It is the IEP team’s responsibility to review all of the evaluation information, identify any related services your child needs, and include them in the IEP. Typically, schools have staff who provide related services (such as speech therapists or occupational therapists) to meet the needs of their students. But if a related service is not available from the school, the school can contract with a private provider, a public agency, or even another school district to provide the service. Your school district is responsible for making sure all services listed in your child’s IEP are provided, even if the district does not directly provide these services. (You’ll find additional information about the school’s responsibility for related services, including specific limitations and exclusions, summarized in the box at the end of this section on related services.)
Goals are often written for a related service just as they are for special education services. This includes specifying how a child’s progress will be measured.
The Range of Related Services: Limits, Responsibilities, and Exclusions
IDEA’s list of related services is quite long, isn’t it? Yet these are not the only services that can be considered as a related service. Others often made available include artistic and cultural programs such as art, dance, and music therapy.
IDEA makes specific exclusions to what may be considered a related service—two, in particular:
- Medical services may be provided by a licensed physician but only for diagnostic or evaluation purposes.
- Medical devices that are surgically implanted, such as a cochlear implant, may not be provided as a related service. Related services also do not include optimizing how such a device functions, maintaining the device, or replacing it.
The school system remains responsible for monitoring and maintaining medical devices that are needed for the health and safety of the child. This includes breathing, nutrition, and other bodily functions. The school is also responsible for routinely checking the external parts of a surgically implanted device to make sure that it is functioning properly.
C. Supplementary Aids and Services
This part of the IEP focuses on the other kinds of supports or services (other than special education and related services) that your child needs to be educated with children without disabilities to the maximum extent appropriate. Some examples of these additional services and supports are:
- adapted equipment—such as a pencil grip, special seat, or cut-out cup for drinking;
- a one-on-one aide;
- assistive technology—such as a computer, special software, or a communication system;
- training for staff, the student, and/or parents;
- adapted materials—such as books on tape, large print, or highlighted notes;
- peer tutors; and
- collaboration/consultation among staff, parents, and/or other professionals (such as an occupational therapist, a behavior specialist, or a mobility specialist).
The IEP team must work together to make sure that your child gets the supplementary aids and services he or she needs to be successful. Team members should talk about your child’s needs, the curriculum, and school routine, and openly explore all options to make sure the appropriate supports for your child are included.
D. Accommodations and Modifications for Your Child
For many students with disabilities—and for many without—the key to success in the classroom lies in having appropriate adaptations, accommodations, and modifications made to the instruction and other classroom activities. Some adaptations are as simple as moving a distractible student to the front or away from the pencil sharpener or the window. Other modifications may involve changing the way that material is presented or the way that students respond to show their learning.
Adaptations, accommodations, and modifications need to be individualized for students, based upon their needs and strengths. Doing so can help students access the general education curriculum and other learning materials and activities. Accommodations can also help students demonstrate what they have learned. This type of individualization is part of what’s “special” and “specially designed” about special education.
Modifications or accommodations are most often made in the following areas:
Scheduling. For example,
- giving the student extra time to complete assignments or tests
- breaking up testing over several days
Setting. For example,
- working in a small group
- working one-on-one with the teacher
Materials. For example,
- providing audiotaped lectures or books
- giving copies of teacher’s lecture notes
- using large print books, Braille, or books on CD (digital text)
Instruction. For example,
- reducing the difficulty of assignments
- reducing the reading level
- using a student/peer tutor
Student Response. For example,
- allowing answers to be given orally or dictated
- using a word processor for written work
- using sign language, a communication device, Braille, or native language if it is not English.
What is most important to know about modifications and accommodations is that both are meant to support individual children in their learning.
Jack is an 8th grade student who has learning disabilities in reading and writing. He is in a regular 8th grade class that is team-taught by a general education teacher and a special education teacher. Modifications and accommodations provided for Jack’s daily school routine (and when he takes state or district-wide tests) include the following:
- 1. Jack will have shorter reading and writing assignments.
- 2. Jack’s textbooks will be based upon the 8th grade curriculum but at his independent reading level (4th grade).
- 3. Jack will have test questions read/explained to him, when he asks.
