) and should be given to parents within 14 days after the evaluation is carried out and prior to a scheduled IEP meeting. If you disagree with the evaluation it’s within your right to take your child to an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE) for a second opinion.

Step 3: If your child is deemed eligible, an IEP must be written within 30 days of the assessment. You will go to your child’s school for a meeting with your child’s IEP team which is you, the child’s teacher(s), a school district representative, an individual who understands your child’s evaluation and possibly others you want to invite who know your child well. The IEP team will discuss your child and what services may help him in his education and what services can be put into place (these will be written into the IEP).

Step 4: Ask questions. Take the IEP document home and review it before you sign and consent to it. You have the right to withhold consent.

Step 5: If progress is not being made or all goals have not been met call for a review and revise meeting. This meeting is similar to the initial IEP meeting where it will be determined what needs should or should not be included in your child’s IEP.

Bumps on the Road

Sometimes parents and schools disagree, especially when a child’s needs are difficult to determine. The school cannot implement any part of the IEP without parental consent, however if there is agreement on some issues, you can allow the school to implement the agreed upon services while the delayed areas are discussed. Agreement can be temporary so that your child receives some services while you and the school finalize an acceptable IEP.

To help resolve areas of disagreement, parents may request another meeting, file a complaint with the state department of education (SEA), or request mediation or a due process hearing. If holding an additional meeting, bring along an educational advocate to present concerns in writing to avoid miscommunication and to create a paper trail if there is ever a need to go to court. If the child has an IEP but the school does not adhere to the plan, parents may file a complaint with the SEA.

The “YOU” Factor

You and your child are the most important participants along the way in the IEP process. Once you have an IEP in place for your child it will stay with him throughout his public school years. As with many things in life, parents are their children’s best advocates and so you need to stay on top of what’s happening with your child’s education every step of the way. Without your input your child may not receive the most appropriate services.

No one wants what is best for your child more than you. It is a tremendous mission, but knowing the process will help you and your child succeed.

Miranda Cruse attends the University of Kentucky. Elana Harris is a Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist who attends numerous IEP meetings in Cincinnati. 

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