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The IDEA and the IEP

 August 18, 2016

By  Deborah L Weiner Katz, OTR/L, CCM, CLCP

IDEA is not just an anagram that stands for Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. It just also happens to be a great idea! Of the many milestones of special needs education that IDEA is responsible, one of the most critical was the development of the individualized educational program, or IEP.  Guided by the principle of providing something called FAPE, Free and Appropriate Public Education, the idea of IDEA is to ensure individualized attention for these wholly unique students. The IEP is the instrument through which this is accomplished. Where did this IDEA begin?

HISTORY of the Individuals with Disabilities Act

1975      In order to identify those students with special needs, there had to be a process. There had to be criteria. It helped that most of those students were diagnosed with dyslexia but that was just a beginning. So the U.S. Department wrote the regulations that would become Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975 (P.L. 94-142), which eventually became known as the Individuals with Disabilities Act.

2004      Fast forward to the passing of the No Child Left Behind legislation in 2001. It called for school accountability, supplemental services to under-performing schools, and the eventual restructuring of schools that continued to fail to make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). AYP requires that all students must pass in math and reading by 2014. In 2004, IDEA was factored into NCLB, so that it would direct schools to focus more on helping all children learn by addressing the problems that are brought about by the eligibility requirements to receive special education services. Changes can be made at both the state and federal level. Obviously, the must be in agreement.

2008      Significant changes were made to the IDEA in 2008. The IDEA is divided into two parts, Part B and Part C. Part B lists all services provided to children and youth with disabilities, ages 3 – 21. Part C lists services provided to infants and toddlers with disabilities, from birth to age 2.11 years. Some of the highlights of changes made during this time include:

  • Consent for child special educational services under IDEA can be revoked. It must be done in writing. However, educational records may still contain references to previously received services. The school is not required to do anything about that.
  • The school, however, is required to put it in writing when the services will end. It is not allowed to use mediation or due process to challenge your revocation. 

QUALIFYING for the Individuals with Disabilities Act

Quite simply, the benchmark for qualifying for special education services lies in the gap between ability and performance. That has been how special needs have been determined for some time now. If a student shows low potential, via a low IQ, then demonstrates low achievement, alarms don’t go off. Instead, if a student with a high IQ produces unexpected low scores, then he or she might be provided with services. All of this is established by standardized ability (IQ) tests and academic achievement tests. If it is determined that there is a “severe discrepancy” between the results and the student’s ability, services tend to be provided.

What about students who don’t meet this “discrepancy” model, yet still struggle with learning? The response from education was a framework known as Response to Intervention, or RTI. RTI is an alternative to the discrepancy model that responds to all students who struggle academically.

WHAT is the IEP?

The true intent of the IDEA begins with Section 504. Focusing on specific health conditions that can have a significant impact on learning ability, Section 504 imparted the following rules to all schools:

  • No person with a disability shall be excluded from the participation in, or subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving financial assistance from the federal government.
  • No person with a disability will be excluded from participation in or be denied the benefits of services or activities of a public entity.
  • The remedies, procedures and rights under ADA apply to Section 504. Any person alleging discrimination on the basis of disability is entitled to the same protection as stipulated in the ADA.

Once the air is cleared, so to speak, the IDEA can finally reach the individual level of assistance it was created for. It takes on a new form, known as the IEP, or individualized education plan. The IEP is a customized plan for one child’s education with a list of accommodation compiled in order to create the optimum learning environment for that child. It travels with the student from school to school. Meetings are held each time the accommodations must be taught to educators as well as each time they must be modified. Here, we shall break down the facts of the IEP in greater detail:

  • It is federal law that the IEP Meeting meets once a school year to discuss an educational program that is tailored to the needs of each disabled student.
  • A student with an IEP should have a “team” that includes teachers, therapists, parents, school administrators and anyone else deemed instrumental.
  • Both the student and the parents are equal members of the team, expected to participate. That means selecting appropriate service and placement. It also means that any circumstances that may hinder the process, such as parents with a language barrier, must be brought up and addressed. Accommodation is the name of the game but you have to speak up.

At times, being the parent of a special needs child can get you feeling like you need to set up an office or go back to school, in order to keep up with the steady flow of new information. Care Management exists so that you won’t have to do either of those things. Specializing in advocating for individuals with special needs, Care Management practitioners provide services so that life can go right back to its usual, overwhelming pace. If you have a child with special needs, contact us today. We will be happy to discuss your options!

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