Finding out your child has a learning disability or requires special education can be devastating to parents. This is not the case whatsoever. An IEP is put into place to make sure that your child receives an education that meets their needs. It’s a best case scenario for students struggling to keep up with their peers through no fault of their own. The quicker the disability is discovered, the quicker they can get access to a great education.
What is an IEP?
The Individualized Education Program (or Plan), or IEP, is written documentation that is developed for public school children that have been deemed eligible for special education. Federal law mandates that a multidisciplinary team determine whether a child has a disability and if they require any educational or related services to provide them a quality education. Once created, the IEP is reviewed once per year by the team to ensure that the child is receiving adequate support.
Before the First Meeting
Prior to your first meeting with the IEP team, actions will have taken place so that you’re not completely blindsided by the news. The teacher will make observations and submit a referral that a child may need services. This is typically where you will be brought into the process. The teacher and associated administration professionals can request an assessment be performed on your child. This doesn’t mean that they’re dumb or incompetent, it simply means that the teachers are working hard to supplement your child’s weaknesses to get them where they need to be in the classroom.
Meeting the Team
If your child meets the federal requirements–has a disability and need educational services–a team will be put together. This is exactly what it sounds like…a team. You are all working together to provide the best possible situation for your child. Work together and see all of this as a positive.
The team includes:
The Parents – The most important members of the team are a child’s parents. The parents provide a wealth of information to the rest of the team.
The Teacher – Your child’s teacher will likely have made the initial IEP referral and can share observations. Ideally, the teacher has been in direct communication with the parents throughout the process.
The Special Education Teacher – Your child’s school will have a special education teacher on staff that provides valuable insight and action plans thanks to their extensive training.
The Evaluator – This is a person that can analyze results from assessments and translate the information for the rest of the team.
The Administrator – Someone who can commit resources to the needs of the child. They know what the school and district can offer and provides that to the child and their family.
The Specialist – If necessary, depending on your child’s needs, a specialist may be placed on the team. This is the person who will make sure the full benefits of whatever the school provides are available to the student.
The Representatives – If necessary, depending on your child’s needs, a representative will be on the team. This person makes sure any transitions to a program on the action plan go smoothly and efficiently.
The Child – Yes, your child is an active participant in the IEP process. This is their education and should know what’s going on.
At your first meeting, the team will go over your child’s academic performance. The designated team leader will draft a statement regarding your child’s present levels of performance, or PLOP. This will include both functional performance–social skills, behavioral issues, and motor skills development–and academic performance–test scores, current educational output, and observations. Each member of the team will give insights into this area to better craft the statement.
During the meeting, the team will decide on what some attainable and measurable goals may be reached over the course of a year. Depending on the diagnosis of disability, these goals are variable. The goals will be written based on their needs. Those students with social-emotional issues will have an IEP focused more on meeting those needs. Those with academic problems will have an IEP focused on closing any gaps in their knowledge through the use of learning aids or extra support from additional teachers or programs.
Plan of Action
The end of the IEP is the plan of action. How will the child meet the goals based on their PLOP? It all sounds confusing, but this is where the team will decide how to move forward and achieve their goals. The major goal of the IEP team is that they remain in their classroom with limited pullouts. Legally, the school must provide a free appropriate public education, or FAPE, in the least restrictive environment, or LRE. Special education is a set of services, not a place for the child to go. Meeting the goals in the IEP is of paramount importance to the team. Doing so according to federal law is essential. The team will take into account all of the information within the meeting and determine what services will be offered.
What Happens Next?
The IEP process is overwhelming to many parents. This is mainly due to the fact that you are the protectors of your child and you only want the best. Remember that the entire IEP team want what’s best for your child as well. Communication is key throughout the process and getting in contact with the team whenever you have a question can help alleviate any stress or worries you may have. The team will meet as often as the plan designates. Once a year, the team will review the plan and alter it according to input from all parties. Have faith in the system, it may seem like a one size fits all application but the process is highly individualized for your child.