Individual Education Plans
IEP Background Information:
We each have important documents and records that identify us from everyone else. We have our own birth certificates, medical records, social security cards, voter registration cards, drivers licenses, tax forms, etc. Each of these documents serves a unique and very important role in our lives. While many of them are used together to complete certain tasks (e.g., you need to use medical records and health insurance cards at the doctor's office) they each contain information that is unique and important.
In public schools, each child has their own cumulative record. For students who stay in the same district during their entire schooling, these records are easily transferring from one school to the next. However, for most students in the general education program, these files are only opened once or twice a year. At the end of the school year more records are placed in the files, and the next year these files are quickly opened for the new classroom teacher to review. However, special education programs are much different. Students receiving special education and related services need frequent program changes and review. An entire team of school professionals, along with the child's parents, are responsible for the creation of the special education program. An Individual Education Plan (or Individualized Educational Plan/Program) contains the specific educational plan for a student receiving special education services.
One of the key elements about an IEP is that there are no two IEPs in the world which are exactly alike. While decades ago, these handwritten documents were routinely only 2-3 pages in length, today's IEPs are almost always managed electronically and may easily be 30 pages long. Although there are certainly similarities of services between children with similar needs, each child's IEP contains educational progress and strategies which are written only with that child in mind. Failure to create unique IEPs not only unethical, it's illegal.
You can find a lot of great information about IEPs online, or by calling your school's special education department. I have also created a checklist of required IEP items for Kansas schools for your reference. For additional information, please see the Kansas State Department of Education's webpage concerning IEPs. Here's a good IEP guide from AutismSpeaks.org.
Who Composes the IEP Team?
As previously stated, the IEP is created by a team of individuals, including the students parents and teachers. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (PL 108-446) mandates that each IEP team be composed of, at minimum, a core set of essential persons:
Parents of the student.
A regular education teacher (assuming the student is enrolled in at least one general education course.
A special education teacher (of an anticipated program or currently enrolled special education class.)
A representative of the Local Education Agency (typically a school administrator.)
A person capable of interpreting evaluation results (typically the school psychologist.)
Any other person(s) the parents or school representatives have mutually agreed upon to participate in the IEP meeting (typically private mental health practitioners, community youth programming leaders, babysitters, or other individuals with whom the child is closely involved with that will serve as an agent of either the school or family.)
The student, if applicable or reasonable.
The student is typically not present until transitional planning begins.
Federal law states that transitional planning beginning at 16 years old (Kansas requires this beginning at age 14).
Transitional planning refers to the process of outlining potential career or educational choices for the student to pursue after high school graduation.
Gifted students will likely be more appropriate to involve in IEP meetings prior to age 14.
Summary of IEP Information:
So what's in a student's IEP? While each state or school district may have specific items they want to have documented in an IEP, there are general requirements. I've outlined a few here.
Type of disability. There are 13 specific types of educational disabilities identified by IDEA. Each child must qualify under at least one of these in order to receive special education services. Some children are even stated to have "dual-diagnoses" if they qualify for services in two or more areas.
Health status. Some disabilities are physically debilitating. If a child has a physical disability that would inhibit his or her physical ability in school, it needs to be noted.
Dates. When does the IEP take effect? How long is it valid for? When does it expire?
Services Provided. What special education will the child receive. How intensive? How often? How long? Where? Who will provide it?
Additional and related services. Does a child's disability call for services other than simply modified instruction? Will the child need to have regular counseling? Maybe special meals provided? A special transportation service? Someone to provide assistance in mobility?
Goals. Each child who receives special education must still make progress. These goals are aligned with the states special education standards and are specific for each student.
Special testing accommodations. Children in special education are generally still required to take standardized achievement tests. However, these tests may be modified to suit the child's needs. Should it be read aloud? Should they receive more time to complete it? Can they take the test in a separate location?
Reviewing and Changing the IEP:
If your child has an IEP, you have a right to receive a copy of it. Furthermore, if you lose it, you may request a free replacement at any time by contacting your child's school. The IEP is a road map for success for all children receiving special education, and should not be taken lightly. It is a legal document, and everyone who signs that document therefor becomes legally required to ensure that it is followed and used as it was designed.
What if changes are needed to be made to the IEP? At a minimum, all IEPs must be reviewed once per year (called an "annual review".) In this step, IEP team members meet to discuss any changes to the child's IEP and decide together on the best educational placement and services for the student.
Another method of changing an IEP is through an amendment to the IEP. This happens when a formal IEP meeting is not required and typically is used for small changes in services provided. Sometimes amendments must have parent's consent prior to any changes being made. The law requires that any change to the IEP which results in a 25% or more change in programming must be approved by the parents. Changes less than 25% generally do not have to have parents permission.
If at any time the parents wish to change the IEP (including removing all special education services) they may request a meeting with the IEP team to make changes.