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Introduction

As a parent of a child with a disability or difficulties in the general education setting, you may find yourself asking whether your child is getting all the support that he or she needs. You want your child exposed to same-age peers, but you also want to ensure that your child doesn’t fall behind academically. You may have heard of parents or educators talk about something called an IEP. So what does IEP mean? It stands for Individualized Education Program and is a legal document that was created under a federal law in the United States called Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA). An IEP allows your child to receive modifications to their educational curriculum so they can learn more effectively and receive a free and appropriate public education (FAPE). In school districts, there is a group of personnel called the Child Study Team (CST) that is responsible for creating IEPs for children. So, you may be asking yourself, does my child need an IEP? Below are some steps to take before requesting an evaluation for special education.

1.  Talk to the teacher.

Firstly, it never hurts to ask. Speak to your child’s teacher and guidance counselor. Teachers know their students, and they can tell when a student isn’t meeting grade expectations. All schools should have a system of interventions in place to identify and support these students in the general education setting (often called Intervention and Referral Services or I&RS). The job of the I&RS committee is to support the teacher in implementing accommodations in the classroom. If the child is still struggling even after accommodations are in place for some time, an evaluation for special education may be the next step.

2. Consider the educational impact.

The first thing the CST will consider when evaluating a child for special education is whether there is an educational impact as a result of the child’s disability or difficulties. For example, if a child is diagnosed with ADHD and has significant difficulty staying on task or sitting still but is still able to complete classwork, learn the material, and demonstrate knowledge through grades and benchmark assessments, it’s probable that his or her ADHD is not impacting academic success.

3. Determine what the child would get from special education.

 If your child is able to learn in a general education setting, that is always preferable to a more restrictive pull-out or self-contained instruction. In fact, there is a legal obligation to teach your child in the least restrictive environment (LRE).
If your child is able to learn in a general education setting, that is always preferable to a more restrictive pull-out or self-contained instruction. In fact, there is a legal obligation to teach your child in the least restrictive environment (LRE).

The second consideration the CST will have is whether the child’s needs can be met in the general education setting or whether more specialized programs or modifications are needed. The purpose of an IEP is to modify a general education curriculum in order to promote learning for students who cannot access the curriculum without accommodations. If your child’s needs can be met in the general education setting, an IEP may not be beneficial or necessary.

4. Ask your guidance counselor about a 504 plan.

If your child has a medical disability or impairment (e.g., ADHD, epilepsy, diabetes, etc.), he or she may be eligible for a Section 504 health plan. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is a civil rights law that protects individuals with disabilities against discrimination.

Just like in special education, a 504 plan is afforded to individuals whose impairments have a substantial impact on their ability to access the general education curriculum. However, unlike an IEP, a 504 plan is implemented in the general education setting. Where IEPs provide modifications (changes in what is being taught) to the general education curriculum, a 504 plan provides accommodations (changes in how the student is taught) to support the student’s access to the general education curriculum. Examples of these accommodations may include preferential seating, extended time on tests, shortened assignments (with no change in the content), or calculators for math assessments.

5. Refer your child to the CST.

If you’re concerned about how your child is progressing in school, and you feel that your child needs more support than can be given in the general education setting, it may be time to refer your child to the CST. Even if you’re not sure whether an IEP will help your child, it never hurts to refer! The CST will meet with you and the child’s teacher to discuss how your child is doing and will make a determination as to whether an evaluation is appropriate. However, even if they decide not to evaluate your child, they are likely to recommend suggestions for ways to support your child in the general education setting.

Conclusion

We hope that this article has helped you to understand the purpose and process of requesting an IEP. If you have additional questions or feedback on our article, please leave us a comment below! Thank you for reading.

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Kerri Shcherbakov, Psy.D., NCSP

Kerri Shcherbakov, Psy.D., NCSP

Dr. Kerri Shcherbakov is a Nationally Certified School Psychologist. She earned her doctorate in School Psychology (Psy.D) from the Rutgers Graduate School of Applied and Professional Psychology. She has worked in schools for the past six years, providing services that range from behavior consultation to the development of Individualized Education Programs (IEPs). Currently, she is a School Psychologist at Lawrence Township High School, where she develops IEPs, conducts psychoeducational assessments, and provides counseling services to students. Her training allows her to quickly and effectively determine a child’s academic/social/emotional needs and to develop a plan for meeting those needs in the school environment. She is also a talented assessment clinician and enjoys solving the mystery inherent in each individual student.

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