The Special Education Process
Introduction to Special Education
Adapted from the: Center for Parent Information and Resources (6.20.2020). Questions Often Asked by Parents about Special Education Services, Newark, NJ, Author. (2017)
Table of Contents
- Introduction to Special Education
- The Evaluation Process
- Deciding Eligibility
- Writing and Implementing an IEP
- Early Childhood Education: Individualized Family Service Plan, or IFSP.
Why is the child struggling in school?
When a child is struggling in school, it is important to find out why. It may be that a disability is affecting the child’s educational performance. If so, the child may be eligible for special education and related services that can help.
As a first step, the school may need to try sufficient interventions in the regular education classroom and modify instructional practices before referring the child for special education evaluation.
What is special education?
Special education is instruction that is specially designed to meet the unique needs of children who have disabilities. Special education and related services are provided in public schools at no cost to the parents and can include special instruction in the classroom, at home, in hospitals or institutions, or in other settings. This definition of special education comes from IDEA, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. This law gives eligible children with disabilities the right to receive special services and assistance in school.
More than 6.8 million children ages 3 through 21 receive special education and related services each year in the United States. Each of these children receives instruction that is specially designed:
- To meet the child’s unique needs (that result from having a disability); and
- To help the child learn the information and skills that other children are learning in the general education curriculum.
Who is eligible for special education?
Children with disabilities are eligible for special education and related services when they meet IDEA’s definition of a “child with a disability” in combination with state and local policies. IDEA’s definition of a “child with a disability” lists 13 different disability categories under which a child may be found eligible for special education and related services. These categories are listed below. IDEA describes what each of these disability categories means. You’ll find those descriptions online at:
Services to Very Young Children
Infants and toddlers can have disabilities, too. Services to children under three years of age are also part of IDEA. These services are called early intervention services and can be very important in helping young children develop and learn. For information about early intervention, visit this overview:
How do I find out if a child is eligible?
A parent can ask the school to evaluate their child. They can call or write the director of special education or the principal of their child’s school and request an evaluation under IDEA, to see if a disability is involved.
The public school may also be concerned about how the child is learning and developing. If the school thinks that the child may have a disability, then it must evaluate the child at no cost to the parent. The school must ask for parental permission and receive written consent before it may evaluate the child. Once consent is provided, the evaluation must be conducted within 60 days (or within the timeframe the state has established).
However, the school does not have to evaluate your child just because of a parent request. The school may not think the child has a disability or needs special education. In this case, the school may refuse to evaluate the child. It must let the parent know this decision in writing, as well as why it has refused. This is called giving the parent prior written notice.
Prior written notice refers to messages that the parent/guardian receives from the school system at specific times. At its heart, prior written notice is meant to inform the parents, as fully as possible about any actions the school system is proposing to take (or refusing to take) with respect to:
· The child’s identification as a “child with a disability” as defined by IDEA and State policy;
· The child’s evaluation;
· His or her educational placement; and
· The school system’s provision of FAPE to your child.
Prior written notice includes notifying the parent/guardian of upcoming meetings far enough in advance to ensure that you have the opportunity to attend and scheduling those meetings at a mutually agreed-on time and place.
Disposition of Referral Meeting
If anyone besides the parent makes a referral, the parent must immediately be notified in writing (Prior Written Notice) that a referral has been made.
Once a referral is received by the school district, the IEP Team, which includes the parents, must meet within 15 BUSINESS days to determine whether the child should be evaluated. The team could determine that they would like to provide interventions and progress monitor rather than test the child. On the other hand, the team could decide that they need to evaluate to determine if the child meets the criteria for having an educational disability.
If the team decides that an evaluation is necessary, the team will decide which possible disabilities may be present (For example, Specific Learning Disability or a Speech or Language Impairment, or one of the other disabilities recognized by the State of New Hampshire). The team will complete a permission to test form which lists which assessments they propose and who will be administering them. The types of tests administered are determined by the type of educational disability the team suspects may be present. (See page 79 -84 of the NH Rules for Special Education for a table of assessments and qualified examiners) The parents have the right to agree or disagree to the testing. They have 14 days to decide.
