by Tom Blessing
Special Education Attorney with Hollingsworth & Zivitz
Parents with a child in special education are familiar with an Individualized
Education Program (IEP). This is basically a contract—a legally
binding document which sets forth the needs, goals, services and accommodations
which your child is entitled to receive (and the school is obligated to
provide) in order to receive a free appropriate education (FAPE) under
the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). If a student’s
IEP does not provide FAPE, a parent may request a Due Process hearing
with the Indiana Department of Education.
Almost every IEP has some deficiencies. Sometimes I'll come across
one that looks reasonably well-written. Unfortunately, they often contain
glaring deficiencies, many of which rise to the level of IDEA violations.
Most of the IEP problems I see fall under two broad categories: the IEP
is poorly drafted or it’s not being implemented. Usually it’s
both. Here are some of the most common problems I see on a routine basis:
"Recycling:" Schools use the child’s same IEP year after
year without revision. They will change the date, tweak some language
here and there, but not update present levels, re-evaluate the student,
add or update the goals, change services or accommodations. I’ve
seen IEPs that a school literally made no changes to whatsoever for years,
even though the child had regressed, switched schools, changed medications
or received a new diagnosis.
Outdated/inaccurate present levels of performance: These are the building
blocks of an IEP. Without them, it’s impossible to identify areas
of need and therefore write good goals and provide appropriate services.
This is one reason I advise parents to have their child evaluated by a
school or private psychologist.
No goals for one or more areas of need: It’s astonishing how many
students with multiple needs have only 1-3 goals. Most students with special
needs have several areas of need and should have at least one goal for
each—often more. Often the school’s own psychologist or special
education teacher will have identified an area of need, but the student’s
IEP won’t have a goal for it.
Poorly written goals: Goals should be specific and measurable. Schools
are constantly writing goals like “Susie will ask appropriately
for adult assistance 70% of the time.” How is that measurable? Many
times the goals are too easy—they don’t challenge the student
or make him grow. But if a student meets all of his goals, it makes the
school look good.
Lack of or insufficient services/accommodations: A student should have
services to address each area of need identified in his IEP. Accommodations
are modifications to the classroom environment or instructional method
necessitated by a student’s disability, such as preferential seating,
enlarged print, extended time for testing or use of a scribe.
Inaccurate written notes: When you have an IEP meeting, the school usually
types notes which are included in the IEP. Sometimes schools “forget”
to include things that were discussed or give an inaccurate version of
Unfortunately, there is a stigma to having your child on an IEP and no one
wants her child to have an IEP. But some kids
need an IEP, and having one is a good way to protect his rights and make sure
he’s getting the services he’s entitled to under the IDEA.
Your child’s IEP should be a living, breathing document that grows
with your child to ensure that her special needs are being met. Too often,
parents don’t know their rights so schools get away with writing
bad IEPs or not implementing them as written. Call or email me for a complimentary
IEP review and free consultation. You may scan or fax me your child’s
IEP and I’ll give you my thoughts and answer your questions for