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IEP Help Understanding  Timelines

Types of Guidelines in Special Education

In special education law, there are two types of timelines — specific and general. Specific timelines utilize calendar or business days as a form of measurement, while the general timelines use vague words such as, “reasonable, early enough, as soon as possible, and unnecessary delay.” This causes much confusion for parents and educators alike.  In order to get a sense of what is meant by the vague terms, one must read the law, review rulings from the circuit courts that are related to these vague terms, and then, often times, it is still left open for interpretation. In general, it is advised to use common sense and be flexible for the general timelines. What is “early enough” for one person is likely to be different for another person. Most states and school districts have developed guidelines for these vague terms which special education personnel use as a reference point. If you are having a conflict regarding a timeline with the school district, ask to see the law or policy related to the timeline. If they are following it, they should be more than willing to share it with you.

Specific Timelines For Assessments

Parents often struggle for months or even years to have their child assessed by the district. They meet with the teacher, the principal and even attend student support team (SST) meetings where they hear that their child is already receiving additional support through a process known as Response to Intervention (RTI). They are told by the school staff that before the child can be tested for a disability, they need to see how the child responds to the intervention because if the intervention works then there will be no need for further testing. For some children, this approach works very well since they are able to develop the missing skills and then proceed as expected in the curriculum. For other students, this approach only delays the specialized academic instruction that they need to be able to progress in the general education environment. If you feel that your child has a disability that is impacting her ability to succeed in the general education setting, then request that your child be tested in all areas of concern. Once you submit this letter in writing, the school district has 15 days to provide you with a written assessment plan for you to agree with and sign, or to provide you with a written explanation as to why they are denying your request.

Once you sign and return the assessment plan, the school district has 60 days to assess your child and hold a meeting to share the results with you. If your child is found eligible for special education services, an initial Individualized Education Plan (IEP) meeting will be held. School districts often combine these two meetings into one meeting.

These 15 and 60 day timelines apply for all future assessments that might be requested for your child. It is also required by IDEA that every special education student be assessed every 3 years to see if the child still qualifies. The IEP meeting to discuss this assessment is referred to as a triennial IEP meeting.

Specific Timelines For IEPs

Once your child’s initial IEP meeting is held, then the IEP team must meet annually to review your child’s progress and develop a new IEP based upon the current needs. These meetings are known as annual IEP meetings. A parent must be informed of this meeting prior to it taking place and given the opportunity to request another date and time if the proposed date will not work for them.

If at anytime, you have a concern about your child’s educational program that you wish to discuss with the IEP team, it is your right as a parent to call an IEP meeting. Be sure to put your request in writing, have it date stamped as you turn it in, and get a copy of it. This serves as proof or your request.

IDEA 2004 does not provide a timeline requirement for how quickly a school district must hold an IEP meeting when requested by a parent but that doesn’t mean they can put it off indefinitely. When you hand in your request, ask if there is a timeline for when the meeting must be scheduled by. Most states have provided guidance on this issue, and most districts have written procedures that outline this. The case manager should be willing to provide you with this information because it benefits the team when everyone is working off of the same parameters. This way there is no confusion as to when the meeting should be held.

Specific Timelines For a Transitional Plan

A transition plan is part of the IEP and must be included in the IEP by the time that the child reaches the age of 16. If the IEP team believes a transition plan should be developed earlier, it is within their right to develop one. Be sure to discuss this timeline with the case manager because some states have written guidelines which requires that the team develop a plan as early as age 14. A state or an IEP team can always go beyond the requirements of IDEA but they must never provide less than what is required in IDEA.

Maneuvering Through Special Education Timelines

There are many situations that arise in special education that are not clearly outlined in IDEA. Although this can be extremely frustrating for both parents and educators, a collaborative approach can go a long way to resolving any conflicts arising from these situations. If you have a question or concern surrounding your child’s educational plan, be sure to make an inquiry so that you can collaborate with the team in an informed manner.

Communication is key with collaboration and this is particularly true between the parent and the IEP team. If you don’t know why an assessment hasn’t been completed yet or why the IEP meeting you requested hasn’t been scheduled, ask the casemanager for an update. This will show that you are an involved parent and that you want to work with the team. If you don’t ask when you have concerns, a feeling of mistrust is likely to form between you and the IEP team and then the spirit of collaboration is hindered.

Moving Forward When Collaboration Has Stalled

Sometimes, no matter what a parent tries with the IEP team members, they feel as if they aren’t being heard and that the team is not working in the best interest of their child. If you have been trying to communicate with the IEP team but feel that you are not being heard and that collaboration has stalled, it is time to consult with a special education advocate. An advocate will be able to make sure that the team is addressing your concerns about your child in a non-adversarial manner and rebuild the collaborative spirit so that you and the team can move forward.

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