By Eric Sherman
According to the Department of Education, “each public school child who receives special education and related services must have an Individualized Education Program (IEP). Each IEP must be designed for one student and must be a truly individualized document.
To create an effective IEP, parents, teachers, other school staff--and often the student--must come together to look closely at the student's unique needs. These individuals pool knowledge, experience and commitment to design an educational program that will help the student be involved in, and progress in, the general curriculum. The IEP guides the delivery of special education supports and services for the student with a disability. Without a doubt, writing--and implementing--an effective IEP requires teamwork.”
If the IEP is designed to be a collaborative process, why are parents always fighting for their child to receive appropriate services or school placement?
We have learned over the years it doesn’t matter what the IEP team recommends, it comes down to what the school or the District wants to offer and the parent agreeing or disagreeing with the offer.
The first time we were hit with this reality was when we were requesting more speech for our son in a very contentious IEP meeting over speech services. Our son has bilateral cochlear implants and is on the autism spectrum. His co-occurring disability poses a lot of challenges, so we argued our facts and reasons why more speech was needed. The speech therapist, who never worked with our son or had conducted an assessment, explained to us that our son was being offered the same amount of speech as all the other students receive. Needless to say, we jumped on the statement claiming the IEP was not individualized to our son, but predetermined by the District. The school district agreed to the additional speech hours, but has been trying to change our son’s speech services in every IEP since.
We have found over the years, our IEP teams have not always been made up of knowledgeable school personnel looking to develop an educational program that is individualized to our son’s needs. We’ve had to fight school administrators, who’ve never met our son or lack any understanding about his disabilities as well as school service providers, who’ve never worked with our son, then write IEP goals and suggest inappropriate services. We’ve even had school placement offered to us, when no one on the IEP team even knew anything about the program being offered.
For the most part, schools and school districts will do their best to create an IEP for a child with special needs within the bounds of their budgets, personnel, services and programs they have available. But individualizing a program outside those limits becomes a real fight for parents.
If an educational program is to be truly individualized to the student’s needs as the law intends, those on the IEP team (including parents) need to be fully knowledgeable and have a good understanding of the student’s disability and their needs. It is imperative for the IEP team to know about all available services and school programs that appropriately address the student’s individual need without prejudice.
As long as schools districts consider limits on what they can offer students with disabilities, the “I” in IEP will always be hard to define. Parents have to be knowledgeable advocates for their child to make sure the "I" means individual.Please feel free to leave a question or comment about your child’s IEP and we will be happy to respond. The more parents share, the better prepared we are to help our children with special needs.