- Business days are Monday through Friday only.
- Calendar days are all 7 days of the week.
If the school refuses to evaluate the child, there are two things the parent can do immediately:
Ask the school system for information about its special education policies, as well as parental rights to disagree with decisions made by the school system. These materials should describe the steps parents can take to appeal a school system’s decision.
Direct parents with their state’s Parent Training and Information (PTI) center. The PTI is an excellent resource for parents to learn more about special education, their rights and responsibilities, and the law. The PTI can tell parents know what steps to take next to find help for their child. New Hampshire’s Parent Information Centers website: https://picnh.org/
The special education process begins when a child is referred to special education. Initial Evaluation
The special education process begins when a child is referred to special education. A parent, or anyone who knows the child well, may refer the child to the special education process. Once the school receives the referral, they must hold a meeting to decide if they feel the child should be evaluated or if interventions should be implemented. If the team decides to conduct an assessment for a possible educational disability and the parent agrees, the evaluation will need to be finished within 60 CALENDAR DAYS. Once the testing is done, the team meets to review the results and determine eligibility. The special educator/case manager must send evaluation results home to parents at least 5 days prior to the evaluation results meeting.
If the team decides that the child does meet the criteria for being identified as having an educational disability and the parent agrees, the team now has 30 days to develop an Individualized Education Program (IEP).
Part 1: The Evaluation Process
This is a brief overview of the Evaluation Process. *Teacher Candidates will gain an awareness of the legal and ethical issues and the procedures involved in the evaluation and determination of educational disabilities in the “Assessment of Students with Disabilities” course.
What happens during an evaluation?
Evaluating a child means more than the school just giving the child a test. The school must evaluate the child in all the areas where the child may be affected by the possible disability. This may include looking at the child’s health, vision, hearing, social and emotional well-being, general intelligence, performance in school, and how well the child communicates with others and uses his or her body. The evaluation must be individualized (just the child) and full and comprehensive enough to determine if the child has a disability and to identify all of the child’s needs for special education and related services if it is determined that the child has a disability.
Understanding the IEP Process: THe Basics of an Evaluation Team Report
[Broadcast Educational Media], (2016, Sep. 6). Understanding the IEP Process: THe Basics of an Evaluation Team Report, [Video Files], from https://youtu.be/rFqymtziAYk
The evaluation process involves several steps. These are listed below.
A | Reviewing existing information
A team of people, including the parent begins by looking at the information the school already has about the child. The parent may have information about the child they wish to share as well. The team will look at information such as:
- The child’s scores on tests given in the classroom or to all students in the child’s grade;
- The opinions and observations of the child’s teachers and other school staff who know the child; and
- The parent’s feelings, concerns, and ideas about how the child is doing in school.
B | Deciding if more information is still needed
The information collected above will help the group decide:
- If the child has a disability.
- How the child is currently doing in school;
- Whether the child needs special education and related services; and
- What the child’s educational needs are.
If the information the team collects does not answer these questions, then the school must collect more information about the child.
C | Collecting more information about the child
Parent informed written permission is required before the school may collect additional information about the child. The school must also describe how it will collect the information. This includes describing the tests that will be used and the other ways the school will gather information about the child. After parental consent is given, the school will go ahead as described. The information it gathers will give the evaluation team the information it needs to make the types of decisions listed above.
How does the school collect this information?
The school collects information about the child from many different people and in many ways. Tests are an important part of an evaluation, but they are only a part. The evaluation should also include:
- The observations and opinions of professionals who have worked with the child;
- The child’s medical history, when it relates to his or her performance in school; and
- Parent ideas about the child’s school experiences, abilities, needs, and behavior outside of school, and his or her feelings about school.
The following people will be part of the evaluation team:
- At least one regular education teacher, if the child is or may be participating in the regular educational environment.
