“Top Ten Rules to Develop an Appropriate IEP”
Dennis C. McAndrews, Esquire
1. Start early — Don’t expect to develop a proper IEP by beginning your preparation on the day of the IEP meeting. A comprehensive evaluation is an essential component in developing a proper IEP. If the Local Educational Agency (LEA) (the school district, charter school or other public educational agency serving the child) has not completed a truly comprehensive Evaluation Report, including assessment of cognitive skills, achievement levels in all areas of the student’s strengths and weaknesses, social functioning, emotional issues, and behavioral functioning, the parent should request an Independent Educational Evaluation or demand that the LEA conduct a complete evaluation. Only by knowing a student’s true needs – can a proper IEP be created.
2. Accurately identify the student’s Present Education at Levels in Every Area — academic, emotional, be-havioral, social and physical — which impact the creation of a proper IEP. These PELs should address not only weaknesses, but also strengths of the child, so that those strengths can be used to develop strategies to address areas of weakness.
3. Goals — Identify goals for each area in which the child needs Specially Designed Instruction or Related Services. The goals must identify a specific, measurable result for the child to achieve at the end of the IEP period (with the assistance of the educational team).
All in all, returning to school for the new year may be a mix of fun, excitement, stress, and anxiety. Parents, teachers, and student should discuss ways to alleviate any anxiety causing factors that the new year may cause and also how to address them. Parents and students should be prepared for new teachers, classmates, and routines; however, these new routines should NOT jeopardize the implementation or the appropriateness of your child’s IEP.
4. Progress monitoring — Most children with special needs require progress monitoring more often than quarterly report cards. Frequent progress monitoring – at least every few weeks – is essential in assessing areas of a student’s weaknesses. The IEP should also reflect that whenever the student is not making adequate progress toward a specified grade (such as a “B”), the parents should be notified within 48 hours of that deficiency. Significantly, research shows that frequent progress monitoring has a positive impact in allowing a child to achieve meaningful benefit, as such monitoring allows the student, teachers, and parents to adjust instruction or programming which is not effective, and also provides an incentive to students and instructors to achieve measurable progress.
5. Specially Designed Instruction — Students are entitled to Specially Designed Instruction based upon peer – reviewed research wherever practicable. Such instruction must be designed to allow the child to make meaningful educational progress in the least restrictive environment, i.e., a placement involving the maximum level of integration with non – disabled students in which the child can receive appropriate instruction. This right to a “Free Appropriate Public Education” is the cornerstone of the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. Where the frequency and intensity of research – based instruction, the IEP should include a statement of that frequency and intensity as well as a basic description of the research – based instruction.
6. Related Services — As with Specially Designed Instruction, IDEA requires that Related Services be based upon peer-reviewed research wherever practicable. These Related Services may include not only the typical services seen in many IEPs, i.e., occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech-language therapy and counseling –but also, where necessary, for a child to receive FAPE, psychological services, parent training, recreational therapy and any other unique form of intervention necessary to allow the student to make meaningful educational progress, such as music therapy, recreation therapy or art therapy. Because Related Services must be based upon peer-reviewed research, these services (including psychological services, social work services, and counseling) should consider interventions such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or Applied Behavior Analysis with a track record of proven efficacy in treating disabilities such as ADHD, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Autism, Depression, and Anxiety.
7. Supports for school personnel — These supports may include training for teachers and aides, the use of a therapeutic support staff or other aides, a personal care assistant, itinerant teacher support in the regular education classroom and distribution of IEPs and Evaluation Reports to all school personnel.
8. Extended school year — Although some school districts assert that an extended school year (or an extended school day) is only available to prevent regression over summer months, it is also available under IDEA for students who fail to make adequate progress during the school year or the school day, and is especially relevant for students with severe disabilities.
9. Placement — As noted above, a child’s placement must be in the least restrictive environment in which the child can make meaningful educational progress, and a full continuum of services must be available to ensure that the placement necessary to allow a child to make appropriate progress will be available. IDEA specifically notes that special education may occur
not only in classrooms, but also in hospitals, residential programs, mental health facilities, homes, and juvenile facilities.
10. Transition — IDEA now requires that transition services be based upon appropriate assessments which are designed to determine a student’s transition needs and that the IEP include appropriate annual goals to meet the transition needs of every student who will be age 16 or older during the term of the IEP. Pennsylvania uses the age of 14 as the beginning point of transition services. In the past, transition services were the “poor stepchild” of IEPs, but recent changes in IDEA mandate that transition is intended to be a robust program to provide a meaningful stepping stone from school to adulthood, and from the classroom to community-based programming. It is noteworthy that when parents can obtain a local business or organization to provide a work-study program to a student during transition years, school districts must seriously consider and generally support such a community-based program, especially during the last stage of a student’s special education entitlement in the public schools.
The information within this article is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. You should consult an attorney for individual advice regarding your own situation. McAndrews Law Offices (MLO) September 2012 Newsletter. © 2007 McAndrews Law Offices, P.C. Reprinted with permission from McAndrews Law Offices, P.C.