Indianapolis mom Erin S. first learned about Individualized Education Programs, or IEPs, when her youngest son was identified as having ADHD. “Prior to him being diagnosed, I hadn’t even heard of IEPs,” she says.
Her son is now in second grade and doing very well says Erin. However, she recalls how confusing that initial period was, and says she wishes she’d known more about what to expect. Between the meetings, acronyms and testing, the IEP process can seem overwhelming for many parents.
What is an IEP?
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a federal law that guides how states, school districts and public agencies provide early intervention, special education and related services to children with disabilities. Under IDEA, when a child is suspected of having a learning disability, schools must follow a process called Response to Intervention, or RTI. This is the evaluation process that determines whether or not a student has a learning disability as defined by the school.
If the evaluation determines that there is a disability that adversely affects the child’s education, an IEP is developed for the student. The IEP outlines specific goals teachers will work on with the student, what instruction will need to take place to help the child meet the IEP’s goals, and how much time/services the child needs.
Who is in the IEP meeting?
The student’s IEP is developed during a meeting with a team of professionals from the school. Mary Ann Scott, Director of Student Support Services & The Learning Project at Park Tudor School says that the IEP team is generally comprised of the child’s general education teacher, a member of the assessment/evaluation team, an administrator, a teacher licensed in the child’s area of disability, the parent and under some circumstances, the child.
Scott says parents should pencil in up to two hours for the first meeting. Once the IEP is in place, it’s effective for one calendar year minus one day, or 364 days. While IEP meetings generally happen once a school year, they can be scheduled more frequently to discuss or reevaluate progress, explains Scott.
What should parents ask?
While every IEP meeting is different, there are some common areas that every parent should expect to be covered. Dr. Karol Farrell, recently retired Director of Special Services at Indianapolis’s Washington Township Schools, says that parents should ask the following questions:
Scott recommends parents review the Indiana Department of Education’s website to review education services and laws prior to their first IEP meeting. Dr. Farrell adds that INSOURCE is a helpful resource in Indiana that provides education and training to parents of kids with special needs.
These tools can help educate parents on different elements of IEPs, such as 504 plans, which state the modifications and accommodations that will be needed for a student to perform at the same level as his or her peers, which are often part of a student’s IEP. More information on Indiana’s Special Education laws and services can be found at: www.doe.in.gov/specialed.
With so much information to process, it’s easy for parents to get confused during their IEP meeting. “Parents need to make sure they understand what is being said,” explains Scott. “There is often a lot of educational jargon and acronyms used during this meeting. Parents should not feel ignorant in asking questions, as educators sometimes don’t even realize they are using too much jargon. Ask for clarification — and then clarification of the clarification if necessary.”
How can I help my child?
As a parent, you know your child best, so if you have concerns don’t hesitate to bring them up. “Parents have a great deal of power in the IEP meeting – and if they disagree with something that is, or is not, included in the plan, they should respectfully speak up in advocating for their child,” says Scott.
Erin adds these thoughts: “It’s important for parents to be as educated as possible — you are your child’s best advocate. I wish I’d known more when my son was diagnosed. Know that everyone at the school is there to help you and your child, so work together.”