Are you wondering what to do with your child’s IEP while their return to school is still in question? Don’t worry, you are not the only one! Individual Education Plans (IEPs) can be extremely confusing, even without the added uncertainty of a global pandemic. This newsletter will be one of many articles dedicated to helping parents understand and navigate their child’s IEP. Today we will talk specifically about what to do with an IEP while school closures and social distancing orders are still in place.
Also, since many of our children’s IEPs have been idle for a few weeks now, we want to ensure that their IEPs is still applicable when school opens back up. This article will additionally list specific questions parents can ask their IEP team when school resumes ensuring the plan is still appropriate.
A Break Down of the IEP Document
The best thing you can do with your IEP right now is to read through it! The better parents can understand the IEP document, the more effectively they can ensure their child gets the appropriate education they deserve.
Below, we have created an outline to guide you through the most important things to look for in your child’s IEP—regardless of state or school district. Because IEPs are based on federally mandated rights of the Free and Public Education (FAPE) laws, they do have some consistency. So, while they may look different or be written in different languages, they should all have the information. With that said, get a highlighter and a pen, and let’s get started! We suggest labeling and highlighting as you work through the document.
Within the sometimes 20+ pages of an IEP, there are six sections parents need to be privy to:
General Student Information
Qualifying Subject Areas
Accommodations & Modifications
1) General Student Information: This should be one of the very first sections of the IEP. It will contain your child’s name, birth date, address, parent names, qualification category, and other general information.
2) Qualifying Subject Areas: What subject area/s does your child’s IEP cover? You will find the subject areas in the section of the IEP that covers your child’s goals and/or on the page that summarizes your child’s services. Typically, the summary page is near the front or back of the IEP. Some children qualify for 1 or 2 subject areas, while others may qualify for 5 or 6. We suggest circling each subject area and writing them down on a blank portion of the IEP so they can be easily referenced. These simple notations will help make sense of the IEP as a whole. The subject areas children most often qualify for are:
Academics: Reading, Writing, Math
Adapted Physical Education
3) Present Levels: Present Levels, sometimes called “Present Levels of Performance” or “PLOP,” is the section of the IEP that indicates how your child was performing at the time the IEP was written. Present levels often indicate goal areas in initial IEPs; upon the 2nd or 3rd IEP meeting, this section should give more of an anecdotal update. It is important to review this section of the IEP now that our children have been out of school since March, since we want to ensure it is up to date when they return. Because this section helps to dictate goals, classroom placement, and “service minutes,” it will be important to discuss our children’s present levels with their teachers back in school to ensure the IEP is still applicable.
4) Goals: Your child’s IEP goals dictate their educational plan! IEP goals can be difficult to understand, so it is important to sit down with your child’s Special Education teacher, or your IEP advocate and have them review the goals with you. Using our “IEP Quick Reference Guide,” it is important to know where the IEP goals are located, how many goals your child has in each subject area, if there is a goal focus you can identify, and any ‘wonderings’ you have.
5) Service Matrix (aka FAPE or Service Minutes): This section of the IEP indicates how many minutes your child will receive instruction for each qualifying subject area. For example, if your child qualifies for reading support, their service minutes may indicate: “30 minutes 2x weekly.” This means the student should receive 30 minutes of reading instruction from a special education teacher or staff member twice a week. This section is typically located on the summary page of the “Qualifying Subject Area” but can also be located on its own summary page.
An extremely important aspect of the service minutes is the location in which the indicated instruction is given. Students with IEPs should be instructed in the least restrictive environment—either within their general education classroom or their special education setting. It is important to identify where your child is receiving instruction so you can determine the appropriateness of this setting. Some students thrive in smaller special education settings, while others benefit from joining the general education setting. Keep in mind that the discussion of a child’s learning environment can be contentious but remember that as a parent, you are an equal member of the IEP team. Both special education and general education settings can be extremely beneficial for different reasons, and those reasons completely depend on the individual student.
6) Accommodations & Modifications: This is a relatively straightforward section of the IEP. Accommodations indicate ways to accommodate the learning environment for the student. For example: the student sits in a particular type of chair.
Is My Child’s IEP Still Applicable? Review “Present Levels", Goals & Service Minutes
Our students have been out of school for weeks due to COVID-19, and parents and educators alike are concerned with children losing their academic and social skills prior to social distancing orders. When students in general education classrooms return to school, their teachers should evaluate and adjust their curriculum according to the present levels of their students. This should be no different for a student with an IEP. The special education teacher in charge of a student’s IEP should evaluate and adjust the plan according to the student’s present levels. This should be equally applicable for a student receiving special education services, because the school is legally required to provide an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), with FAPE (Free And Public Education) regulations.
So how do you ensure your child’s IEP is current? Parents need to read the present levels, goals, and service minutes of their child’s IEP and ask themselves if they feel the information is still appropriate for their child now, or if it will be when they return to school. If the school or teacher does not initiate this conversation, parents should call an IEP meeting to discuss the appropriateness of the plan.
Questions To Ask Your IEP Team Upon Returning to School
Will my child’s academic proficiency be evaluated upon their return to school? How will it be evaluated? What is the time frame?
Can we set up an IEP team meeting to be ready to amend the IEP if necessary?
Are any accommodations or modifications that need to be added or removed, depending on the weeks my child has been absent from school?
Are there any services we should focus on more than others to help compensate for the lost time? If yes, can we amend the “service minutes” to reflect this consensus? For example, if the team feels the child is more proficient in math than reading, perhaps the child’s reading minutes should increase.
Is my child’s learning environment still appropriate? For example, the student may need to spend more time in a smaller, controlled Special Education setting to ease back into school.
Can we build an interim plan for my child that reflects an appropriate and effective transition to school?
We hope this article has given more context and understanding to the IEP. Our goal is to empower parents with the necessary information to take charge of their child’s education so that all parents can confidently say, “I know what my child’s day ‘looks’ like.” Again, this is the first of articles dedicated to special education in school and the Individualized Education Plan. Please contact us if you have any specific questions, as we would love to answer them via our newsletter!