An Individualized Education Program (IEP) is a written document that outlines the educational plan for an individual student with special needs. It may be developed at any point during the school year, but it should be reviewed annually and revised as needed. An IEP helps to ensure that each child’s unique strengths are identified and addressed while their areas of need are also considered.
What Are the Legal Requirements of an IEP?
By law, an IEP must include specific information about the child and the educational program that has been designed to meet their unique needs. An IEP must detail:
- The child’s present levels of academic achievement and functional performance
- The child’s measurable annual goals
- How the child’s progress toward meeting annual goals will be measured and when periodic progress reports will be provided
- The services and the program modifications to be provided for the child
- The extent to which the child will participate in school activities with nondisabled children
- Accommodations for the child on state and district-wide assessments
- The projected date for the beginning of the services and modifications
- The anticipated frequency, location, and duration of services and modifications
- Postsecondary goals and the transition services
Current Academic and Functional Performance
Every IEP must include a statement of the child’s present levels of academic achievement and functional performance that explains how the child’s disability affects their involvement and progress in the general education curriculum. For preschool children, an IEP must also address
how the disability affects the child’s participation in appropriate activities, and for children whose IEPs allow them to take alternate assessments aligned to alternate achievement standards, the IEP must include a description of benchmarks or short-term objectives.
Measurable Annual Goals
IEPs must articulate measurable annual goals for the child, including academic and functional goals that are designed to meet the child’s educational needs that result from the disability and enable the child to be involved in and make progress in the general education curriculum. Each child’s IEP must also include a description of how the child’s progress toward meeting these annual goals will be measured and outline a schedule for when periodic progress reports will be provided.
Services and Program Modifications
Another legal requirement for an IEP is that it must contain a statement of the special education and related services and supplementary aids and services to be provided to the child. The services and aids the child is to receive must be based on peer-reviewed research as much as possible.
The IEP must also include a statement of the program modifications or supports for school personnel that will be provided in order for the child to:
- Advance appropriately toward attaining their annual goals
- Be involved in and make progress in the general education curriculum
- Participate in extracurricular and other nonacademic activities
- Be educated and participate with other children with disabilities and non-disabled children
Accommodations for State and District-Wide Assessments
IEPS must also describe any individual appropriate accommodations necessary to measure the child’s academic achievement and functional performance on state and districtwide assessments. When the IEP Team determines that the child will take an alternate assessment on a particular state or district-wide assessment of student achievement, the IEP must explain why the child cannot participate in the regular assessment and why the particular alternate assessment selected is appropriate for the child.
Starting with the first IEP that will be in effect when the child is 16 years old, the IEP must also establish appropriate measurable postsecondary goals based upon age-appropriate transition assessments related to training, education, employment, and, where appropriate, independent living skills and the transition services, including courses of study, needed to assist the child in reaching those goals. Additionally, not later than one year before the child reaches the age of majority under State law, the IEP must include a statement that the child has been informed of the educational rights that will transfer to them on reaching the age of majority.
What Is an IEP Violation?
An IEP violation occurs when a school fails to provide the services agreed upon within the IEP. If a child has a disability, their local school district is legally obligated to create an IEP that includes its offer of a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE).
Because an IEP is a legally binding contract for services between the school district and the child’s parent(s), if the district does not provide the child with the services agreed to in the IEP, it has violated the law. If a district is determined to be out of compliance with an IEP, they may be required to pay the student’s legal fees and provide additional services to the child to compensate for the lost services.
When Should I Contact an Education Attorney?
The IEP process is meant to be non-adversarial and collaborative. In an ideal world, this would mean that schools and parents would work together to develop appropriate and comprehensive IEPs for disabled children without needing to involve education attorneys. Unfortunately, we do not live in an ideal world, and the IEP process often becomes confrontational when school districts refuse to cooperate. If the district refuses to provide your child with the individualized services they need, it’s time to contact an education attorney.
School districts often attempt to take advantage of the fact that most parents aren’t well-versed in special education laws to get out of providing the services they are legally required to offer. An experienced education lawyer will know when district officials try to shirk their responsibilities and won’t let them get away with it.
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