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…
  • 7:51 Lesson Summary
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Instructor: Ashley Dugger

Ashley has a JD degree and is an attorney. She has extensive experience as a prosecutor and legal writer, and she has taught and written various 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.

Goals: One important item in an IEP is the inclusion of measurable annual goals, including academic and functional goals designed to meet the student's needs. These goals should be as concrete as possible to avoid any ambiguity about whether or not they have been achieved.

Services: There are variety of ways schools can deal with disabled students and a variety of services that may be offered at school or at other locations. The IEP should provide details of all special education and related services, including any supplementary aids, program modifications, and school supports that will be provided to the student. These details must include the start date, frequency, duration, and location of the services

Participation: Most schools have many more non-disabled students than disabled ones. The IEP includes a description of the degree to which the student will or will not participate with non-disabled students. The plan should note this participation in both the general education environment as well as extracurricular and non-academic activities.

Transitional plan: For students 16 years of age or older, the IEP should also include a statement of appropriate and measurable post secondary goals. This set of goals should include a plan for training, education, employment, and independent living skills.

Assessment of Current Performance

Let's take a quick look at how some of these components should be incorporated into a legally defensible IEP. Note that the assessment of the student's current performance should include a detailed, measurable baseline in each of the student's areas of need.

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