Why Your Child May Need an Individualized Education Plan (IEP)

Why Your Child May Need an Individualized Education Plan (IEP)

No two kids learn exactly the same. Sometimes, if a child is struggling in school, they may need something called an individualized education plan, or IEP. This designation falls under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which is a federal law that applies to all schools receiving federal funding.

Katy Ramsey-Mason, Director of the Medical Legal Partnership Clinic at Le Bonheur Children's Hospital, offers her expert advice for parents who may be considering this option.

504 Plan vs. IEP

Sometimes, it can be confusing to navigate the different options available to children with special needs. For example, the 504 plan is a disability accommodation under Section 504 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act. It is oftentimes employed if a student has certain accommodations needs. For instance, a student who might have a physical disability and needs extra time to move between classes or a student who needs preferential seating in class but doesn't really need other accommodations.

“Functionally, a 504 is usually less comprehensive than an IEP. IEP is much more comprehensive. It really focuses on a child making progress in their education. And the IEP lays out goals and benchmarks that the school is supposed to try to accomplish with the student, in order to make sure they are making progress in their education, whatever that means for them.”

What Qualifies a Child for an IEP?

A student becomes eligible for an IEP when they turn three years of age. The law presents 13 different categories of disability that qualify a student to receive special education through an IEP. This includes factors such as developmental delay, physical disabilities, intellectual disability, autism spectrum, ADHD, and traumatic brain injury—just to name a few. Students can also have specific learning disabilities like dyslexia or dyscalculia, which could also qualify for an IEP.

Any parent can make a request for an evaluation. For that evaluation to take place, the parent has to sign a consent form, giving the school the ability to conduct various tests. There should always be a meeting to discuss the concerns the parent has, that the school is seeing, or anything else that might be going on with the child. Once the consent form is signed, the school has 60 days to complete the evaluation.

“Sometimes they do it faster, but sometimes it does take the entire 60 days,” notes Ramsey-Mason. “Whenever the evaluation is complete, there will be another meeting. An IEP meeting is scheduled with the parent and with various staff members from the school, including teachers, a principal, a special education teacher, and any specialized services experts the child might need—if that's speech and language therapy, physical therapy, nursing, things like that.”

This meeting should ideally happen within two weeks of the evaluation being completed. At that time, if an IEP is necessary, it should go into effect almost immediately. It’s important to note, that in public schools, there are no costs to implement the IEP process. Parents who have children in private or charter schools should consult with either the principal or a legal representative to understand what options are available.

The Child Needs to Be First

The IEP is reviewed annually. However, this review can happen more frequently if there are additional concerns or if the parent feels there are needs the child has that are not being met. In addition to the annual IEP meeting, the school also has to conduct a reevaluation of the child at least every three years to ensure they still meet the criteria and the IEP is providing the services they need.

The final message Ramsey-Mason wants to convey is that it’s always important to put the child first. “Your child does have rights. Even if the school is telling you not to be concerned, you as the parent are the expert on your own child. If you think the school is not being responsive to your request, I highly encourage you to talk to your Le Bonheur medical provider and ask them for a referral to Memphis Child so we can see if we can assist you.”

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