- 4. Jack will give his answers to essay-type questions by speaking, rather than writing them down.
You and the other members of the IEP team will probably spend time discussing your child’s learning needs and the ways in which classroom instruction, testing, homework, and school activities can be modified or adapted to help your child access the general education curriculum, demonstrate his or her learning, and participate with students who do not have disabilities. If the IEP team decides that your child needs a particular modification or accommodation, this information must be included in the IEP.
E. Program Modifications or Supports for School Staff
Supports are also available for those who work with your child, to help them help your child:
- achieve his or her annual goals;
- be involved in and make progress in the general education curriculum;
- participate in extracurricular and other nonacademic activities; and
- be educated and participate with children who do not have disabilities.
An example of one such support might be to arrange for key personnel involved with a given child to receive training related to that child’s needs.
5 | Participation with Children without Disabilities
As we said earlier in this guide, IDEA strongly prefers that children with disabilities be educated in the general education class with children who do not have disabilities. In fact, it requires that children with disabilities be educated with their peers without disabilities to the maximum extent appropriate for each child. In keeping with this requirement, then, each IEP must include:
“…an explanation of the extent, if any, to which the child will not participate with nondisabled children in the regular class and in [extracurricular and nonacademic activities]. . . ”
Just because a child has severe disabilities or needs modifications to the general education curriculum does not mean that he or she may be removed from the general education class. Accommodations, modifications, and supplementary aids and services can, and often do, play an important part in supporting children with disabilities in the regular educational environment. Removing a child from this environment may occur only if the nature or severity of the child’s disability is such that educating the child in regular classes cannot be achieved satisfactorily, even with the use of supplementary aids and services.
Therefore, if your child is going to be removed from the general education class for any part of the school day, the IEP team must include an explanation in the IEP.
6 | Modifications to State or District-Wide Assessments
IDEA requires that students with disabilities be included in general state or district-wide assessments, with appropriate accommodations, if necessary. Testing accommodations are commonly made in the same areas as the instructional modifications discussed earlier: scheduling, setting, materials, and student response.
The IEP team is responsible for determining whether your son or daughter will participate in each assessment given by the state or district—and how your child will participate. Some children may need no testing accommodations or modifications in order to demonstrate what they’ve learned and can do. Many, however, will need accommodations in order for their academic achievement and functional performance to be validly and accurately measured. It’s important for IEP teams to know what type of accommodations can be made without invalidating a child’s test scores and which accommodations the state permits. (This information should be available from your state department of education.) Once the IEP team determines which accommodations in testing, if any, would be appropriate for your child, these must be listed in the IEP and provided to your child during the actual assessment.
It’s also possible that a specific state or district general assessment may not be appropriate for your child, even with accommodations and modifications. He or she may need to be assessed using an alternate assessment. If so, your child’s IEP must include a statement of:
- why your child cannot participate in the regular assessment; and
- why the particular alternate assessment to be used is appropriate for your child.
The participation of students with disabilities in state and district general assessment programs is an evolving area within IDEA as well as within general education law (the No Child Left Behind Act). Final regulations in this area were published in April 2007. A wealth of information on the subject is available from the National Center on Educational Outcomes (NCEO) and the Center on Standards & Assessment Implementation.
7 | Location and Duration of Services
Each of the services your child needs is written down in the IEP. The IEP must also include:
- how often your child will receive the service(s) (number of times per day or week);
- how long each session will last (number of minutes);
- where services will be provided (in the general education classroom or another setting such as a resource room); and
- when services will begin and end (starting and ending dates).
The IEP team may also consider whether or not your child needs to receive services beyond the typical school year. This is called Extended School Year orESY services. Some children receiving special education services may be eligible for ESY services. Ask your state and local school district for a copy of its guidelines for determining eligibility for ESY. If you or your child’s teachers feel your child needs ESY services, it should be discussed during the IEP meeting.
8 | Reporting Your Child’s Progress
Under IDEA, you must be kept informed of your child’s progress on IEP goals. As mentioned earlier (see #3), the IEP team will decide when periodic reports will be provided to you and include this information in the IEP. A “periodic report” might be issued quarterly, for example, when the school system issues report cards.
