Components of a Legally-Defensible Individualized Education Program

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  • 0:02 Individualized…
  • 2:09 Essential Components
  • 4:33 Assessment of Current…
  • 5:48 Examples of Measurable…
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Instructor: Ashley Dugger

Ashley is an attorney. She has taught and written various introductory law courses.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act requires that each Individualized Education Program contain certain elements. This lesson summarizes the essential components of a legally defensible IEP.

Individualized Education Program

The main law governing special education is the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). This is a federal law governing the rights of disabled students and the responsibilities of school districts. Under IDEA, schools use Individualized Education Programs (IEPs). An IEP is a legal document updated on an annual basis that represents an agreement setting out a special education student's learning needs and the school's responsibilities in meeting those needs. We will consider the case of Addie, a student with severe ADHD. She requires accommodations at school which are set out in her IEP and reviewed each school year.

What happens if the school is accused of not holding up its end of the bargain? Let's say Addie is supposed to be seated at the front of the classroom, but the teacher places her in the back and refuses to move her. Addie's parents will want to enforce the terms of the IEP. In order to enforce the IEP, it must contain certain clearly stated legal requirements because if the terms of the IEP are clear, then the school is legally obligated to follow those terms.

It's also in the best interest of the school to draft an effective IEP. The school can avoid the time and effort they would spend defending their actions later. For example, if Addie's IEP simply says she's to be seated where she is free of distractions, her parents may believe this means the front of the classroom, but Addie's teacher may think Addie does fine in back. Because the IEP is unclear, a dispute might arise as to whether or not the school is complying with the terms of Addie's IEP. This IEP is not legally defensible. The school cannot easily defend their actions and argue that they are complying with the terms of the IEP, because we do not know exactly what the terms are.

Essential Components

So what makes an effective and legally defensible IEP? IDEA requires an IEP to contain key components drafted to be clear, specific, and measurable. Otherwise, they aren't considered defensible. Generally, these components include information on assessments, goals, services, and participation, as well as a transitional plan for students 16 years and older.

Assessments: The IEP should contain an assessment of the student's current academic achievement and functional performance. These assessments include an explanation of how the student's disability affects the student's involvement in class and academic progress.

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