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An Overview of the Special Education Process Under the IDEA.

(October 25, 2011): The writing of each student’s IEP takes place within the larger picture of the special education process under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Before taking a detailed look at the IEP, it may be helpful to look briefly at how a student is identified as having a disability and needing special education and related services and, thus, an IEP.

I.  Identifying a Child Needing Special Education and Related Services Under the IDEA:

As a first step, students must be identified that may possibly need special education and related services.  The state must identify, locate, and evaluate all children with disabilities in the state who need special education and related services. To do so, states conduct “Child Find” activities. A child may be identified by “Child Find,” and parents may be asked if the “Child Find” system can evaluate their child. Parents can also call the “Child Find” system and ask that their child be evaluated.

Alternatively, a school professional may make a referral or request that a child be evaluated to see if he or she has a disability. Parents may also contact the child’s teacher or other school professional to ask that their child be evaluated. This request may be verbal or in writing. Parental consent is needed before the child may be evaluated. Evaluation needs to be completed within a reasonable time after the parent gives consent.

II.  Evaluating Children with Possible Needs:

After a child is identified as possibly needing special education or related services, he / she must be evaluated in each of the all areas related to the child’s suspected disability. The evaluation results will be used to decide the child’s eligibility for special education and related services and to make decisions about an appropriate educational program for the child. If the parents disagree with the evaluation, they have the right to take their child for an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE). They can ask that the school system pay for this IEE.

III.  Eligibility Decision is Made:

At this step in the process, a group of qualified professionals and the parents look at the child’s evaluation results. Together, they decide if the child is a “child with a disability,” as defined by IDEA. Parents may ask for a hearing to challenge an eligibility decision if a negative finding is made.  If the child is, in fact, found to be a “child with a disability,” as defined by IDEA, he or she is eligible for special education and related services. Within 30 calendar days after a child is determined eligible, the IEP Team must meet to write an IEP for the child.

IV.  IEP Meeting is Scheduled:

At this stage, the school system is typically responsible for scheduling and holding the IEP meeting. School staff must:

• Contact the participants, including the parents;
• Notify parents early enough to make sure they have an opportunity to attend;
• Schedule the meeting at a time and place agreeable to parents and the school;
• Tell the parents the purpose, time, and location of the meeting;
• Tell the parents who will be attending; and
• Tell the parents that they may invite people to the meeting who have knowledge or special expertise about the child.

V.  Holding the IEP Meeting and Drafting the IEP Document:

When the IEP Team gathers to talk about the child’s needs, the Team also initiates the drafting of the IEP.  Parents (and, when appropriate, the student), are typically part of the IEP Team. If the child’s placement is decided by a different group, the parents must be part of that group as well.  Before the school system may provide special education and related services to the child for the first time, the parents must give consent. The child begins to receive services as soon as possible after the meeting. If the parents do not agree with the IEP and placement, they may discuss their concerns with other members of the IEP Team and try to work out an agreement. If they still disagree, parents can ask for mediation, or the school may offer mediation. Parents may file a complaint with the state education agency and may request a due process hearing, at which time mediation must be available.

VI.  Services Under the IEP are Provided:

Once finalized and implemented, the school is responsible for making sure that the child’s IEP is being carried out as it was written. Parents are given a copy of the IEP. Each of the child’s teachers and service providers has access to the IEP and knows his or her specific responsibilities for carrying out the IEP. This includes the accommodations, modifications, and supports that must be provided to the child, in keeping with the IEP.

VII.  Progress is Measured and Reported to Parents:

A child’s progress toward the annual goals is measured, as stated in the IEP.  The student’s parents are supposed to be regularly informed of their child’s progress and whether that progress is enough for the child to achieve the goals by the end of the year. These progress reports must be given to parents at least as often as parents are informed of their nondisabled children’s progress.

VIII.  Annual Review of IEP:

The child’s IEP is reviewed by the IEP Team at least once a year, or more often if the parents or school ask for a review. If necessary, the IEP is revised. Parents, as team members, must be invited to attend these meetings. Parents can make suggestions for changes, can agree or disagree with the IEP goals, and agree or disagree with the placement.  If parents do not agree with the IEP and placement, they may discuss their concerns with other members of the IEP Team and try to work out an agreement. There are several options, including additional testing, an independent evaluation, or asking for mediation (if available) or a due process hearing. They may also file a complaint with the state education agency.

IX.  Reevaluation of a Child’s Needs Under the IDEA:

At least every three years the child must be reevaluated. This evaluation is often called a “triennial.” Its purpose is to find out if the child continues to be a “child with a disability,” as defined by IDEA, and what the child’s educational needs are. However, the child must be reevaluated more often if conditions warrant or if the child’s parent or teacher asks for a new evaluation.

Ashley Morgan Healthcare AttorneyAshley Morgan, J.D., represents students and their families in IDEA cases.  For a free consultation, please give Ashley a call at: 1 (800) 475-1906.

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