Just as a parent is typically the first to recognize when their child is in need of special attention, when it comes to education, the parent plays one of the most important roles in determining if the child should be eligible for an Individualized Education Program (IEP).
Nothing can begin in addressing the special needs of a child without the input of a teacher, physician and parent/s initiating the IEP. This involves a parent requesting that the school evaluate their child. The school must have a parent’s written consent to perform this evaluation as it also sets the 60-day timer or the state’s time-frame constraint.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a law that guarantees a child’s right to a Free Appropriate Public Education, or FAPE, within the least restrictive environment, or LRE. What all of that simply means is that funding and protections exist for children of special needs to guarantee an education for children with disabilities age 3 through 21.
Congress amended IDEA through Public Law 114-95, the Every Student Succeeds Act, in 2015. During the 2018-19 school year, more than 64% of children with disabilities are in general education classrooms for 80% or more of the school day, according to IDEA.
What Defines a Child with a Disability
IDEA identifies a “child with a disability” as having intellectual disabilities, hearing impairments (including deafness), speech or language impairments, visual impairments (including blindness), serious emotional disturbance (referred to as “emotional disturbance”), orthopedic impairments, autism, traumatic brain injury, other health impairments or specific learning disabilities.
The Evaluation Process
In addressing special needs, the child may certainly be able to articulate some level of struggling, but the effort put to discovering the subtle and sophisticated symptoms needs to follow a thorough protocol. These can best be identified through a series of tests, not just a single test. This includes taking a closer look at the child’s overall health, covering vision and hearing as well as general intelligence and performance within the school environment.
Observing how the child communicates within the social environment gives an opportunity to evaluate emotional well-being and the child’s use of his or her body in this process. Determining a child’s disability must be a full and comprehensive process in order to be fair to the individual needs of the child. This includes the parent’s right to appeal the school system’s finding a child is “not eligible.”
Parents must receive this finding in writing along with information regarding how to appeal and the various mechanisms available through which to resolve disagreements, including mediation. In addition, each state’s Parent Training and Information (PTI) center is one of the many resources available to help parents learn what next steps to take. Similarly, a parent may decline services that have been approved at any time.
Suffice it to say, a parent has the right to change their mind about whether their child receives special education and related services. Reestablishing services is possible and may include another evaluation, again, in fairness to ensuring the child is receiving what is needed for them individually.
The Evaluation Team
It is important to have the right input both in evaluating the child and developing his or her IEP. Number one in this effort are the child’s parents. In addition, there must be at least one teacher from the regular education curriculum and one special education teacher. Also on the team is a special education supervisor from the school system familiar with the regular education environment who brings knowledge of the available school resources. There must also be someone capable of interpreting the results of the evaluation and communicating those results to the rest of the team.
When it is appropriate, the child may be able to contribute. Parents may invite other knowledgeable individuals or those of special expertise, a relative or a child care provider. The school can contribute specialists of their own, such as a physical or speech therapist. The school may also invite any other agency representatives that may be responsible for either paying for or providing services and only with the parent’s consent.
The Individualized Education Program (IEP)
Once it has been determined a child is eligible for special education and related services, a meeting to develop an IEP must be held within 30 days. IDEA 2004 clearly allows for parents to contribute as equal partners on the team both in writing and implementing their child’s IEP. This plan will include the child’s present levels of academic and functional performance and in what ways the child’s disability affects this performance. Goals will be established for the upcoming year and what the team agrees upon that the child can reasonably be expected to accomplish. These goals are intended to accommodate the child’s disability while still being able to progress in the general education curriculum including the subjects of math, science, reading, social studies and physical education, among others.
Additional Student Support
The IEP must also include the provision of supplementary aids and services such as a one-on-one tutor, preferential seating or devices that aid in communication. Accessibility makes it easier for a child with a disability to better take part in school activities. The IEP also details any changes to school programs or the school personnel support that will be provided. Further, the IEP must also explain how much of the school day will have the child educated separately from other children without disabilities and whether this interaction includes extracurricular activities such as lunch time or clubs.
Reevaluation of the child’s needs are performed at least once every three years or as determined by the IEP team when there is a need for additional data. Again, there is a time clock started on this reevaluation 90 days from the IEP team meeting. It is helpful to know that IDEA 2004 provisions also apply to private or religious elementary or secondary schools in which the child is placed.