IEPs in Connecticut: The Basics
This guide provides parents and caregivers with an overview of the basic elements of Individualized Education Plans ("IEP").
The First Steps with IEPsThe IEP process can be initiated by either the parent or the school. At a parent*s request, the school must evaluate a student, at no cost to the family. When requesting an evaluation, the parent should identify any specific learning or behavioral concerns and consent in writing to an evaluation. If the school does not respond within one week, there should be a friendly follow-up inquiry to determine how the school plans to respond.
In general. the goal of an IEP evaluation should be to determine whether the student is eligible for *special education* services. The evaluation process is fluid and must account for not only academic performance, but other issues such as social skills and attention issues. In fact, the notion of *disability* for these purposes is very broad. It includes, for example:
Speech and language issues
ADD and ADHD
Serious emotional problems
Intellectual and learning disabilities
There is no uniform set of factors or tools used by schools in conducing IEP evaluations, but schools will generally conduct a *comprehensive* evaluation with a focus on specific areas that may be causing concern. These evaluations should account for all factors and considerations that, on a commonsense level, inform on the student*s situation, including formal records, test results, classroom observations, and meetings with the student and parents.
There is no requirement that parents attend an IEP evaluation. Nevertheless, it is worth repeating that parents* questions and input are an important part of this process. This will help ensure that learning issues are thoroughly considered and that the school is accountable to its obligations.
Knowing the Difference Between IEPs and 504 PlansThe terms *504 Plan* and *IEP* are frequently referenced as though they are synonymous. This often happens because children who are eligible for an IEP are also eligible for a 504 Plan. Nevertheless, parents should be aware of important differences between IEPs and 504 plans. These differences can impact a student*s eligibility for services in the first instance and the scope and nature of a school*s obligations to eligible students.
The key to understanding the difference between an IEP and a 504 Plan is understanding that IEPs are a creation of the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (*IDEA*), whereas 504 Plans pertain to Section 504 of the federal Rehabilitation Act, enacted in 1973. This is important; IDEA is education-focused legislation, and it was enacted specifically to address schools* obligations to students with disabilities. Because of this, IDEA contemplates services that are tailored to the student*s individual needs and circumstances. By contrast, the Rehabilitation Act is broader, anti-discrimination legislation that addresses discrimination in the context of education but also many other situations. As such, 504 Plans are generally more focused on the learning environment rather than an individual student*s needs.
The good news for parents is that IEPs and 504 plans and both provided at no cost to parents (although any parent paying property or other municipal taxes will disagree).
There are important differences to keep in mind, as well. In general, it is more difficult for a student to become eligible for an IEP than a 504 Plan. Once eligibility is determined, however, IEPs/IDEA are more solicitous toward parents and students than 504s and provide more robust requirements and protections.
Here is a summary of the important differences between IEPs and 504 Plans:
Eligibility standard. The standard for obtaining an IEP is stricter than a 504 Plan, since a child is not eligible unless he or she has one of the specific disabilities enumerated in IDEA, and the disability must demonstrably impact the student*s ability to learn. 504 plans allow a broader definition of disability, and students are 504 eligible if the disability substantially limits a *basic life activity* such as learning.
Request for IEE. A school is required to pay for an IEE under IDEA (although schools sometimes do not agree that an IEE is necessary). There is no similar requirement for purposes of a 504 Plan. Parents can always pay for an IEE themselves.
IEP Teams vs. 504 Teams. The IDEA requires that the IEP Team creating an IEP actively participate in IEP meetings and must be comprised of parents, teachers, certain involved specialists, and a district representative. 504 standards are far less strict and may be an ad hoc group.
IEP Plans vs. 504 Plans. IEP plans must be in writing and must include various, detailed elements pertaining to the child*s academic performance and the scope and nature of services to be provided by the school. By contrast, 504 Plans are not required to be in writing and do not have specific requirements.
Development of IEPs and IEP RequirementsThe IEP is a *written statement for each child with a disability that is developed, reviewed, and revised* pursuant to federal law. For students identified as eligible for special education services, the IEP is the primary documentation that the student is receiving a *free, appropriate public education* as required by federal law.
Before getting into the required elements and substance of an IEP, it is important to emphasize that, by the time your child*s IEP is being written: (1) your child has been identified as potentially eligible for special education services; (2) the evaluation has been completed; and (3) eligibility has been determined (i.e., the student is a *child with a disability* under the IDEA).
But most importantly: Parents are part of the IEP team. This means that parents are entitled to sufficient notice of the IEP meeting, and the IEP meeting must take place at a time and place that is agreeable to the parent. In fact, if parents do not participate in the IEP team, the IEP will be written by the school.
The contents required for IEP are detailed in IDEA regulations, but the 12-page form used in Connecticut includes some additional elements. (The State of Connecticut has provided a very helpful, annotated IEP form that walks through every page of the IEP form.)
-Current Performance * A statement of present levels of educational and functional performance. This means the IEP must set forth the impact the student*s disability has on performance.
-Goals * A statement of measurable educational goals *including academic and functional goals** These must be tailored to the student and the impact of his or her disability.
-Metrics and Measurement: A description of evaluation procedures and how and when performance will be measured. This includes performance benchmarks for students who have alternate assignments.
