The Individualized Education Plan (IEP) is a document developed for special needs children by the parents and the educators who work with them. The plan is provided at no cost to parents, and is required in all public and private schools receiving public funds for the education of children with disabilities.

Development of the plan is mandated by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). This Federal Law defines and governs special needs services, and requires that the plan describe how the student learns; how the student best demonstrates that learning; and what teachers and service providers will do to help the student toward better academic achievement.

Eligibility for Special Needs Services

In order to determine eligibility, the school must conduct a full evaluation of a child in all areas of suspected disability noted by the parent or classroom teacher. However, having a disability is not sufficient for eligibility.

When a disability is identified, it must be determined how or if the disability is preventing the child from learning. This step helps to identify needed services and answers the question of whether special education is appropriate even if the child is eligible. If simple modifications to the traditional general education classroom there is no need for special education or an individualized education plan. However, special education with full inclusion in the traditional classroom as the least restrictive environment gives you the best of both worlds.

In this placement the individualized education plan will state that the child will remain in the traditional classroom and the special education teacher will go to the child's classroom to provide special instruction in needed areas, or the child may go to the special teacher for a few minutes each day for special instruction in areas of weakness.

Determining the Appropriate Placement

The law requires that the Individualized Education Plan be completed before placement decisions are made so that the child's educational needs determine the services outlined by the plan. Schools may not develop a student's IEP to fit into a pre-existing program for a particular classification of disability. The individualized plan is written to fit the student. The placement is chosen to fit the needed services in the plan.

The goal of the the law is that, to the maximal extent possible, children are to be educated in the same classroom as the child's non-disabled peers in the school nearest the child's home.

Mandated Role of the Parents

Parents are crucial participants during the development of the Individualized Education Plan (IEP) in both public and private schools because they bring a unique perspective based upon their knowledge of, and insight into, the child's developmental history and environmental experiences.

For this reason, the law states that parents must be present and involved in any and all meetings that discuss the identification, evaluation, IEP development and educational placement of their children.

The law grants parents permission to ask questions, dispute points, and request modifications to the IEP along with all other members of the team.

Although teams are required to work toward consensus, school personnel are, ultimately, responsible for ensuring that the student's IEP includes the services that the student needs.

The Power Granted to Parents

It is during the development of the individualized education plan that parents can best wield the power granted by Title IV IDEA to insure that their child receives needed services in an appropriate program.

During this activity, the parent is granted more power than the school. The process cannot continue without the parent's signature on the individulized plan. So the IEP should not be signed until the parent has reviewed it, gotten a second opinion, and made certain that they are satisfied that it meets the needs of their child.

The law requires that the school reevaluate the child's eligibility for special education every three years, but the parent may ask for a review of the special education IEP at any time if the child does not seem to be achieving as planned. At a minimum the plan should be reviewed annually.

Parental preparation and participation will guarantee the child an appropriate education with all the latest modifications and accommodations to insure that he is not only successful in achieving his special education goals for academic achievement, but that he is prepared to go on to college, or to become employed after graduation from high school.

The IEP should state these additional goals and describe how special education will help the child to achieve them.

Support with Parent Advocacy

Readers and book reviewers state that every parent should have a copy of the LD Reference Book Learning Disabilities, Understanding the Problem, Managing the Challenges before beginning this process.

The reference book takes you step-by-step through the entire process of designing the IEP. And, the tips and techniques will guide you through what to say, when to say it, what to do, when to do it. You will learn to interact with the school in a way that will be very helpful when claiming your rights under the law.

If your child needs special services not provided by your school district, then the school district, has to transport the child to a location where the services are provided at no cost to the parent.

Some students have been placed out of state in private schools at costs up to $100,000 per year per child. A parent will need an attorney, lots of money and some pull to make that happen, but some parents have accomplished it.

Parents just need to know their rights and learn how to advocate for them. The only challenge will be to justify the need. The required help is available in our LD Reference Book.

And, if you want someone to do it for you, someone to discuss the process, or just answer your questions, personal support is available by fax, phone, or email free of charge to parents who purchase the reference book.

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