Depending upon your child’s needs, obtaining the initial Individualized Education Plan or sometimes known as an Individualized education program (IEP) may be a simple process or a little more challenging, depending on specific conditions. Regardless, the first step is to begin gathering medical records and samples of your child’s work, which may include tests, graded homework, and notes of your observations.
Once you have collected the records and samples, contact school personnel to request a formal evaluation from your child’s public school. The Individual with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA, applies to educational institutions that received funding from federal sources which include most public schools.
Make sure your request is in writing and include all the relevant demographic information in addition to your concerns and corresponding documentation to support your concerns. If the school district agrees to evaluation and your child is found to have one or more of the 13 disabilities listed in IDEA and needs special education services or accommodations, (s)he will qualify for an IEP.
Within thirty calendar days after a child is determined eligible, a team of school professionals and the parents must participate in an IEP meeting to write an IEP for the child. The team members might meet in the school’s resource room or other appropriate location. The IEP might evaluate the levels of educational performance, set annual goals, and forecast transition services for the future of the child.
Parental consent for Individualized Education Plan implementation
Before the school system may provide special education and related services to the child for the first time, the parents must give consent. The child begins to receive services as soon as possible after the IEP is developed and this consent is given.
If the school district denies your request, they must send you a “prior written notice” containing action proposed or refused by the district, explanation of the decision, description of other options and resources for you to better understand your rights under IDEA. At any point, but especially at this juncture, you may have your child evaluated privately.
Most likely, you will have to pay for this private evaluation. The school district may also opt to continue targeted interventions through “response to intervention.” It is important to note that a child does have to have a particular diagnosis to be eligible for services, or in the alternative, more than one disability and/or diagnosis can be documented in a child’s IEP.
If the parents do not agree with the IEP, its goals, and placement, they may discuss their concerns with other members of the IEP team and try to work out an agreement. If the team still cannot come to an agreement, parents may request mediation, or the school may offer mediation.
Parents may file a state complaint with the state education agency or a due process complaint, which is the first step in requesting a due process hearing, at which time mediation must be available.
Not all students are eligible
Not all students will be eligible for exceptional student education (ESE) services under IDEA. Similar to the IEP eligibility process, parents and or school staff members may raise concerns about the child’s strengths and performance at school and the team will consider whether the child has a disability that requires accommodations via a Section 504 plan in the school setting.
Section 504 is part of a federal civil rights law known as the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 which specifically prohibits discrimination against students with disabilities and guarantees them a free and appropriate public education (FAPE).
As defined in Section 504, discrimination is the failure to provide students with disabilities the same opportunity to benefit from education programs, services, or activities as provided to their nondisabled peers. Therefore, schools cannot exclude students with disabilities from facilities, programs, benefits, activities, or services that are provided to students without disabilities. Schools must make sure that all students receive equal access to educational opportunities.
A Section 504 plan details the accommodations that the school should provide to support your child’s education. While Section 504 does not require a written plan, it does require documentation of evaluations and accommodations and you must ensure the team writes a plan to provide clarity and direction to the individuals delivering services or making accommodations.
Similar to the IEP process, annual reviews are highly recommended and Section 504 accommodation plans may be updated at any time to reflect changes and recommendations by the team.
Parents are the most important advocates for Individualized Education Plans
As the parent, you are one of the most important members of your child’s team at school and if you believe or know your child has special needs and is having problems in school, the team should be contacted to discuss these concerns. Building a strong parent/school relationship begins with effective communication and clearly set goals and objectives.
Document all communication with school staff, preferably via email and most importantly follow-up on all action plans to ensure accommodations listed in your child’s Individualized Education Plan or Section 504 plan are being effectively implemented.