An IEP is the document at the heart of the delivery of special education services; it is a written, legally binding statement of the educational program designed to meet a student’s individual needs. The IEP dictates the special education accommodations and services that will be provided to the student to ensure they receive a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) as mandated by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (1997), reauthorized and renamed in 2004 as Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act, is a federal law which ensures two basic rights of eligible students with disabilities: (1) the right to a “free appropriate public education” (FAPE), and (2) the right to that education in the “least restrictive environment” (LRE). To be eligible, the student must fall within any of the 14 categories of disability, which include Autism Spectrum Disorder, Specific Learning Disability, and Other Health Impairment (which includes ADHD). (Some sources will group these conditions into 13 separate categories, but the conditions covered are the same.) What does an IEP contain? An IEP details the student’s learning needs, the student’s educational goals, how those goals are to be measured, and the accommodations and services that will be provided to support the student.
If you suspect that your child has a disability that is adversely impacting his educational performance, you may make a written request to the student’s school (principal, teacher, or other personnel) asking for an evaluation by a screening IEP team. A teacher or other school personnel may also make such a request. For children enrolled in the Montgomery County Infants and Toddlers Program, the IEP process is initiated automatically by the age of three. For students enrolled in a private or religious school, or who are being home-schooled, parents can contact the MCPS Placement and Assessment Unit at 301-279-3181 to request an evaluation.
Here is our “road map” for the IEP process.
Most importantly, familiarize yourself with the IEP that will be discussed. By law you are entitled to receive a copy at least five days before the scheduled meeting. Make sure that you are familiar with and understand the stated goals and accommodations, and any changes to them if changes are being proposed. Know your child’s strengths and challenges, based not only on testing, but also your own experience with your child. Also, be sure you know whether the accommodations and services listed in the IEP are in fact being provided. The best way to organize your thoughts before the meeting is to write and submit the Parent Report that is included with your invitation to the IEP meeting. You can obtain a copy of the blank Parent Report. Also, see 10 tips listed in our Guidance for MCPS Parents Navigating the IEP process.
You can bring anyone to the IEP meeting that you think will be helpful to you, including a relative, a friend, the child’s therapist, an educational consultant, or a lawyer. If you are bringing a guest, it’s best practice to provide their name to the school ahead of time, particularly if the guest is a lawyer.
Under IDEA, the IEP team includes: the parents of the student with disabilities; at least one of the student’s general education teachers (if the student participates or may participate in general education); at least one of the student’s special education teachers (or providers); a school administrator; someone who can interpret evaluation results; anyone else with knowledge or expertise that the parents or school, in their discretion, wish to invite; and whenever appropriate, the student.
By law in Maryland, the school must permit a student to participate in his or her own IEP meetings starting at the age of 14.
In all circumstances, maintain records that demonstrate your suspicion that the teacher is not following your child’s IEP. Records can include work samples, tests, and/or a journal of communications you have had with your child and/or his/her teacher. If appropriate, schedule a meeting with your child’s teacher to discuss the situation in a non-confrontational manner, and bring a copy of your child’s IEP to review with the teacher. If these steps produce no improvement, request a “periodic review” IEP meeting. To call a meeting, you submit a request in writing to the case manager listed on front page of IEP.
Under federal law, schools are required to conduct “a full and individual initial evaluation” that addresses all areas of the child’s known or suspected disability. In addition to academic performance, assessments should determine the current level of functioning in communication skills, social skills, motor skills, as well as their emotional (psychological) and/or behavioral needs, if a disability in any of these areas is suspected. Assessments may include (but are not limited to): psycho-educational testing, speech-language testing, parental questionnaires, teacher questionnaires, observations by a variety of experts, occupational therapy testing, physical therapy testing, a functional behavioral assessment, social skills assessments, and/or standardized classroom tests.
The school district is required to conduct “a full and individual initial evaluation” at no cost to parents in all areas of known or suspected disability. School districts are subsequently required to re-evaluate students receiving special education at least once every three years (the “triennial re-evaluation”). Parents may choose to have a private practitioner perform an evaluation at their own expense, and the school district is required, at a minimum, to consider the results of private evaluations. Evaluations can be very expensive, so often parents will, at least initially, rely on the school’s evaluation. Once the school completes its evaluation, if parents disagree with the results, they can request the school district pay for an independent educational evaluation (IEE). When parents make such a request, the school district must pay for the IEE or request a due process hearing.
Please see our list of IEP-related abbreviations.
A comprehensive source of information about the IDEA and related Maryland laws can be found in the Disability Rights Maryland's Special Education Rights Handbook, written for parents. Wright's Law is an excellent source for both general and state-specific information with articles about the latest developments in disability law. MCPS provides information specifically about the IEP process at their website on the following pages: MCPS IEP Process and IEPs Parental Rights.