An Individualized Education Program, commonly known as an IEP, is a document that is developed, reviewed, and revised in an IEP meeting and serves as a communication vehicle between parents and their child's school district. Ultimately, it is a written record of the decisions reached by IEP Team members, including parents, at the IEP meeting.
To develop an IEP that effectively meets the unique needs of the child requires Team members to collaborate effectively. What are some of the principles of effective IEP collaboration? This column addresses seven of these.
1. Parents are Required Members of the IEP Team and Need to be Treated as Equal Partners
The Team process should be a collaborative process between parents or guardians, school staff members, and other professionals. Parents have a unique and critically important perspective on their child's learning style, strengths, and needs. The school staff should ensure that parents feel welcomed and comfortable when communicating with school staff and at all meetings.
2. Student Participation Can Be Very Important and, at Times, Required
Student should be considered important members of the IEP Team. As students get older, they should be encouraged to become more and more active at Team meetings and advance their interests and preferences for determining the IEP's goals and services.
School districts must explain to students their rights, including their right to attend Team meetings and the importance of their corresponding responsibilities. Students must be invited to attend when the child turns 16 when the purpose of the meeting will be the consideration of the postsecondary goals. If the student does not attend the meeting, the district must take other steps to ensure that the student's preferences and interests are considered.
3. Always Remember that the IEP is Written to Fit the Student. The Placement Must Fit the IEP.
Under no circumstances should the IEP be written "to fit" a particular placement. Teams must remember this critical dictate when developing an IEP. The placement must be chosen to fit the IEP, not the other way around.
4. Use Team Meetings as a Communication Vehicle
During an IEP meeting, Team members should share information and discuss the needs of the student. All members should listen carefully and share information to better understand the student. The discussion should connect one IEP element to the next and ensure internal consistency within the IEP. This increase the chances that the student's actual program will be consistent, which in turn increases the likelihood of reinforcement and success.
5. The IEP Serves as a Contract Between the School District and the Parents
The IEP should reflect the decisions made at the Team meeting and should serve as a contract between the school system and parents. For these reasons, the document must clearly communicate to parents the needs of their child, the steps the school district will take to address those needs, and the progress their child is expected to make during the period covered by the IEP.
6. All IEP Meetings are Unique—Treat Them as Such
A Team meeting is a group process and an individual inquiry process that makes all IEP meeting somewhat different as each group at each meeting considers what is best for each distinctive student. The Team process will be affected by the differences among the people attending the meeting, by the differences among schools and school districts, by the differences among the types of evaluation data considered, and by many other factors.
7. Foresee the Future for the Student—Create a Vision Statement
A vision statement focuses the Team on the student's future. It encourages the Team to go beyond the here-and-now, to look to where the student is headed. This helps the Team balance between immediate concerns and hopes and dreams for the future. Knowing where the student is headed, or wants to head, makes it easier for the Team to determine the progress needed. Teams must remember the ultimate goal for all students with disabilities are lives that are independent and productive.
Dr. George A. Giuliani is the Executive Director of the National Association of Special Education Teachers (NASET) and is a full-time Associate Professor and Director of the Special Education Program at Hofstra University's Graduate School in the Department of Counseling, Research, Special Education, and Rehabilitation. In addition to holding a Juris Doctor from the City University of New York School of Law, he is a New York State licensed psychologist and certified school psychologist. He has an extensive private practice focusing on children with special needs.