Look in your child’s progress reports to see whether or not your child is making adequate progress to reach his or her goals by the end of the year. If not, then you will want to talk to the IEP team about how to address the lack of expected progress.
9 | Transition Services
As your child gets older and nears age 16, the IEP team—including your child—will consider many questions about his or her future after high school. What will your young adult do? Will he or she go to college or a technical school? Will he or she work? In what kind of job? What appeals to your child? What kind of preparation, knowledge, or skills will be needed? What kind of supports? Will he or she live independently or continue to live at home? Will you need help from other agencies to carry out these plans?
Answering these questions—and many more!— is called transition planning. By the time your child is 16 years old, the IEP must describe the transition services needed to help him or her move from high school to life as an adult in the community. The IEP team can also decide to start transition planning with your child at a younger age, if the IEP team considers it appropriate. The transition plan must then be updated every year and specify:
- measurable postsecondary goals for your child related to training, education, employment, and (where appropriate) independent living skills; and
- the transition services needed (including what your child will study) to help your child reach those goals.
Consider the range below of postsecondary possibilities for your child and determine which are appropriate, given your child’s interests and preferences, skills and experience, and need for accommodations or supports:
- postsecondary education (such as a 2-year or 4-year college or business school);
- vocational education (to prepare for working in computers, auto mechanics, or hotels/restaurants, for example);
- integrated employment (including supported employment);
- continuing and adult education (such as classes offered by your community adult education office or department of recreation);
- adult services (such as a day program or group home);
- independent living; or
- participating in the community.
Whenever the team is going to talk about transition, your child must be invited to the meeting. Services must be based on your child’s needs, taking into account his or her skills, preferences, and interests. Services can include: instruction, related services, community experiences, developing employment and other adult living objectives, and (if appropriate) daily living skills and giving your child a functional vocational evaluation.
We’d recommend that anyone interested in transition planning visit the websites of these two projects for the wealth of information they offer:
National Secondary Transition Technical Assistance Center (NSTTAC)
TATRA (Technical Assistance on Transition and the Rehabilitation Act)
10 | Age of Majority
“Age of majority is the legal age established under state law at which an individual is no longer a minor and, as a young adult, has the right and responsibility to make certain legal choices that adults make.”Thus, when people use the term age of majority, they are generally referring to when a young person reaches the age where one is considered to be an adult. Depending upon your state law, this usually happens at some point between 18 and 21.
At this juncture in your child’s life, the state may transfer to your young adult all (or some of) the educational rights that you, as parents, have had up to the moment. Not all states transfer rights at age of majority. But if your state does, then the rights and responsibilities that you have had under IDEA with respect to your child’s education will belong to your son or daughter at the age of majority.
Beginning at least one year before your child reaches the age of majority, you and your child will receive written notice from the school telling you of the upcoming transfer of rights (if any). When this happens, the IEP must include a statement that you have received the notice and have been told about the transfer of rights.
There are some exceptions to this transfer of rights. For example, some children with disabilities may need to have a guardian appointed to make decisions for them. Other students may not have the ability to give informed consent regarding their education. Or your child may be fully capable of making these decisions but still want your help in these matters. In all these cases, the state will have procedures by which parents can be appointed to continue representing their child’s educational interests. You will need to check your local and state policies to find out how this issue is handled.
Deciding Your Child’s Placement
What is placement? How is my child’s placement decided?
Once the IEP team has decided what services your child needs, decisions must be made about where services will be provided. Where your child’s IEP is carried out is called placement. As the parent, you have the right to be part of the group that decides your child’s placement.
In deciding your child’s placement, the group must make sure that your child has the maximum opportunity appropriate to learn with children who do not have disabilities—in academic, nonacademic, and extracurricular activities. This part of the law is called Least Restrictive Environment or LRE.
Least Restrictive Environment is explained in IDEA as follows:
. . . To the maximum extent appropriate, children with disabilities . . . are educated with children who are nondisabled; and . . . special classes, separate schooling, or other removal of children with disabilities from the regular educational environment occurs only if the nature or severity of the disability is such that education in regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily.
IDEA also says:
- The child’s placement is determined at least annually; is based on the child’s IEP; and is as close as possible to the child’s home.