- Support and services: A statement of special education, supplementary aids, and related services required for the student, including transportation and physical and vocational programs. In general, the goal is to enable the student to continue making academic progress; participate in extracurricular activities; and participate in activities with other students.
- Participation: An explanation of the extent, if any, to which the student will not participate in regular class, curriculum, and extracurricular activities. To the extent possible, students should be able to learn with their peers.
-Modifications and accommodations. A statement of individual accommodations that the student needs in order to measure achievement (e.g., why an alternative assessment is necessary and what alternative assessment will be used and why).
- Dates/Schedule. The projected start and end date for services and modifications, and the frequency, duration and location of the services.
- Post-secondary goals. For IEPs in effect when the student turns 16 years old, measurable post-secondary goals related to training, education, and employment .
Implementation of IEPsThis post discusses issues that can arise in connection with implementation of IEPs, i.e., after the IEP document is completed.
It seems worth repeating that your child*s IEP is the written plan that is developed by a PPT that sets forth the educational program for his or her special education services on an individual basis. In effect, the IEP document is the backbone of the special education services that will be provided to the student. While the IEP document is obviously critical, is important to remember that the IEP is intended to be a *working document* of sorts.
Parents certainly should see that their child receives the right services, but when disagreements arise, as they routinely do, good faith collaboration and communication is usually the most productive way to start addressing them. Here are some specific points for parents to keep in mind:
Progress reports: IEPs should set forth how parents will be provided updates on the student*s progress. IEP-related updates must be provided at least as frequently as other, general education students receive updates. The progress reports are important: completing an IEP is obviously a milestone, but it is not the end of the process. Parents should remain actively involved how the school is meeting its obligation to provide the special education and related services outlined in the IEP. Progress reports, in particular the first report following the beginning of school or after the IEP is created, are very important. If the first report indicates any reason for concern, parents should communicate with the school promptly.
Services Provided. Parents may disagree with how services are being provided to the student and what services are being provided. The law provides parents with the right to challenge a school*s decisions related to specific services to be provided to the student in implementing the IEP. The law also provides formal mediation and due process to the extent informal discussions are not successful. But this is worth repeating: Whether related to specific issues related to the student or more regular implementation issues, the key for both parents and the school is keeping up good faith, adequate communication. This sounds simple and easy, but it frequently is not so.
Revisions and Annual Updates: Parents can also request an IEP meeting at any time to discuss potential revisions to an IEP, but the IEP document must be reviewed at least annually. This means that the IEP team will convene in person to review the student*s current situation and whether the IEP is sufficiently addressing the special education needs identified in the IEP document. That meeting should include a discussion of whether the student is meeting stated goals and consider new information and changes in the student*s situation to determine whether the IEP should be revised. The discussion of any revisions should account for the student*s particular strengths, parents* input about how to improve the child*s education, and results of evaluation and testing since the last IEP.
For parents, nothing is *routine* about how an IEP is implemented. That said, most districts US Department of Education web
IEP DisputesIEP disputes can be complicated, time-consuming and expense. They can arise in any of the previously discussed steps related to IEPs, e.g., identification, evaluation, placement, and implementation. Disputes may also involve peripheral issues such as a school*s assessment methodology, related services, and student discipline.
The formal IEP dispute resolution process required by IDEA starts with a request for a *Due Process* hearing. This is a short-hand reference to a process that includes a formal, written complaint (a hearing *request*) and impartial hearing pursuant to IDEA.
Formal Due Process is required only informal settlement discussions or formal mediation fail. In many situations, mediation benefits both sides, but success always requires *good faith* efforts at reaching resolution. Mediation costs (not include attorneys* fees) are funded by the state, and the state has a list of available mediators. We will post more about mediation later, but mediation should always be considered before formal Due Process is pursued.
Here are some preliminaries related to Due Process requests:
- The request must be filed within two years after the dispute is known.
- Either a parent or the school district may make such a request.
- The request must be in writing and include identifying information regarding the student, in addition to a description of the dispute.
- The request must also identify a proposed resolution, i.e., steps that may be taken to resolve the dispute.
- In Connecticut, a copy of the request must be sent to the Connecticut Bureau of Special Education *Due Process Unit.*
- The request must include the above information to be considered *sufficient* for a due process hearing to be scheduled.
Sending a request also implicates a series of deadlines and time limitations that drive the *due process* calendar (some of which are subject to adjustment):
*Sufficiency* Threshold: Within fifteen days of receipt of the request, the responding party must advise in writing if it believes the complaint is not *sufficient* on its face (i.e., it lacks required information). The hearing officer then has five days to notify the parties of a decision regarding sufficiency.
Response: Once the complaint is deemed sufficient, within ten calendar days the district must send a written response addressing (1) why it proposed or refused to take the action at issue in the complaint; (2) a description of alternatives per the PPT; (3) the basis for the school*s decision (e.g., evaluation procedure, assessment, record or report); and (4) other factors the school believes is relevant.
Resolution Meeting: Within fifteen days of receiving the request and before the hearing beings, the district must meet with the parent and the PPT members who have relevant knowledge to try to resolve the dispute. (This meeting can be waived with mutual consent between the parent and district.)
Resolution or Hearing: Within 30 days of receipt of the complaint, either the school must address the issues in the complaint to the parents* satisfaction, or the time period will begin running for a 45-day period in which a written decision must be issued.)