The individual education plan describes the special education program and any other related services specifically designed to meet the individual needs of your child with learning differences. It is developed as a collaboration between parents and professional educators to determine what the student will be taught, and how and when the school will teach it. Students with disabilities need to learn the same things as other students: reading, writing, mathematics, history, and other preparation for college or vocational training. The difference is that, with an IEP in place, many specialized services, such as small classes, home schooling (usually 5 hours per week), speech therapy, physical therapy, counseling, and instruction by special education teachers, are used.
The IEP has five parts:
1. A description of the child. Includes present level of social, behavioral, and physical functioning, academic performance, learning style, and medical history.
2. Goals and objectives. Lists skills and behaviors that your child can be expected to master in a specific period of time. These should not be vague like "John will learn to cooperate," but rather, "John will prepare and present an oral book report with two regular education students by May 1." Each goal should answer the following questions: Who? What? How? Where? When? How often? When will the service start and end?
3. Related services. There are many specialized services that might be mandated by the IEP that will be provided at no cost to the family. These can include:
- Speech therapy
- Social skills training
- Mental health services
- Occupational therapy
- Assistive technology assessment
- Psychological and neuropsychological testing
- Behavioral plans and functional behavior assessment
- Physical therapy and adaptive physical education
- Parent counseling and training
- Transportation to and from school and therapy sessions
For each of these services, the IEP should list the frequency, duration, start date, end date, for e.g., "Jane will receive physical therapy twice a week, for 60 minutes each, from September until December, when her needs will be reevaluated."
4. Placement. Describes the least restrictive setting in which the above goals and objectives can be met. For example, one student would be in the regular classroom all day with an aide present, while another might leave the classroom for part of each day to receive specialized instruction in the resource room or physical therapy. The IEP should state the percent of time the child will be in the regular education program and the frequency and duration of any special services.
5. Evaluating the IEP A meeting of all the members of your childs team is held to review your childs progress toward attaining the short-term and long-term goals and objectives of the IEP. In order to ensure that the IEP is working for your child, make sure her IEP is reviewed at least once a year, and more frequently if needed to address parent or teacher concerns. Some states have limits on the number of IEP meetings per year.
Parents should come prepared to IEP meetings. Bring (or send ahead of time if possible) copies of all current testing and recommendations by specialist that will help support your requests for services. It is best to create a positive relationship with the school, so that you are able to work together to promote your childs well-being. If, for whatever reason, communication deteriorates and you feel that your childs IEP is inadequate or not being followed, here are several facts you need to know:
• Changes to the IEP cannot be made without parental consent.
• If parents disagree about the content of the IEP, they can withdraw consent and request (in writing) a meeting to draft a new IEP, or they can consent only to portions of the IEP with which they agree.
• Parents can request to have the disagreement settled by an independent mediator and hearing officer.
This year (third grade) has been a nightmare. My son has an IEP that focuses on problems with short-term memory, concentration, writing, and reading comprehension. The teacher, even though she is special ed qualified, has been rigid and used lots of timed tests. She told me in one conference that she thought my son's behavior problems were because he was "spoiled." We asked her at the beginning of the year to please send a note home with my son if he has a seizure, and she has never done it. She even questions him when he tells her that he had a seizure at recess. I began communicating directly with the principal, and I finally received a written notice that he had a seizure. I learned that the IEP is only as valuable as the teacher who is applying it.
The IEP in Canada is almost identical to that used in the US. In Canada, the IEP is updated yearly, or more frequently if needed. A formal review is required every three years. In Canada, if disputes arise between the school or the district and the parents, there is a School Division Decision Review process available to resolve them. The concept known as due process in the US is usually referred to as fundamental justice in Canada.
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