- Unless the IEP requires some other arrangement, the child is educated in the school that he or she would attend if the child had no disability.
- When looking at placement options, consideration must be given to any potential harmful effect on the child or on the quality of services that he or she needs.
- A child with a disability may not be removed from education in age-appropriate regular classrooms just because he or she needs modifications to the general education curriculum.
Often, the IEP team makes the placement decision. In some places, the placement decision is made by another group of people. In either case, under IDEA, the group that makes the placement decision must include you, as the parent(s), and others who:
- are knowledgeable about your child;
- understand the meaning of your child’s evaluation data; and
- know the placement options.
When discussing placement, the group should consider your child’s unique needs and determine what the least restrictive placement for your child is, based upon those needs. A placement that is least restrictive for one child may not be least restrictive for another. What is least restrictive for each child is based on that child’s unique needs. This means that the school system may not use a “one size fits all” approach to educating children who have a disability. Decisions must be based on individual needs as stated in the IEP, not on—
- the child’s disabling condition or label (such as placement in a special class for students with intellectual disabilities just because a child has a cognitive impairment);
- disability program categories (placement in an particular program for students with learning disabilities (LD) just because a child needs LD services);
- the location of staff;
- the funds that are available; or
- the convenience of the school district.
In making placement decisions, the group looks to another important part of the IDEA, the continuum of alternative placements. The continuum includes the different options where children can receive services. These options include placements such as:
- a general education class;
- a special education class;
- a special education school;
- at home; or
- in a hospital or other institution.
A student’s placement in the general education classroom is the first option considered by the group making the placement decision. Can your child be educated satisfactorily in the general education classroom? What aids, services, and supports does your child need to make this possible? If the group decides that your child’s needs can be met in the general education class, with supports, then that placement is the least restrictive environment for your child.
Participating in the IEP Meeting
So, your first IEP meeting is coming up. How do you get ready? Here are some suggestions.
What do I do before the meeting?
Review the information on your child—from home, school, or private sources (such as doctors, therapists, or tutors). Ask yourself, “Do these records show the full picture?” Fill in any missing pieces, if you can. Bring your records to the meeting. You can also bring examples of your child’s work (on paper, audiotape, or videotape) to show specific concerns or insights you may have.
Talk with your child about the upcoming IEP and ask about school. “What things are hard? What things are easy? What’s important for you to focus on this year?” Your child may have a lot to say about his or her needs and interests. Students are often much more aware of their strengths and weaknesses than parents realize. Make notes on what your child says.
Think about your child’s involvement in general education classes. Consider his or her learning style, special education needs, and social needs. How can these needs be addressed in the IEP? What kinds of supports or services might your child need in order to be successful in the general education class? Ask your child what he or she needs or doesn’t need in the way of support.
If your child will be attending all or part of the IEP meeting, explain how the meeting works in a way that he or she can understand. Let your child know how important the meeting is and that his or her opinions and input are valuable. You may need to prepare your child to speak up at the meeting. Talk with your son or daughter about how to share his or her feelings about what is being proposed.
Do a Positive Student Profile (see the box below) to share with the team. To do this profile, answer questions about your child, which will help you organize your thoughts and focus clearly on your child’s strengths, needs, and goals.
Doing a Positive Student Profile
Answer the following questions about your child as a way to prepare for the IEP meeting.
1. Who is ____________? (Describe your child, including such information as place in the family, personality, likes and dislikes.)
2. What are __________’s strengths? (Highlight all areas where your child does well, including school, home, community, and social settings.)
3. What are ________’s successes? (List all successes, no matter how small.)
4. What are ________’s greatest challenges? (List the areas where your child has the greatest difficulties.)
5. What are _________’s needs? (List the skills your child needs to work on and the supports he or she needs.)
6. What are our dreams for ____________? (Describe your vision for your child’s future, including short-term and long-term goals.)
7. Other helpful information. (List all relevant information, including health care needs, that has not already been described above.)
Brainstorm with people (teacher, friend, family members, tutor, therapist, consultant) to get ideas before the meeting. Write down things you feel must be included in the IEP. Decide how you want to share this information with the other members of the IEP team.
