Do You Have an IEP for Your Child, and Do You Need One?

August 5, 2019

Insight from Attorney Amy Altbach

Chicago, IL SSI Lawyer Amy J. AltbachIEP stands for Individualized Education Program. Sometimes it is also referred to as an Individualized Education Plan. Children with delayed skills or other disabilities are eligible for specialized services, free of charge, which provide customized learning strategies in the public schools. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) of 2004 created a legal framework for helping kids who have difficulty learning and functioning so they can have better opportunities to succeed in school.

What’s in an IEP?

The IEP is a written statement of the educational program designed to meet the specific needs of the child. This document is often critical in shedding light on the facts in what are known as Childhood SSI claims. The IEP includes present levels of academic and functional performance, annual goals, measurements of progress, and what special education and related services will be provided to the student. The IEP is a legal document. However, the IEP will change based on the child’s needs. It is like a road map, showing where the child is and where he or she is going.

Who Needs an IEP?

Kids struggling in school due to:

  • impairments affecting hearing, sight, speech or language,
  • physical disabilities,
  • attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD),
  • emotional disorders,
  • cognitive challenges,
  • learning disabilities,
  • autism, or
  • developmental delays

Students with these issues would all be considered possible candidates for Individualized Educational Programs. Please note, to receive special education services, the child must have a disability that impacts educational performance.

The “referral” is the first step in the context of special education services and asking the school district to evaluate your child. A referral can be made either by the school district through a teacher or school personnel involved in a student’s education, or by a parent or guardian. As a parent, the request for the evaluation needs to be in writing. It is not enough to just verbally ask for one. Parents need to keep a copy of the letter. And ideally, it is best to ask a school administrator to sign and date the letter upon receipt by the school. The date of the referral is the date of written consent by the parent for an evaluation.

Within 14 school days after receiving the written request, the school district must decide whether or not to evaluate the child. If the district determines an evaluation is warranted, then the district must provide the parent(s) or legal guardian with the paperwork to provide formal written consent. This written, informed consent must be obtained before the evaluation can be conducted.

If the district determines that the evaluation is not necessary, it must notify the parent(s) or legal guardian in writing of the decision not to evaluate, and the reason(s) for that decision. There is then an appeal process, and the district is required to advise the parent(s) or legal guardian of their right to appeal.

Parental Involvement in the Referral Process

It is essential that parents and schools work cooperatively to improve the student’s performance. As a parent, you need to be an active participant. You need to be informed what is available in and through your child’s school. You need to able to talk about your child’s strengths and needs. You need to learn about your child’s legal rights.

In next month’s newsletter, we will continue our look into Individualized Education Programs and discuss what is included in an IEP, setting IEP goals, how services are delivered, and more about the role of parents in the IEP process.