- At least one of the child’s special education teachers or service providers;
- A school administrator who knows about policies for special education, about children with disabilities, about the general education curriculum (the curriculum used by students who do not have disabilities), and about available resources;
- Someone who can interpret the evaluation results and talk about what instruction may be necessary for the child;
- Individuals (invited by the parent or the school) who have knowledge or special expertise about the child;
- The child, if appropriate;
- Representatives from any other agencies that may be responsible for paying for or providing transition services (if the child is age 16 or, if appropriate, younger and will be planning for life after high school); and
- Other qualified professionals.
These other qualified professionals may be responsible for collecting specific kinds of information about your child. They may include:
- A school psychologist and/or an occupational therapist;
- A speech and language pathologist (sometimes called a speech therapist);
- a physical therapist and/or adaptive physical education therapist or teacher;
- A medical specialist; and
Professionals will observe the child. They may give the child written tests or talk personally with the child. They are trying to get a picture of the “whole child.” For example, they want to understand such aspects as:
- How well the child speaks and understands language;
- How the child thinks and behaves;
- How well the child adapts to changes in his or her environment;
- How well the child has done academically;
- How well your the functions in a number of areas, such as moving, thinking, learning, seeing, and hearing; and
- Your child’s job-related and other post-school interests and abilities.
IDEA gives clear directions about how schools must conduct evaluations. For example, tests and interviews must be given in the language (for example, Spanish, sign language) or communication mode (for example, Braille, using a picture board or an alternative augmentative communication device) that is most likely to yield accurate information about what the child knows or can do developmentally, functionally, and academically. The tests must also be given in a way that does not discriminate against the child because he or she has a disability or is from a different racial or cultural background.
IDEA states that schools may not decide a child’s eligibility for special education based on the results of only one procedure such as a test or an observation. More than one procedure is needed to see where the child may be having difficulty and to identify his or her strengths and needs.
In some cases, schools will be able to conduct a child’s entire evaluation within the school. In other cases, schools may not have the staff to do all of the evaluations needed. These schools will have to hire outside people or agencies to do some or all of the evaluation. If the child is evaluated outside of the school, the school must make the arrangements. The school will say in writing exactly what type of testing is to be done. All of these evaluation procedures are done at no cost to parents.
Part II: Deciding Eligibility
What does the school do with these evaluation results?
The information gathered from the evaluation will be used to make important decisions about the child’s education. All of the information about the child will be used:
- To decide if the child is eligible for special education and related services; and
- To help the parent and the school decide what the child needs educationally.
How is the child’s eligibility for special education decided?
The decision about the child’s eligibility for services is based on whether the child has a disability that fits into one of the IDEA’s 13 disability categories and meets any additional state or local criteria for eligibility. This decision will be made when the evaluation has been completed, and the results are available.
Parents are part of the team that decides a child’s eligibility for special education. This team will look at all of the information gathered during the evaluation and decide if the child meets the definition of a “child with a disability.” If so, the child will be eligible for special education and related services.
Under IDEA, a child may not be found eligible for services if the determining reason for thinking the child is eligible is that:
- The child has limited English proficiency, or
- The child has not had appropriate instruction in math or reading.
If the child is found eligible, the parent and the school will work together to design an individualized education program for the child. This process is described in detail in Part III.
The school will give the parent a copy of the evaluation report on the child and the paperwork about the child’s eligibility for special education and related services. This documentation is provided to the parent/guardian at no cost.
What happens if the child is not eligible for special education?
If the eligibility team decides that the child is not eligible for special education, the school system must tell the parent this in writing and explain why the child has been found “not eligible.” Under IDEA, the parent must also be given information about what the parent can do if they disagree with this decision.
IDEA includes many different mechanisms for resolving disagreements, including mediation. The school is required to tell the parent what those mechanisms are and how to use them.
What happens if the child is found eligible for special education, but the parent does not agree?
If the child is found eligible for special education and related services and parent disagrees with that decision, or if they do not want the child to receive special education and related services, they have the right to decline these services for their child. The school may provide the child with special education and related services only if the parent agrees. Also, the parent may cancel special education and related services for their child at any time.
