What Parents Should Know About IEPs
Children with learning disabilities or other disabilities who meet eligibility qualifications are entitled to receive special education services under a federal law called the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The IDEA provides a process for developing and implementing an Individualized Education Plan or Program (IEP) that guides the services that a student receives.
Parents and also students, where appropriate, are integral members of the IEP team and are equal participants in planning and writing the IEP and in monitoring the services that are provided. The IEP is individualized to the student’s needs, and the services that can be provided vary widely. They can be as individual as each student.
In order for parents to be effective partners in the IEP process, it really helps to learn about the law and how services are provided.
An excellent resource for receiving knowledgeable support is the Utah Parent Center (UPC). The UPC has been designated and funded by the U.S. Department of Education and the Utah State Board of education to provide FREE training and support to parents. Visit their website to learn about upcoming classes and to read fact sheets and other materials. You may also call the UPC to speak to a parent consultant who can answer questions and coach you through the process. The UPC can also arrange to have an advocate assist you if you need help working through disagreements with the school. Visit the UPC website
The Utah State Board of Education provides rules for the provision of special education services in Utah. You may access the rules and a lot of other information including information on how students with learning disabilities qualify to be served in special education by visiting their website at: https://www.schools.utah.gov/specialeducation/resources/lawsrulesregulations
The IEP Process Simplified:
1. Referral. The first step toward getting services is for the student to be referred for an evaluation to determine if the student is eligible. We recommend that parents make a referral in writing to the school and keep a copy for their records. Explain in the letter why you think the student needs services. The school must respond and may either (1.) Decline to evaluate the student or (2.) Conduct an evaluation. If the school declines, parents have rights to discuss their concerns with the school or access dispute resolution resources.
2. Evaluation. Parents must sign a form giving permission to evaluate before an initial evaluation for special education can proceed. There are many things that can be considered in an evaluation and various school personnel may be involved in the evaluation. Parents are also involved and may share information they have for the team to consider. See the UPC fact sheet on evaluation for more details on the rules regarding evaluation.
3. Eligibility. The Utah Special Education Rules outline how students qualify for services in the different special education categories. There is a category for Specific Learning Disabilities. Sometimes students have more than one disability, but no matter which category the student is served under, all the student’s needs should be assessed, and the appropriate services should be provided whether or not they are all commonly associated with that disability.For more detail on how eligibility is determined, you may want to visit the Utah State Board of Education website. If parents disagree with the eligibility results, they are entitled to ask for an independent evaluation at school district expense. Parents wishing to pursue this option are advised to work with the school and to obtain the independent evaluation from a source that will be accepted by the school. Questions on your rights relating to evaluation and eligibility can be discussed with staff at the Utah Parent Center.
4. Individualized Education Program. The IEP is developed by a team that includes the Special Education teacher, a regular education teacher, the Local Education Agency (LEA) representative (the principal or designee who can commit resources), someone who participated in and understand the testing that was done, the parent(s), the student, especially as the student gets older or is transition age, and anyone else that is appropriate, including various school providers like therapists as well as anyone the parent(s) wishes to invite who has expertise regarding the student. This can include friends, someone for support or advocates.
The IEP team considers the assessment results, and then develops goals based on the needs identified in the assessment. The team then determines what services and supports are necessary to meet the goals outlined for the student. Once the team agrees on the services, the parent will be asked to sign the IEP and the school is obligated to provide the services.
One of the services that is often developed is a behavior plan. There are specific rules regarding how behavior plans and the services are developed. For more information, please visit the UPC website. New materials are being added. These materials will help acquaint you with the Utah State Board of Education’s Least Restrictive Behavior Interventions (LRBI) guidance which is an excellent resource for parents and school personnel.
The IEP process provides and opportunity for team members to discuss different options. After the IEP is agreed upon it provides a framework that team members can use to discuss progress and monitor what is working or what needs to be changed. IEP’s can be changed as needed with the agreement of school personnel and parents.
You may wish to visit the UPC website for lots of tips about how to prepare for and participate in the IEP meeting.
5. Placement. Once the services have been determined, it is time for the team to decide in what kind of a setting the student should be served. Schools are required to have a continuum of placement options from the least restrictive (receiving the services all in the general education classroom) to more restrictive placements like being pulled out of the general education class for part of the time or being in a special education classroom all day to the most restrictive settings like receiving services at home or in a hospital. Students are entitled to be served in the least restrictive setting that is appropriate for them.
Parents must give permission for placement and may revoke permission at any time. For more about placement rights, visit the UPC website.
6. Instruction. The instruction and services outlined in the IEP are provided. Parents will want to stay informed on how instruction is progressing. They should receive progress reports from the school about how the student is progressing on the IEP goals at least as often as other students receive progress reports. Parents should keep good communication going and ask questions or share information on a regular basis. If the student is not progressing as expected, the team can agree to adjust the services as appropriate.
7. Annual Review. At least once per year before the anniversary of the IEP, the IEP team should meet to conduct an annual review and update the IEP. The procedure and requirements are similar to the initial IEP meeting, and parents will want to be prepared to ask questions and share their information as before.
This process can continue to cycle through the student’s school years. The school must give written notice at any time it proposes to exit the student from special educations services, and the parent has other rights including the right to contest the decision.
8. Reevaluation. At least every three years or more often if requested by the parent or teacher, the student is reevaluated to see if the student still qualifies for special education. For more information on the rules regarding reevaluation, visit the UPC website.
Transition. Additional requirements are in place beginning at age 14 to help the student transition to adult life. We recommend that parents of students approaching this time of the student’s school career take some of the excellent transition classes provided by the UPC or visit the transition sections of the UPC website, where they will find many helpful resources.