Ask other team members if they can share their ideas about your child’s program ahead of time.
Know your rights. Review the IDEA regulations and accurate summaries. Take the regulations with you to the meeting in case you need them.
Are there any areas where you and the school might disagree? Plan how you want to handle these. List any information that might support your position. Think of alternatives to offer if the school is not willing to accept your first suggestion. Decide where you can compromise and where you can’t.
Consider whether you’d like to invite another person to go with you to the IEP meeting. This person should have special knowledge or expertise about your child or with respect to your child (a related service provider, for example, a past teacher, a specialist in your child’s disability, or a friend). Another person may think of things during the meeting that you do not. As a courtesy, let the school know if someone will be attending the meeting with you.
If an advocate will be attending the meeting with you, review your agenda together before the meeting. Above all, be sure that the advocate understands what role you would like him or her to play in the IEP process.
What do I do during the meeting?
Use your notes to keep yourself and the team on track. Keep the focus on your child’s individual needs and in creating a plan that will lead to success. Remember your child’s social and emotional needs, including the need to be with peers that do not have disabilities. Encourage the other members of the IEP team to use simple language, so that anyone reading the IEP can understand and carry it out.
If a team member says something you don’t understand, ask the person to explain. If someone says something about your child you don’t agree with or have a question about, ask for more details. What backup information supports the person’s statement (teacher notes, checklists, evaluations)? If you have different information, be sure to share it.
Make sure you don’t accept or reject a goal for your child based on incomplete information. If a present levels statement is appropriate, there should be data to support it. If a goal is appropriate, there should be documentation to back up the need. You want to make sure that decisions are not made based upon a single event or random observations.
Make sure you agree with the language in the present levels of academic achievement and functional performance before you finalize annual goals for your child. Try not to move away from one area until you are confident that it adequately addresses your child’s needs. If you find that needed information is not available at the meeting, have the team make a note of what is missing, who will get the information, and when they will get it by. Then you can agree to move on and come back to discuss the issue when the needed information is received.
What can I do if we don’t agree?
If the team cannot agree on a particular item after several minutes of discussion, add it to the team’s “parking lot” of concerns and suggest coming back to it later. Avoid getting stuck debating a particular point over and over, especially if it feels like you are not getting anywhere. You need to be clear in your mind on where you can and cannot compromise. Communicate this in a reasonable and calm way. Sometimes, the following words can help the team resolve an issue.
“What will it take for us to reach an agreement on this issue?”
“Why don’t we just try this for 6 weeks and see how it works?”
“I understand that you can’t say yes to this request. Can you tell me who does have the authority? How do we get that person here?”
“We can all agree that this is not an easy issue. But we need to find a solution that will work for (your child) that we can all live with.”
“I just don’t see this as being appropriate for (your child). There have to be other options we haven’t looked at.”
I’m concerned I’ll get too emotional. Any suggestions?
One of the most difficult things in an IEP meeting can be keeping emotions under control. It is easy at times for anyone at the meeting to get frustrated. Everyone has demands placed on them that are outside their control. The teacher has concerns about meeting the needs of all her students, including your child. Therapists may be concerned with how many children they need to work with and how to fit everything that needs to be done into a single school day. The administrator may be worried about having enough staff,
supplies, and equipment on a daily basis. And, like any parent, you want what is best for your child, even though the law says you are only entitled to what is appropriate. It is a challenge to balance all these needs and demands. The key to reducing frustration and avoiding conflict is to be respectful of each other, even when you don’t agree. Keep coming back to the purpose of the meeting—to develop an appropriate IEP for your child.
What if we still don’t agree?
If you’ve done as much as you can and still cannot come to agreement on the IEP, there are several options open to you.
If this is your child’s first IEP, you can refuse to give permission for the school to implement the IEP. In this case, your child will not receive the special education services outlined in the IEP.
Ask the school to give you prior written notice on the issue(s) under disagreement. Written notice must tell you in detail what the school is proposing or refusing to do, why, and what information it used to reach the decision. This includes:
- telling you other options the school considered and why they were rejected;
- describing each evaluation procedure, test, record, or report used as a basis for the action being proposed or refused; and
- describing any other factors that are relevant to what the school is proposing or refusing to do.