It is important to note, however, that if the parent declines or cancels special education for their child and later changes their mind, the evaluation process must be repeated.
Once all the evaluations are complete, the IEP Team, including the parents, meets to consider all available information and determine if the child has a disability for which they require special education, or special education and related services. They will review the results of all the evaluations. Each evaluator will present their report at this meeting. The classroom teacher will discuss classroom performance and grades. The special educator will share their report as well as the student’s performance on State and district testing (such as the Statewide Assessment System NH SAS, AIMSweb, Dibels, etc.)
Once everyone has shared their reports, the team will go through an eligibility form for each suspected disability to determine if the child meets the criteria. The forms are typically in a checklist format and the team goes through the form together answering each question. For example, if the suspected disabilities discussed at the disposition of referral meeting were Speech or Language Impairment or Specific Learning Disability, the team would go through each of those forms together.
Once a child is found eligible for special education, they are identified as meeting the definition for one or more of the following disability categories. Again, the parents have the right to agree or disagree with the team’s decision. They have 14 days to do so.
Part III: Writing and Implementing an IEP
This section is a brief summary of writing and implementing an IEP. Teacher candidates will take a close examination of the IEP components and develop an IEP and transition plan that conforms to IDEA 2004 standards in the IEP and Transition Planning course.
The child has been found eligible for special education, and the parent agrees. What is next?
The next step is to write and implement what is known as an Individualized Education Program—usually called an IEP. After a child is found eligible, a meeting must be held within 30 days to develop to the IEP.
The acronym IEP stands for Individualized Education Program. This is a written document that describes the educational program designed to meet a child’s individual needs. Every child who receives special education must have an IEP.
The IEP has two general purposes: (1) to set learning goals for the child; and (2) to state the supports and services that the school district will provide for the child.
What type of information is included in an IEP?
According to IDEA, the child’s IEP must include specific statements. These are listed below between the lines. This is a brief introduction the IEP.
Present levels of academic achievement and functional performance. This statement describes how the child is currently achieving in school. This includes how the child’s disability affects his or her participation and progress in the general education curriculum.
Annual goals. The IEP must state annual goals for the child, what the parent and the school team think he or she can reasonably accomplish in a year. The goals must relate to meeting the needs that result from the child’s disability. They must also help the child participate in and progress in the general education curriculum.
Special education and related services to be provided. The IEP must list the special education and related services to be provided to the child. This includes supplementary aids and services (e.g., preferential seating, a communication device, one-on-one tutor) that can increase the child’s access to learning and his or her participation in school activities. It also includes changes to the program or supports for school personnel that will be provided for the child.
Participation with children without disabilities. The IEP must include an explanation that answers this question: How much of the school day will the child be educated separately from children without disabilities or not participate in extracurricular or other nonacademic activities such as lunch or clubs?
Dates and location. The IEP must state (a) when special education and related and supplementary aids and services will begin; (b) how often they will be provided; (c) where they will be provided; and (d) how long they will last.
Participation in state and district-wide assessments. Your state and district probably gives tests of student achievement to children in certain grades or age groups. To participate in these tests, the child may need individual accommodations or changes in how the tests are administered. The IEP team must decide what accommodations the child needs and list them in the IEP. If the child will not be taking these tests, the IEP must include a statement as to why the tests are not appropriate for the child, how the child will be tested instead, and why the alternate assessment selected is appropriate for the child.
Transition services. By the time the child is 16 (or younger, if the IEP team finds it appropriate for the child), the IEP must include measurable postsecondary goals related to the child’s training, education, employment, and (when appropriate) independent living skills. The IEP must also include the transition services needed to help the child reach those goals, including what the child should study.
Measuring progress. The IEP must state how school personnel will measure your child’s progress toward the annual goals. It must also state when it will give you periodic reports on your child’s progress.
