IEP Process Overview

Copy of Copy of Compassion Experience 5
This section is an overview of the IEP process and answers the following 3 questions:

  1. What is an IEP?
  2. Who makes an IEP?
  3. How is an IEP created?
  4. Snapshots of education issues answered by a special education lawyer.

What is an IEP?

An IEP, or Individualized Education Program, is a legal document that is developed for each child aged 3-21 in the US who needs special education, as required by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEA).  

Who makes an IEP?

The IEP is created by a team of the child’s parents and school district personnel who are knowledgeable about the child.  The school district must designate an LEA (Local Education Agency), who is the representative of the school district that can make resource allocation decisions and legally bind the school district.  (In practice, the LEA is often a principal or director of special education).  The team can come together at any time to discuss the child’s progress and update the IEP, but must reconvene at least once a year.  A parent can email the case manager (often the special education teacher) to ask for an IEP meeting at any time.

How is an IEP created?

The four basic steps to develop an IEP have to occur in order.  In other words, the IEP team has to first figure out what the child’s current skill levels are; then design goals to close the gaps between the current levels and typical levels of performance; next identify what supports/services/accommodations/etc. should be provided so the child can achieve the goals; and at the end of the process, decide where the child’s educational placement will be (general education classroom, special education classroom, special school, etc.)  In the end, the school must provide an IEP ‘reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress appropriate in light of the child’s circumstances.’ (Endrew)

Step One:  Determine Present Levels of academic and functional performance

You need a baseline of your child’s strengths and weaknesses. Use data! You need an evaluation of “all areas of suspected disability”. If you disagree with the evaluation, you may be eligible to get an independent education evaluation (IEE) at public expense. Present Levels include school data, data from other environments (e.g., home, community settings, early intervention, private therapies), parent concerns (email the case manager a brief letter a few days before your meeting to be incorporated into the IEP) and may include diagnosis/medical information.

Step Two: Set Goals

You need to target goals for your child to work on that will “close the gap” between his present level of performance in a skill/area of difficulty and what his typical peers are able to do (developmental area or state standard). Goals should be SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, results-oriented and time-bound). This is a way to make sure the teachers and therapists know what to work on with your child, how it will be measured, and who will be responsible.  They should be likely to be achieved within the one year IEP timeframe. Goals should be meaningful to the child (Whichter), and generalized into the situations the child will need to use the skills. You can have any number of goals.  Goals can be in academic areas like reading and math, in speech/language development, for fine and gross motor skills, for behavior and learning readiness, for social skills, for executive functioning skills, etc.  Goals should ultimately prepare students for further education, independence, and eventual employment.

Step Three:  Establish the SDIs (specifically designed instruction, including accommodations/modifications ), Supports and Services. 

This part determines how your child is going to achieve his/her goals, including what is different from what typical students receive in the general education classroom.  Does your child need a particular curriculum?  Sensory diet?  Reinforcement schedule?  Extra time?  Particular writing paper?  Special equipment?  A 1:1 aide?  Occupational therapy?  Adaptive PE?  These kinds of things fall under SDIs, Supports and Services. Specially designed instruction is the individualized way of teaching your child skills needed to achieve his/her goals. Accommodations are changes in the way a child is treated to accommodate their disabilities (breaks, sensory diet, special seating, extra time,  etc.). Modifications are changes to the academic demands for a child to suit the child’s abilities (alternate assessments, modified curriculum, reduced homework, large print, etc.). Supports and Services include specific therapies such as OT, PT, speech/language therapy, ABA, 1:1 personal care assistant, nursing, special reading/math education, adaptive PE, etc. The IEP should specifically list how much time and how often each service is provided.

Step Four:  Placement

Placement is the last decision, which follows from all of the above steps: what classroom/school/setting is appropriate for the child to get the instruction he/she needs to achieve these goals? Placement is the last decision made by the team. There is a continuum of least restrictive to most restrictive placements (starting with  general education classroom, general education classroom with support, pull-out therapy, special education classroom, special education school, all the way to home bound). Generally speaking, the child should be in the ‘least restrictive environment’ (LRE) with the most supports possible before being put into a more restrictive setting.  However, consider that a more restrictive setting (such as a special needs school) may be the LRE if the child is able to function more independently because, for example, the classes are smaller. The placement decided by the IEP team does not have to be ‘the best’ placement; it needs to be ‘appropriate.’  



