if your child is falling behind, time to catch up becomes critical. An Individual Education Program can be tremendously helpful as not only is it legal documentation and added resources, a team of experts, it is also a plan to get your child back on track.

What is an IEP?

IEP refers to Individual Education Program authorized under the IDEA (individuals with Disabilities Act).  The concept is that if it is established that your child is falling behind, the school is duty bound to set aside extra resources to help. 

IEPs establish instructions for special education and other supports for a student’s education. During the IEP meeting, parents, students, and the educators sit to draw up an educational program suitable for the student. Thus, for proper referencing, every IEP decision must be documented.

 IEPs are not only legal documentation but a roadmap. It provides a layout for the child’s education and progress.

With IEP, you can discuss critical issues about your child’s education. In addition, it protects the student, parents, and institution legally.

Why IEPs Are Important

IEPs are beneficial because:

  • They create room for the parents and the educators to set expectations about the student.
  • Both parties can agree on the student’s needs and what is required to meet them.
  • The educators and parents can iron out areas of disagreement for a child with a disability.
  • The child also enjoys procedural protection rights to avoid abuse.

The process involves building a deep understanding of each child, and the areas of need. And from there creating a plan that everybody signs off on.

IEPs: Knowing Your Rights as a Parent

So, what are the rights and responsibilities of parents towards a child’s IEP?  Here are your main rights:

Right to Attend IEP Meetings

Federal laws give you the right to be a part of your child’s IEP meetings – to hear what the experts are saying and what the updated plans are. It helps you know the processes, and you can also request IEP meetings.

This is not only a right however. It’s also good practice. Despite all the years of training and experience of the teachers and special education professionals, you are the world expert on your child. You have valuable insights to offer. In addition, you might have feedback on how changes at school are being received by your child.  Are there complaints at home? Is your child happier, more frustrated?

Rights Around Evaluations

The IDEA law requests that the school get written permission before offering special education services. You can also select the aspect to consent or decline.  Your option to give or deny consent for evaluation for IEPs is known as informed consent.

Furthermore, you may choose to have your child evaluated inside or outside the school.  You may choose an outside professional because of your child’s unique circumstances or just to get a second opinion.

You may have to pay for such services. Also, remember that the school can consider the result but decide not to accept the outcome.  A diagnosis for a school is a big step. As once a child has a learning diagnosis that the school accepts, the school is on the hook for services, sometimes for years.

Right to Disagree with School’s Decision

If you feel something is amiss about the school’s decision regarding your child – for instance, the diagnosis or the actions planned – you can ask for a mediation team.

You meet with the school to discuss areas of disagreement. If the issue is not then resolved, they will call for a due process hearing involving the third party. In this situation, the hearing officer will decide the outcome.

There are thousands of special education advocates you can hire to help you in this process.  They understand your rights, the rules that the schools are bound by and they know special education.  You can often get a free consult from an advocate on the merits of your case.

Right to Private Paid Education

In some situations, the district school may pay for your child’s tuition in a private school. This is particularly common if a school does not have the specialized services needed for your child.

However, the process may have to go through a due process hearing. Also, note that there would be no reimbursement if you decide to transfer your child to a private school without a cause. Again, a case to take up with a special education advocate if the school does not see it your way.

How to Get an IEP for Your Child

So, how do you get an IEP for your child? First, you need to know that IEPs are provided by public schools only.  If your child is at a private school,  a “Service Plan” is possible.  This is a plan paid for by the local school district for students with disabilities who attend private schools. A service plan does not have to ensure a child is provided with a free appropriate public education, or FAPE. Your child may have to attend a public school to get the services indicated under a Service Plan.

If your child attends a public school, the process starts with an evaluation of your child. But you have to apply, and then the assessment helps see if your child qualifies. Once you have the process in place, it becomes easier to speak for your child. Here are some essential points to help you get started with the IEP application:

IEP Child Evaluation

Like we stated earlier, you need to have your child evaluated to participate in IEP. It helps the school decide if your child fits into the IEP services. In addition, the management can now determine what support they will receive.

The primary concern for most parents is the requirement for the evaluation. For some others, it is the fear of rejection. What if my child gets rejected? Well, having ample knowledge and preparation reduces the chances of failure.

Every step of the process contains questions that help identify the unique needs of your children. It makes it easier to determine why your child is struggling. Then the school’s management and the parents can better help the kids.

The Process to School Evaluation for IEP

Formal Application

To start the process, you need to write a formal letter to the school requesting IEP. That means you are asking for an evaluation. The letter is a request. But it a consent from you to have your child evaluated.