With this information, you may be in a better position to convince the school to rethink its decision or to proceed with the next step below.
You may request mediation or a due process hearing to resolve the conflict.
With mediation, you and the school sit down together and try to work out the disagreement with an impartial third person called a mediator. The mediator does not work for the school system or make any decisions for you or the school. The mediator helps you and the school talk about your differences and work toward an agreement.
The due process hearing is a formal, legal procedure where both you and the school present your views on the dispute to an impartial hearing officer. After all the evidence is presented and witnesses have spoken— much like in a court case—the hearing officer decides the case and tells you and the school how the matter is to be settled. He or she issues the decision in writing.
You request a due process hearing by filing a due process complaint that must contain specific information, with a copy sent to the state department of education. Within 15 days, your school system must convene a resolution meeting between you, as parents, and relevant members of the IEP team. The purpose of the meeting is for you to discuss your due process complaint, which gives the school system the opportunity to resolve the dispute. This resolution meeting need not be held if you and the school system agree to waive the meeting or agree to use mediation instead.
You can also file a written state complaint with your state’s department of education. When you file a state complaint, you must tell the state what part of the IDEA you believe the school has violated. You must also state the facts as you know them and provide copies of any documents or correspondence on the matter you may have. The state will investigate your complaint, request documents if necessary, and give a written decision.
There is a lot to know about each of these ways of resolving problems with the school. The premier source of this information is CADRE, the National Center on Dispute Resolution. Visit CADRE at: http://www.directionservice.org/cadre/
Finally, if this is not your child’s first IEP, you can revoke consent, in writing, for the continued provision of special education and related services to your child, even though you previously gave your consent. Once you revoke consent, the school system may no longer provide special education services to your child, and they may not try to override your revocation of consent. There are also a number of other consequences that may arise, such as how your child will be disciplined. Therefore, it is important for you to ask questions about how your child’s education will be affected before revoking consent.
When the IEP is completely written, am I supposed to sign it?
As the IEP meeting comes to a close, you will probably be asked to sign the IEP document. Depending on the state you live in, your signature on the IEP will mean different things. In some school systems, your signature on an IEP means that you agree with the IEP. In other states, a parent’s signature on the form simply means that the parent attended the IEP meeting.
There is no regulation that says you must sign the IEP immediately at the end of the meeting, or at all. If you feel the need to wait before signing the IEP, if you need to “sleep on it” or share it with your spouse/child’s tutor/consultant, say so. You may wish to list specific items in the IEP that you want to think about before signing (“I’m still uncomfortable with ____, and I’d like to think about it some more”). This lets the school know where you stand and gives everyone time to think of possible solutions or compromises.
Whatever you decide, read the IEP document in its final version before signing. This is also a good time to review the list of concerns you prepared before the IEP meeting. Did the team talk about all of those items?
When all the talking is done, if you are comfortable with the IEP, go ahead and sign. If you agree with everything except one item, you can sign your agreement and add a statement about the one item you disagree with. The team can implement all of the IEP except that one item, until you do resolve it.
What do I do after the IEP meeting (and before the next one)?
Hurrah! You’ve completed your child’s IEP. Now that you have a well-written IEP, you may want to schedule a follow-up meeting after a month or six weeks, so you and the rest of the team can talk about how things are going. Watching your child work at school and talking with the staff will help you keep track of your child’s progress. Remember, if you ever feel that the IEP needs to be changed, you can request an IEP meeting.
Even when you have done many IEPs, you can still forget things from one IEP to the next. So, after each meeting, jot down any thoughts you have about the IEP and the process. What did you like? What did you not like? What would you do differently next time? What will you do the same? When you are finished, store your notes in a safe place so that you can read them before the next IEP meeting.
Can my child’s IEP be changed without holding a meeting?
Yes. If you and the school want to change your child’s IEP after the annual IEP meeting, you and the school may agree not to convene an IEP meeting. Instead, you and the school will develop a written document that will amend your child’s IEP. If your child’s IEP is changed, all IEP team members will be informed of the changes, and if you request it, the school must give you a copy of the reviewed IEP.