It is very important that children who receive special education participate in the general education curriculum as much as possible. That is, they should learn the same curriculum as children without disabilities—for example, reading, math, science, social studies, and physical education. In some cases, this curriculum may need to be adapted for the child to learn, but it should not be omitted. Participation in extracurricular activities and other nonacademic activities is also important. The child’s IEP needs to be written with this in mind.
For example, what special education and related services will help the child participate in the general education curriculum—in other words, to study what other students are studying? What special education, related services, or supports will help the child take part in extracurricular activities such as school clubs or sports? When the child’s IEP is developed, an important part of the discussion will be how to support the child in regular education classes and activities in the school.
Who develops the child’s IEP?
Many people come together to develop the child’s IEP. This group is called the IEP team and includes most of the same types of individuals who were involved in the child’s evaluation. Team members will include:
- The parents
- At least one regular education teacher, if the child is (or may be) participating in the regular education environment
- At least one of the child’s special education teachers or special education providers
- A representative of the school system who (a) is qualified to provide or supervise the provision of special education, (b) knows about the general education curriculum; and (c) knows about the resources the school system has available
- An individual who can interpret the evaluation results and talk about what instruction may be necessary for the child
- The child, when appropriate
Other individuals (invited by the parent or the school) who have knowledge or special expertise about the child. For example, the parent may wish to invite a relative who is close to the child or a childcare provider. The school may wish to invite a related service provider, such as a speech therapist or a physical therapist.
With your consent, the school must also invite representatives from any other agencies that are likely to be responsible for paying for or providing transition services (if your child is 16 years old or, if appropriate, younger).
How can the parent help develop their child’s IEP?
The law is very clear that parents have the right to participate in developing their child’s IEP. Parent input is invaluable. They know their child so very well, and the school needs to know their insights and concerns. That is why IDEA makes parents equal members of the IEP team.
The school staff will try to schedule the IEP meeting at a time that is convenient for all team members to attend. If the school suggests a time that is impossible for the parent, explain your schedule and needs. It is important that the parent(s) attend this meeting and share their ideas about their child’s needs and strengths.
Can the meeting be held without the parents participating?
Yes. IDEA’s regulations state that the school may hold the IEP meeting without the parents if it is unable convince the parents, they should attend. If no parent can attend the IEP meeting, the school must use other methods to ensure their participation, including video conferences and individual or conference telephone calls.
If, however, the parent(s) still can’t attend or participate in the IEP meeting, the school may hold the IEP meeting without them—as long as it keeps a record of its efforts to arrange a mutually agreed-on time and place and the results of those efforts. This can be accomplished by keeping detailed records:
- Telephone calls made or attempted and the results of those calls;
- Copies of correspondence sent to you and any responses received; and
- Detailed records of visits made to your home or work and the results of those visits.
If the school does hold the meeting without the parents, it must keep them informed about the meeting and any decisions made there. The school must also ask for (and receive) parental written permission before special education and related services may be provided to their child for the first time.
What can the parent do before the IEP meeting?
The purpose of the IEP meeting is to develop the child’s Individualized Education Program. Encourage the parent to prepare for this meeting by:
- Making a list of the child’s strengths and needs;
- Talking to teachers and/or therapists and getting their thoughts about the child;
- Visiting the child’s class and perhaps other classes that may be helpful to him or her; and
- Talk to the child about his or her feelings toward school.
What happens during an IEP meeting?
During the IEP meeting, the different members of the IEP team share their thoughts and suggestions. If this is the first IEP meeting after the child’s evaluation, the team may go over the evaluation results, so the child’s strengths and needs will be clear. These results will help the team decide what special help the child needs in school.
After the various team members (including the parent) have shared their thoughts and concerns, the group will have a better idea of the child’s strengths and needs. This will allow the team to discuss and decide:
- The educational and other goals that are appropriate for the child; and
- The type of special education services the child needs.
The IEP team will also talk about the related services the child may need to benefit from his or her special education. The IDEA lists many related services that schools must provide if eligible children need them. Examples of related services include:
- Occupational therapy, which can help a child develop or regain movement that he or she may have lost due to injury or illness; and
- Speech and language services, which can help children who have trouble speaking.