Snapshots of Special Education Issues 
Questions and Answers by a Special Education Lawyer

By:  Adam Wilson, Esq,


Q: What is a free appropriate public education?

A: Students with disabilities who have been deemed eligible for special education and related services are entitled to a free appropriate public education (FAPE) in the least restrictive environment. In order for a program to be appropriate, the student’s IEP must be tailored to meet their individual needs. The IEP must confirm meaningful educational benefit by providing for significant learning in light of the student’s aptitude.

Q: What are related services?

A: FAPE is explicitly defined as special education and related services. Related services are those services a student requires in order to benefit from their educational program. The federal law provides a list of some related services: speech and language therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, counseling, recreation and leisure therapy, augmentative communication device, paraprofessional/instructional aide, social skills, behavioral intervention and transportation.

Q: How is the need for behavioral interventions determined?

A: Behavioral intervention services must be provided as a related service where the student’s behaviors interfere with their ability to learn. This often requires the development of a behavior intervention plan (BIP). A well done functional behavior assessment (FBA) will facilitate the development of the BIP by covering the functions of behavior, providing information as to the cause and purpose of maladaptive behaviors, and recommending techniques to teach acceptable replacement behaviors.

Q: What is meant by transportation services?

A: Transportation must be provided to students with disabilities as part of FAPE. Transportation may include special equipment, aids or special arrangements in order for the student to get to and from school.  At times, the district may even have an obligation to provide highly specialized transportation when the student’s disability is preventing the student’s access to their education program.

Q: What are placement considerations?

A: After the IEP is developed, a decision must be made about where the student will be placed in order to receive the special education and related services set forth in the IEP. The placement decision selected must be appropriate – meaning that it is able to deliver all of the services and supports specified in the IEP and it also must be in the “Least Restrictive Environment.”

Q: What is meant by the least restrictive environment (LRE)?

A: The LRE means the student will be educated as close to home as possible and with students who do not have disabilities to the maximum extent appropriate. For some children the LRE might involve receiving instruction in the general education classroom with modifications, a one to one aid or pull out instruction. This is commonly referred to as inclusion or mainstreaming, which is the educational practice of educating students with disabilities in classrooms with students without disabilities. Although this can be accomplished in a variety of ways, the hallmark is students with and without disabilities are educated in the same classroom.  However, the caveat is that the placement must be in the LRE and still be appropriate to the student’s individualized needs.

Q: Can private schools be considered?

A: A placement that is less restrictive than another placement may not be the LRE if it is not appropriate for the student. A full continuum of placement options, including out of district programs in private schools, must be considered. Students with disabilities might require placement in an out of district program or private school. Private schools can provide services on a day or residential basis.

Q: When is a residential school placement considered?

A: Although a residential placement is often the most restrictive environment, placement in a residential program must be provided at no cost to parents if it is the only realistic option for a student to make meaningful educational progress.

Q: What is extended school year (ESY)?

A: An extended school year program provides instruction to students beyond the traditional 180 day school year. The most common method for determining whether a student is eligible for ESY is the ‘regression recoupment’ analysis. This method reviews whether a student would suffer regression in skills if their educational services were interrupted for a period of time and whether it would take a long time to regain the lost skills. However, this is not the only factor used by the IEP team to determine whether a student qualifies for ESY. Other factors include severity of the disability, the ability of the parents to provide services at home, the student’s vocational needs, the ability of the student to interact with nondisabled peers, and whether the student is on the brink of learning new skills. ESY services may be provided in a variety of forms.  This could include one to one tutoring, related therapies, social skills groups, or practicing skills in the home or the community. This list is not exhaustive. Parents and districts can and should consider all services that may improve the student’s functioning in accordance with the student’s individualized needs.

Q: What are preschool rights?

A:  Each school district has an affirmative obligation to identify those children between the ages of three and five years who require and who would benefit from special education programs and services which may prevent their disabilities from becoming more debilitating. In addition, each local Board of Education must provide information regarding Early Intervention programs available to parents of children with disabilities below the age of three.