I was reading a few blogs about Individualized Education Programs (IEP) over the last month and a few of them have me concerned that as hard as we try to educate parents about IEP’s many still don’t understand their purpose. Some of the misconceptions I have heard or read about lately include:
- Children with IEP’s won’t get suspended for fighting when other children would;
- Children with IEP’s get special provisions made for them that they will come to expect even after their school days are over; and
- Children who grow up with IEP’s never learn responsibility because they are used to getting their way.
If an IEP is being used correctly then none of the above statements are true. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) says the purpose of an IEP is “to ensure that all children with disabilities have available to them a free appropriate public education that emphasizes special education and related services designed to meet their unique needs and prepare them for further education, employment and independent living”.
Let’s start by looking at the following portion of that statement, “…and prepare them for further education, employment and independent living”. If an IEP is written appropriately the child should be learning how to use their strengths to overcome any needs that arise from their disability. If this is done correctly, the IEP should give the child a road map to use after graduation in college or for future employment. Making a child with a disability struggle through school without an IEP will not toughen them up for life, but will most likely cause them to have behavior and emotional issues that will stay with them forever.
The first part of the statement talks about a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) but doesn’t explain what that means. FAPE means:
- At public expense
- Under public supervision
- Meets the state’s education standards (Can be found on your State Department of Education Website)
- Complies with the Child’s IEP
- Can include academics, social/emotional and MANY other issues
- Does not mean the BEST education only an APPROPRIATE education
The Supreme Court also weighed on the meaning of FAPE and created the Rowley Standard:
- The child must receive a basic floor of opportunity
- Individually designed to provide some educational benefit
- Passing grades in classes and advancement to a higher grade is one way to show progress
As parents of a child with a disability it is your responsibility to be your child’s advocate. Since some of the misconceptions about IEP’s are due to a lack of knowledge and some are due to the School District misrepresenting the law, parents need to educate themselves as much as possible. While this might seem overwhelming at first I have seen many parents transform themselves into wonderful advocates for their children and many others.