IDEA’s List of Related Services
Supplementary aids and services can also play a pivotal role in supporting the education of children with disabilities in the general education classroom and their participation in a range of other school activities. That is also the intent of supplementary aids and services. Not surprisingly, these supports may be an important topic to discuss in the IEP meeting. Examples include, but are not limited to:
- Supports to address the child’s environmental needs (e.g., preferential seating; altered physical room arrangement);
- Levels of staff support needed (e.g., type of personnel support needed, such as a behavior specialist, health care assistant, or instructional support assistant);
- Specialized equipment needs that the child may have (e.g., wheelchair, computer, augmentative communication device);
- Pacing of instruction needed (e.g., breaks, more time, home set of materials);
- Presentation of subject matter needed (e.g., taped lectures, sign language, primary language); and
- Assignment modification needed (e.g., shorter assignments, taped lessons, instructions broken down into steps).
Deciding which supplementary aids and services (if any) will support the child’s access to the general education curriculum and participation in school activities will very much depend upon the child’s disability and his or her needs. None may be needed. Or many. All are intended to enable the child to be educated with children without disabilities to the maximum extent appropriate.
Special factors. Depending on the needs of the child, the IEP team must also discuss these special factors:
- If the child’s behavior interferes with his or her learning or the learning of others: The IEP team will talk about strategies and supports to address the child’s behavior.
- If the child has limited proficiency in English: The IEP team will talk about the child’s language needs as these needs relate to his or her IEP.
- If the child is blind or visually impaired: The IEP team must provide for instruction in Braille or the use of Braille, unless it determines, after an appropriate evaluation that the child does not need this instruction.
- If the child has communication needs: The IEP team must consider those needs.
- If the child is deaf or hard of hearing: The IEP team will consider the child’s language and communication needs. This includes the child’s opportunities to communicate directly with classmates and school staff in his or her usual method of communication (for example, sign language).
Assistive technology. The IEP team will also talk about whether the child needs any assistive technology devices or services. Assistive technology devices can help many children do certain activities. Examples include:
- Adapted furniture, tools, utensils, and other typically nonelectronic devices—which can help children with physical challenges; and
- Digital books, or devices that enlarge words on a computer screen or read them aloud—which can help children who do not see or read well.
Assistive technology services include evaluating the child to see if he or she could benefit from using an assistive device. These services also include providing the device and training the child to use it. If appropriate, the family and/or the professionals who work with the child may also receive training in using the device.
Transition services. Beginning when the child is age 16 (or younger, if appropriate), the IEP team will help the child plan ahead to life after high school and include statements in the IEP with respect to:
- Postsecondary annual goals for the child;
- The transition services (including courses of study) needed to help the child reach those goals; and
- The rights (if any) that will transfer from parent to the child when he or she reaches the age of majority, and that the child and parent have been notified of these.
IDEA defines transition services as a coordinated set of activities for a student with a disability that is designed within a results-oriented process focused on improving the student’s academic and functional achievement and promoting the student’s movement from school to post-school activities. These activities can include postsecondary education, vocational education, integrated employment (including supported employment), continuing and adult education, adult services, independent living, or community participation. With respect to the child, this coordinated set of activities:
- Is based on the child’s individual needs, taking into account his or her strengths, preferences, and interests; and
- Includes instruction; related services; community experiences; the development of employment and other post-school adult living objectives; and, if appropriate, the acquisition of daily living skills and functional vocational evaluation.
Transition services can be provided as special education if they are specially designed instruction or as a related service, if they are required for the child to benefit from special education.
The parent may feel very emotional during the meeting, as everyone talks about their child’s needs. Remind the parent that the other team members are all there to help their child. To design a good program for their child, it is important for the parents to work closely with the team members and share their feelings about their child’s educational needs.