Since the application process is not complicated, it doesn’t take much time to apply. You will find a guide that gives most of the information you should supply the details. It also makes it easier to do a follow-up.

Oftentimes your child’s teacher or resource room teacher will help you. This is a letter where you are making a case for the school to commit to devoting extra resources to your child for an indefinite period. And so it needs to be persuasive.  Most notably, be sure to include as much background information as possible, family and other information the school might not be aware of.

For instance, many learning difficulties are hereditary. If there are similar instances in your family – you, grandparents, siblings – mention it, as this helps make the case that there is a clear disability that needs attention.

Your letter should also give consent to have your child evaluated for an IEP. Your consent mandates the school to conduct a test on your child. Then they can decide if they genuinely need an IEP. Please remember to ask for a “Consent to Evaluate” form so you can sign. The form is part of the legal requirements for evaluation for IDEA and IEP.

IEP Testing and Child Evaluation

Testing or evaluating your child could sometimes be referred to as educational assessment. The special education law requires the school to conduct your child’s evaluation in under 60 days – after you have given consent.

While waiting for the formal response, you can seek temporal support from your child’s teacher. You will also find relevant support through the Response To Intervention (RTI) process, which is where struggling learners are provided with interventions at increasing levels of intensity to accelerate their rate of learning.

After the evaluation process, the school’s team will decide the result. The outcome will determine if your child is eligible for IEPs special education services. They may, in the alternative, recommend your child for 504 Plan support.

What are the Disability Conditions for IEP for Your Child?

Not every child with a disability qualifies for an IEP. It covers only children struggling to the point that it critically affects their performance. But to be eligible, your child’s disabilities must fall within the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requirements.  Here are some of the categories covered:

Specific Learning Disability (SLD)

It becomes more challenging to teach kids when they have a “Specific Learning Disability” (SLD). Disabilities that affect the child’s ability to speak, listen, read, or write are a significant challenge. A child who cannot also do mathematics or reason adequately suffers from SLD. These conditions include:

  • Dyscalculia
  • Dyslexia
  • Dysgraphia (written expression disorder)

There are more cases of SLD in IDEA who qualify for IEP. National Center for Education Statistics reports 4.7% of IEPs cases. SLD is the highest figure for all instances of disabilities from the U.S. Department of Education.

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

Children on the autism spectrum, Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS) and Asperger Syndrome are generally covered by the IDEA and so are IEP eligible.  l

Emotional Disturbance (E.D.)

Emotional disturbance covers a wide range of mental health issues. However, kids do suffer from depression, schizophrenia, and anxiety disorder. Other examples of Emotional disturbances include:

  • Obsessive-compulsive
  • Disorder
  • Bipolar disorder.

Such children may find it challenging to cope with academic activities. In addition, some E.D. cases also fall under health impairment.

Speech and Language Impairment

Children experiencing difficulty constructing words and expressing their thoughts could be speech or language impaired. While this is primarily related to language processing delays, it can cover difficulties like stuttering.

Other categories are an intellectual disability, visual impairment and blindness, deafness or hearing impairment, orthopedic impairment (e.g., cerebral palsy), Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI),  and other health impairments such as ADHD.

Support Without an IEP

An IEP is a legal document that kicks off a lot of responsibilities for the school administration, your child’s teacher, your child and for you.  There can also be a stigma attached, if a child is pulled out of class frequently or even separated from the general student population.

Oftentimes, your child can get informal added special ed or resource room support without an IEP. And if you are unsure about how serious your child’s learning delays are, advocating for this type of support might be preferred.  This is especially true if your child is being held back by emotional or behavioral issues that could be related to maturity that will eventually resolve.

From another angle, applying for an IEP can be treated by the school as unwelcome. Yes, it’s your right, but if the school does not agree that your child needs that much help, the advocacy for an IEP can disrupt the all-important teacher-parent partnership.

Due to the fears of stigma around an IEP, some parents hesitate.  It’s a difficult questions sometimes.  You don’t want to subject your already struggling and stressed out child to too much testing, but sometimes an evaluation is the only way to get an answer.  You start the process, get an evaluation, and then make a decision.

Gemm Learning works with many children on IEPs.  It’s a learning intervention that addresses the underlying causes of difficulty. Many parents have been able to get their school districts to pay for Gemm Learning on the basis that no such intervention is available from the school. Other states have scholarships and grants available for children with known learning difficulties.