The IEP, IEE, and the Provision of FAPE

The individualized education program (“IEP”) is the single most important document when it comes to your child's special education program. In fact, it's so important that numerous court cases refer to it as the cornerstone of the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act ("IDEA"). The IEP is an opportunity for you and your child's teachers, school administrators, and service personnel to work together to improve your child's education. Together, you and the rest of the team can create an IEP that will meet your child's unique needs and ensure that she receives the education she deserves.

The IEP guides the delivery of special education and related services for your child. For this reason, this article provides five important points for you to remember when you prepare for and attend an IEP meeting:

  • The IEP is a process: Develop, evaluate, and revise.

  • An IEP must be specifically designed for your child and offer FAPE.

  • You have a right to request an evaluation of your child.

  • You are an equal participant in developing the IEP.

The IEP is a process.

The IEP process starts with the development of the IEP document, setting out your child's educational program. As you can imagine, your child's needs change from year to year. As such, your child's IEP must be evaluated and revised to meet your child's growing needs. The process is repeated at least once a year so that a current plan is in place at the beginning of each school year. However, the IEP team may meet more frequently to address specific needs as they arise.

The IEP must be specifically designed for your child and offer FAPE.

The IEP must be a truly individualized document, written to address your child's unique needs, with his specific disability in mind.

The FAPE requirement is “Some Educational Benefit.” The question is: Was the IEP was reasonably calculated to confer an educational benefit? The Law does not require the District to maximize the child's education, but the IEP must offer more than just a trivial benefit. Consider the use of state standards (such as the California Department of Education Website) in reading, writing, and math to determine if your child is keeping up with grade level standards comprised by your state's department of education.

You have a right to request an evaluation of your child.

You have the right to request an evaluation of your child. The district should seek an evaluation if they suspect your child has a disability, to supplement your child's records, or to review your child's progress. You can request an evaluation for the same reasons.

Additionally, you have the right to seek an evaluation that is independent of school district personnel, called an independent educational evaluation ("IEE"). The IEP team must take the results of the IEE into consideration whether obtained by the school district or by the parent.

An IEE is an evaluation conducted by a qualified examiner who is NOT employed by the Local Education Agency (“LEA”). A Parent can always have an IEE performed at their own expense. Why might you need it? For example, the District assessment is not appropriate, or the District fails to assess in all areas of disability, or fails to assess at all. For example, some District assessments are written within the confines of available programming, which means that assessment results may be driven by District resources rather than by your child's unique needs.

If a Parent makes a written request for an IEE at public expense and states that they disagree with an evaluation conducted by a District, the District has only 2 choices: Pay for the Independent Assessment; or file for due process and prove that its evaluation was appropriate. Even if the District establishes that its evaluation was appropriate, the District must still consider the IEE. Remember, the evaluation may be the single most important tool in making sure that your child's IEP is appropriate.

You are an equal participant in developing the IEP.

Moreover, you are an equal participant in the IEP process. You must be notified of IEP meetings and given an opportunity to participate. The information and perspective you provide is essential to developing the IEP. Only by properly evaluating your child's strengths and abilities can appropriate goals and objectives be created which lead to the development of a comprehensive and appropriate individualized education program.

Finally, stay positive. A few tips can go a long way, but a successful IEP meeting comes down to attitude. A positive perspective places the emphasis on your child. Have faith in the process. It's common to feel nervous, especially if the experience is new to you. But remember, the law empowers you to participate. Because the process is so personal, it's also common to feel like you're the only one advocating for your child's needs. So bring along a trusted friend, neighbor, advocate or family member. Don't go at it alone!