Based on the above discussions, the IEP team will then write the child’s IEP. This includes the services and supports the school will provide for the child. It will also include the particular location where services will be provided. The child’s placement (where the IEP will be carried out) will be determined every year, must be based on the child’s IEP, and must be as close as possible to the child’s home. The placement decision is made by a group of persons, including the parent, and others knowledgeable about the child, the meaning of the evaluation data, and the placement options. In some states, the IEP team makes the placement decision. In other states, the placement decision is made by another group of people. In all cases, the parents have the right to be members of the group that makes decisions on the educational placement of their child.
Depending on the needs of the child and the services to be provided, the child’s IEP could be carried out:
- In regular education classes;
- In special classes (where all the students are receiving special education services);
- In special schools;
- At home;
- In hospitals and institutions; and
- In other settings.
IDEA strongly prefers that children with disabilities be educated in the general education classroom, working and learning alongside their peers without disabilities. In fact, placement in the regular education classroom is the first option the IEP team should consider. With the support of supplementary aids and services, can the child be educated satisfactorily in that setting? If so, then the regular education classroom is the child’s appropriate placement. If not, then the group deciding placement will look at other placements for the child.
Does the school need parental consent to implement the IEP?
Yes, the school must obtain parental informed written consent before the initial provision of special education and related services to their child and must make reasonable efforts to obtain that consent.
If the parent does respond to the request for consent for the initial provision of special education and related services, refuses to give consent, the school system may not override their lack of consent and implement the IEP. The school system is not considered in violation of its requirement to make a free appropriate public education available to the child. The parents’ lack of consent, however, means that the child will not receive special education and related services in school.
Can the parent revoke consent for special education and related services after initially giving it?
Yes. At any time after providing initial consent, the parent may revoke consent, in writing, for the continued provision of special education and related services. Once the parent revokes consent, the school system may no longer provide special education and related services to the child, and they may not use mediation or due process procedures to try to override the parent’s revocation of consent.
Once the parent revokes consent, the child will be no longer receive the services and supports that were included in his or her IEP. It is important for the parent to ask questions about how their child’s education will be affected before revoking consent.
Can the IEP be changed?
Yes. At least once a year a meeting must be scheduled to review the child’s progress and develop the child’s new annual IEP. The parent (or any other team member) may ask to have the child’s IEP reviewed or revised at any time, if a need or concern arises.
The meeting to revise the IEP will be similar to the IEP meeting described above. The team will talk about:
- The child’s progress toward the goals in the current IEP;
- What new goals should be added; and
- Whether any changes need to be made to the special education and related services the child receives.
Can the IEP be changed without holding an IEP meeting?
Yes. If the parent and the school want to change the child’s IEP after the annual IEP meeting, parents and the school may agree not to convene an IEP meeting. Instead, parents and the school will develop a written document that will amend the child’s IEP. If the child’s IEP is changed, all IEP team members will be informed of the changes, and if the parent request it, the school must give the parent a copy of the revised IEP.
Does the IEP meeting have to be in person?
No. When holding an IEP meeting, parents and the school may agree to use other means of participation. For example, some members may participate by video conference or conference calls.
May a team member be excused from attending an IEP meeting?
Yes, under certain circumstances and only with the consent of both the school system and the parent. If the member’s area of the curriculum or related service is not going to be discussed or modified at the meeting, then he or she may be excused if the parent, and the school system agree in writing. A member whose area of expertise is going to discussed or changed at the meeting may be excused—under two conditions:
- Parent (in writing) and the school agree to excuse the member; and
- The member gives written input about developing the IEP to you and the team before the meeting.
If a child is identified as having an educational disability and requires a special education and possibly related services, the IEP Team must develop an IEP within 30 days of the eligibility determination meeting. Again, parents have 14 days to agree or disagree with the IEP. Once a child has an IEP, it must be reviewed and revised at least annually, and must be in place by the beginning of each school year.
Placement Meeting: Once the IEP has been approved (signed), the IEP Team determines the least restrictive environment (LRE) in which the child’s IEP can be implemented. If the parent agrees to the IEP at the IEP meeting, the team typically holds the Placement meeting right after the IEP is signed (at the same meeting).
