The Basic Special Education Process Under IDEA
The writing of each student's IEP takes place within the larger picture of the special education process under IDEA. Before taking a detailed look at the IEP, it may be helpful to look briefly at how a student is identified as having a disability and needing special education and related services and, thus, an IEP.
Step 1. Child is identified as possibly needing special education and related services.
"Child Find." The state must identify, locate, and evaluate all children with disabilities in the state who need special education and related services. To do so, public school districts conduct "Child Find" activities. Parents may be asked if the school district can evaluate their child. Parents can also call the public school district and ask that their child be evaluated. Or--
Referral or request for evaluation. A school professional may ask that a child be evaluated to see if he or she has a disability. Parents may also contact the child's teacher or other school professional to ask that their child be evaluated. This request may be verbal or in writing. Parental consent is needed before the child may be evaluated. Evaluation needs to be completed within 45 school working days after the parent gives consent.
Step 2. Child is evaluated.
The evaluation must assess the child in all areas related to the child's suspected disability. The evaluation results will be used to decide the child's eligibility for special education and related services and to make decisions about an appropriate educational program for the child.
Step 3. Eligibility is decided.
A group of qualified professionals and the parents look at the child's evaluation results. Together, they decide if the child is a "child with a disability," as defined by IDEA. Parents may ask for a hearing to challenge the eligibility decision if they disagree with it.
Step 4. Child is found eligible for services.
If the child is found to be a "child with a disability," as defined by IDEA, he or she is eligible for special education and related services, and the IEP team will write an IEP for the child.
Once the student has been found eligible for services, the IEP must be written. The two steps below summarize what is involved in writing the IEP. Detailed information on the IEP process is available on the ESE Web site http://www.doe.mass.edu/sped/iep/.
Step 5. IEP meeting is scheduled.
The school system schedules and conducts the IEP meeting. School staff must:
- contact the participants, including the parents;
- notify parents early enough to make sure they have an opportunity to attend;
- schedule the meeting at a time and place agreeable to parents and the school;
- tell the parents the purpose, time, and location of the meeting;
- tell the parents who will be attending; and
- tell the parents that they may invite people to the meeting who have knowledge or special expertise
Step 6. IEP meeting is held and the IEP is written.
The IEP team gathers to talk about the child's needs and write the student's IEP. Parents and the student (when appropriate) are part of the team. If the child's placement is decided by a different group, the parents must be part of that group as well.
Before the school system may provide special education and related services to the child for the first time, the parents must give consent. The child begins to receive services as soon as possible after the meeting.
If the parents do not agree with the IEP and placement, they may discuss their concerns with other members of the IEP team and try to work out an agreement. If they still disagree, parents can ask for mediation, or the school may offer mediation. Parents may file a complaint with the state education agency and may request a due process hearing, at which time mediation must be available.