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IEP law and the Federal Statutes that ensure services for your child in your state's public school

Understanding IEP Law and the Federal Statutes that cover special education is your responsibility and important to ensure services for your child in your state's public school. IEP law is complex and always changing. Your rights as a parent are called procedural safeguards and are outlined in the Individual with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Unfortunately, they are often handed to you at the IEP meeting, However you can request a copy of your rights before the IEP meeting or before you request an formal evaluation.

Special education and IEP law were developed at the federal level and then at the state level

If there is ever a conflict between state and federal law, federal law must be followed.

Most IEP law can be found in three federal statutes:

IDEA is a federal law binding in all states

  • State law can mandate more protection than IDEA but not less.
  • Each state uses different criteria to determine programs and guidelines for qualifying students for special education.

IDEA guarantees four basic rights to children with disabilities.

  • Free Appropriate Education
Children with disabilities are entitled to a public education appropriate to their needs, at no cost to their families.
  • Least Restrictive Environment (LRE)
If possible, children with disabilities must be educated with students who do not have disabilities and should attend the school that is closest to home.
  • Supplementary Aids and Services
Children with disabilities must be provided with support services that assist them in benefiting educationally from their instructional program.
  • Assessment
An assessment must be completed to determine the child’s needs. This may be done only with the parent’s informed written consent.  

In order to assure that these rights are received, IDEA also includes the following protections:

  • Individualized Education Program (IEP)
    The IEP must be written at least annually for all children with disabilities. The IEP team consists of those who have assessed the child, school support personnel, a school administrator, general and special education teachers and the child’s parents or legal guardian.
  • Due Process:
    Due process rights ensure that no changes can be made in a child’s program without prior notice to the parents. Further, due process provides a mechanism for the resolution of disagreements.

      What is an IEP?

      An IEP or Individualized Education Program is a written document detailing the educational plan for students with special needs. It’s not a legal contract, but it spells out what your child needs and guarantees the services and support contained within the plan are provided for your child.

      Every student who is eligible for special education has one. Although the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act requires some information to be integrated into an IEP, it doesn’t lay out any specifics as to how an IEP should look. State and local agencies may include additional information, and IEPs may look different from state to state.

      It takes a team of many people to create an IEP. Parents should participate as they have insights into their child that other members of the team do not. The student should also participate when appropriate.  Other people involved include general education teachers; special education teachers trained to work with children with disabilities; a school district representative who knows about available services and can approve resources; and anyone with special knowledge about your child who you or the school invites to participate. If your child needs transitional services, representatives from those agencies should also be present.

      IEPs vary from district to district and student to student, but they should all contain the following information:

      • Your child’s current level of educational performance

      This includes information provided by yourself, teachers, and other staff members about your child’s strengths and weaknesses, including classroom performance, observations, standardized test results, and the special education evaluation. Any other areas of concern should be addressed, too, including behavioral issues, social skills, or language development.

      • Goals for your child

      Goals are based on your child’s current level of educational performance and should contribute to getting them involved in the general curriculum whenever possible instead of focusing on maintaining skills or reaching advanced academic milestones. They should be measurable things that your child can accomplish in one year and can focus on anything, including behavior, social skills, academic achievement, or self-help.

      In addition to goals, an IEP must also describe how those goals will be measured and when progress reports will be provided.

      • How the goals will be met

      Once measurable goals are in place, the team must determine the best way to help the student meet them. Remember, special education students are legally entitled to free public education in the least restrictive environment, so the team must develop ways to educate your child alongside their peers. This goal is often met by providing support services to keep your child in a regular classroom as much as possible.

      Other parts of an IEP

      Additional things in an IEP including the following:

      • When the services will begin
      • Where and how often services will be provided
      • How long the services will last
      • To what extent your child will be in a regular classroom with non-disabled peers

      How Can Parents Get Involved in the IEP Process?

      You know your child better than anyone and can provide insights that other members of the team cannot. An IEP meeting may seem overwhelming, but as a parent, it is important to be involved.

      • Prepare

      One of the best things you can do to prepare is to sit down before the meeting and make a list of all the things you want your child to learn. What do you want for your child? What services do you think they need to get them there?

      • Provide information about how your child performs at home

      In the meeting, parents play a key role in explaining to the rest of the team where your child is currently, and your input about how your child performs at home is valuable information that teachers and school officials don’t know. The information you provide helps create a well-rounded picture of your child’s strengths and weaknesses.

      As mentioned, it is also extremely helpful to talk about how you discipline your child at home, including what works and what you have determined doesn’t work.

      • Tell the team your goals for your child

      When it comes time to discuss educational goals, your input helps create a plan tailored to your child’s needs and what you want them to accomplish. Remember, these goals need to be measurable, which gives you and your child’s teachers something specific to work toward.

      • Advocate for services you think your child needs

      Make sure your child is getting all of the available services they need. Educational departments may have a standard list of services and providers they work with, and things can get overlooked. If there is something you think your child needs that is not being provided, ask the team to come up with a compromise. If they refuse or you are still unhappy, you can take formal steps to get things resolved.

      International Mosaic Down Syndrome Association

      PO Box 321, Grand Haven, MI, 49417
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