Part IV: Re-Evaluation
When will the child be re-evaluated?
After the initial evaluation, evaluations must be conducted at least every three years (generally called a triennial evaluation) after the child has been placed in special education, unless the parent and the school agree that a reevaluation is not necessary . Reevaluations can also occur more frequently if conditions warrant, or if the parent or the child’s teacher request a reevaluation. Informed parental consent is also necessary for reevaluations.
The purpose of this reevaluation is to find out:
- If the child continues to be a “child with a disability,” as defined within the law; and
- The child’s educational needs.
The reevaluation is similar to the initial evaluation. It begins by looking at the information already available about the child. More information is collected only if the IEP team determines that more information is needed or if the requests it. If the group decides that additional assessments are needed, the parent must give their informed written permission before the school system may collect that information. The school system may only go ahead without parent informed written permission if they have tried to get parental permission and the parent repeatedly did not respond.
Although the law requires that children with disabilities be re-evaluated at least every three years, the child may be re-evaluated more often if the parent or your child’s teacher(s) request it. However, reevaluations may not occur more than once a year, unless the parent and the school system agree that a reevaluation is needed.
Part V: Resolving Disputes
What if a parent disagrees with the school about what is right for their child?
The parent has the right to disagree with the school’s decisions concerning their child. This includes decisions about:
- The child’s identification as a “child with a disability;”
- His or her evaluation;
- His or her educational placement; and
- The special education and related services that the school provides to the child.
In all cases where the family and school disagree, it is important for both sides to first discuss their concerns and try to reach consensus. Decisions can be temporary. For example, the parent might agree to try out a particular plan of instruction or classroom placement for a certain period of time. At the end of that period, the school can check the child’s progress. The parent and other members of the child’s IEP team can then meet again, talk about how the child is doing, and decide what to do next. The trial period may help the parent and the school come to a comfortable agreement on how to help the child.
If the still cannot agree with the school, it’s useful to know more about IDEA’s protections for parents and children. The law and its regulations include ways for parents and schools to resolve disagreements. These include mediation, due process, and filing a complaint with the state educational agency. Parents also have the right to refuse consent for initial provision of special education and related services, or to cancel all special education and related services for their child without using mediation, due process, or filing a complaint.
Always remember that the parent and the school will be making decisions together about the child’s education for as long as the child goes to that school and continues to be eligible for special education and related services. A good working relationship with school staff is important now and in the future. Both parents and the school want success for the child and working together can make this happen.
There is a lot to know about each of these vehicles for resolving disputes. If you would like to learn more:
Visit the CADRE, the National Center for Dispute Resolution
Early Childhood Education
Individualized Family Service Plan, or IFSP.
In the Early Childhood Education program teacher candidates will learn about the process of early identification and intervention for infants and young children. Similar to K-12 ( age 21 students) there is a referral process in place.
When the early intervention system receives a referral about a child with a suspected disability or developmental delay, a time clock starts running. Within 45 days, the early intervention system must complete the critical steps discussed thus far:
- screening (if used in the state),
- initial evaluation of the child,
- initial assessments of the child and family, and
- writing the IFSP (if the child has been found eligible).
That’s a tall order, but important, given how quickly children grow and change. When a baby or toddler has developmental issues, they need to be addressed as soon as possible. So—45 days, that’s the timeframe from referral to completion of the IFSP for an eligible child.
Having collected a great deal of information about the child and family, it’s now possible for the team (including parents) to sit down and write an individualized plan of action for the child and family. This plan is called the Individualized Family Service Plan, or IFSP. It is a very important document, and parents, are important members of the team that develops it. Each state has specific guidelines for the IFSP.
Center for Parent Information and Resources, (2017). Overview of Early Intervention
Resource to share with parents
Parent Information Center on Special Education, (2017). Steps in the Special Education Process. Retrieved from https://picnh.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/Step-In-the-Special-Education-Process-2021.pdf