Happy October! Now that kids and teachers are back in the swing of the school routine, many parents are hearing about upcoming parent-teacher conferences and IEP meetings. IEP meetings may sound scary, but they are crucial in making a specific plan for the success of your child this school year.
Does this apply to my child?
If you are a parent/guardian of a child with an eligible disability and needing services you are protected under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA, 2004). Your child has the right to a Free and Appropriate Public Education through school, meaning additional services required for your child are free to you through public expenses and the services must be appropriate for your child to access the education curriculum. Keep in mind that this only applies to children who attend public school.
What is an IEP?
Individualized Education Program (the IEP) is developed specifically for your child through the special education program. IEP meetings occur annually (once a year) or when the parent requests a meeting. Triennial IEP meetings occur every three years. A Triennial IEP includes a full re-evaluation for your child.
What can I do?
As a parent/guardian, you have participation rights. You have the right to be involved in the planning, goal setting, and tracking the delivery of services. Your input is needed for determining eligibility, goals, and plans. You will be able to do this by your involvement at the IEP meeting, and by keeping an open communication with the staff.
What should I expect at the IEP?
Before the IEP meeting, you will receive a Prior Written Notice to schedule an IEP at any time the school district or the parent attempts to initiate change in identification, assessment, or educational placement. At the IEP meeting, the parent, general education teacher, an administrator (such as the principal), the school speech-language pathologist, special education teacher, and any additional professionals should be in attendance (note: private therapists and specialists may attend if you request). They will discuss: the purpose of the meeting, review parent rights, discuss your child’s current performance, create new goals, and determine your child’s eligibility for services. At the end of the meeting, you will have consent rights. These are the rights to consent or refuse services or accommodations recommended.
In the midst of all the teachers, experts, and reports, it is important to remember that YOU are your child's best advocate and a crucial part of your child's team. Ask as many questions as you need, and speak up if you feel that your child's interest are not being properly addressed. Do not feel pressured to sign the IEP during the meeting. Instead, take it home and read it over, and make sure you feel comfortable with all of the statements and goals before signing.
And for Children Under Three, There's an IFSP
An IFSP, or Individual Family Service Plan, is similar to an IEP in that it denotes services for children with disabilities. It covers children in the birth to three population who are deemed eligible under their state's Early Intervention (EI) criteria. Unlike an IEP, the goals in an IFSP are targeted towards the family as a whole rather than just the child.
Who writes an IFSP?
The team members of an IFSP can vary depending on each child's specific needs. Speech-language pathologists, occupational therapists, and neurologists are a few examples of professionals who might contribute to the development of an IFSP. A family advocate or a liaison from the EI program may also be present. Parents and guardians, however, are the most critical members of the team because they best understand the child's needs.
How is the IFSP written?
First, the team needs to gather all relevant information. Evaluations of the child, questionnaires filled out by the family, and goals for the child are all taken into consideration. Keep in mind that family should use this time to communicate challenges that they face as a whole: if there are problems relating to childcare, transportation to services, etc., this is the time to address it.
What's in an IFSP?
The IFSP contains:
- People and Organizations Involved: The EI service coordinator, the professionals who will provide services, and the people or organizations responsible for paying for services will be listed.
- Current Levels of Functioning: This might include medical conditions (and the status of the conditions), cognitive assessments, hearing evaluations, communication abilities and social development.
- Family Information: A variety of information may be in this section, including strengths and weaknesses of the child and the needs of the family.
- Services: Specific services for your child will be listed in detail, such as the names of the service providers, length of session, and frequency of session (i.e, Matthew will receive speech and language therapy from Ms. Smith two times a week for 60 minute sessions).
- Outcomes: Short term goals should be relevant, specific, and measurable.
The members of the IFSP team must meet every six months to make any necessary updates to the plan. Parents and guardians may request an additional meting at any time if they feel like that the current plan is not adequately serving the child's best interests. Prior to the child's third birthday, the team will meet to discuss a transition plan. If the he or she has progressed enough, services would be discontinued. If not, the transition to an IEP would begin.