Jeff N. Eckert
You Down With IEP (yeah, you know me)?
Updated: Jan 21, 2019
The Individual Education Plan is the blueprint for special education
In this article, I will be discussing the Individual Education Plan (IEP), the centerpiece of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Once a student has been identified, evaluated, and found to have a qualifying disability, s/he is entitled to exceptional student education (ESE) services in Florida schools. Then, it is the IEP that provides a written blueprint or action plan for the IEP team, e.g., school educators, specialists, and school staff, to follow in providing specially designed instruction and related services to the student with a disability. Overall, the central purpose of the IDEA should be foremost in parents and educators minds which is to "prepare them for further education, employment, and independent living." Ideally, the IEP is the result of a collaborative effort by the IEP team members, some of whom are required by the Florida regulations to be in attendance and provided notice of IEP meetings before they take place.
Generally, the IEP team members that must be in attendance at meetings (unless waived) include:
the parents of the student
at least one regular and one special education teacher
a local education agency (LEA) representative (of the school district)
an individual who can interpret the instructional implications of evaluation results
the student when appropriate
The IEP is the engine that drives ESE services for the student
The potency of the IEP process comes from the fact that it is individualized to each and every student in a manner that is appropriate to their individual needs. This concept cannot be overstated in the context of an educational system that tends to embrace standardized, one-size-fits-all approaches to classroom instruction and assessments. Accordingly, parents should be empowered to have their voice heard at the IEP table. It is acceptable for parents to ask that any evaluations discussed at the meeting be explained in an understandable manner, i.e., not overly technical. It is also appropriate for parents to request a continuance meeting to give them a reasonable amount of time to think about and process the often significant amount of information given to them at the meeting. Likewise, parents should be open-minded to the recommendations of the IEP team.
Under the IDEA and the Florida regulations, the IEP must include:
statement of the child's present level of academic achievement and functional performance
statement of measurable annual goals (academic and functional)
benchmarks or short-term objectives
how child's progress towards annual goals will be measured and reported to parents
statement of special education and related services (also, supplementary aids and services, modifications or supports for school personnel)
accommodations for classroom, district and state-wide assessments
placement and least restrictive environment (LRE)
The IEP is a flexible document that can be revised to meet the student's needs
Florida parents have important protections regardless of the stage of the IEP process:
the IEP must be unique and individualized to their child
only one IEP can be running at a time for each child
parents are entitled to receive a copy of the IEP, even if they do not participate
the IEP must detail the services the child will receive with a beginning and end date
when parents sign the IEP, it only confirms they attended the meeting and not that they agreed with the IEP team's recommendations or consented to services
It is essential for both parents and educators to understand that IEP documents are not fixed in stone. Rather, the IDEA intended for IEP's to be continually revised and updated because unsurprisingly children are continually developing. By law, parents are empowered to invite "other individuals who have knowledge or special expertise regarding the child." It is both acceptable and appropriate for parents to invite their own family members, advocates, or specialists who can help the IEP team better understand their child's needs. Further, any IEP team member can request a meeting outside of the annual review or three-year reevaluation schedule if they believe the IEP needs to be revised. This allows the IEP team to adapt to the student's academic or functional delays and progress in a flexible and fluid manner. Ultimately, the creation and ongoing development of the IEP guarantees a seat at the table for anyone with "knowledge or special expertise" to advocate for students with disabilities.
*In the next installment, I will discuss what Exceptional Student Education (ESE) means and how it is implemented in Florida. Stay tuned...