What Is an IEP Violation?

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a federal law that was passed in 1990 to protect children with disabilities. The IDEA requires schools to do the following:

  • Identify and evaluate any child they suspect has a disability
  • Provide services to help the child in their academic development
  • Provide for parents’ involvement in their child’s education
  • Ensure that all children have access to a free appropriate public education
  • Avoid discrimination based on disability

The Act also mandates that schools develop a special education plan called an Individualized Education Program (IEP) for every student with a disability. An IEP must be a written document that identifies the child’s unique needs and creates a plan of action for facilitating the child’s learning. An IEP violation occurs when a school fails to meet its obligations under the IEP. 

What happens if a school doesn’t follow an IEP?

If a school doesn’t follow an IEP, it has violated the IDEA, and the student’s parents may be able to pursue a lawsuit or other legal action against the school. 

Since IEPs are considered legally binding contracts between the school district and the child’s parent(s), a school violates the law if it does not provide the child with the educational services required by the IEP. If the school is out of compliance with the child’s IEP, it may be required to offer additional services to the student to make up for the lost services. Schools can also be ordered to pay the child’s legal fees. 

What is the difference between a procedural violation and a substantive violation on an IEP?

A substantive violation of an IEP occurs when the IEP’s substantive content is insufficient to provide the child with a free appropriate public education (FAPE). A procedural violation occurs when the school fails to follow certain process-based requirements found in the IDEA.

Substantive Violations

In general, substantive IEP violations involve substandard IEP content and failures to comply with an IEP. For example, it is a substantive violation of the IDEA if the special education curriculum created by the IEP fails to offer the child the individualized instruction and educational support necessary to provide a FAPE. Likewise, a school’s failure to implement material aspects of an IEP is considered a substantive violation. 

The IDEA also requires that IEPs allow children to learn in the least restrictive environment possible. Therefore, if an IEP places a child in a learning environment that is more restrictive than necessary, the violation is recognized as substantive.

Procedural Violations

Procedural IEP violations occur when schools fail to comply with the protections the IDEA creates for the IEP development process. These types of violations don’t affect the substantive content of an IEP, but they do represent a school’s failure to abide by the procedural requirements of the IDEA. 

Some common examples of procedural violations include:

  • Failing to include the child’s parents in the IEP development process
  • Failing to comply with composition requirements for IEP teams 
  • Failing to provide parents with notice of changes to an IEP
  • Failing to comply with time limits

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