As the school year begins for your child with a disability, review his or her Individualized Education Program (IEP) and ensure that it is correct and that it accurately reflects your child’s needs. If you have not received a copy of the IEP, contact your district immediately. The law requires that your child have the IEP in place at the beginning of the year and you should have a copy.
The IEP represents the centerpiece of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and is an important record. The IEP documents your child’s need for special education services and formalizes the school district’s plan to provide a free appropriate public education that will meet your child’s needs in the least restrictive environment possible. The United States Supreme Court has recently clarified that this plan must be appropriately ambitious for your child’s unique needs.
If upon review, you believe that the IEP is inappropriate, has incorrect or outdated information or lists the wrong program, you may request changes to the IEP. To do so, you should contact your case manager in writing to list the changes and why you believe they are necessary. Write a clear and professional letter. If the changes are minor, the CSE may agree to amend the IEP without a meeting if you sign consent. However, the CSE cannot agree to substantive changes, such as a change of placement, without a meeting.
What if the CSE does not agree with your changes? Some CSE chairs will not agree to minor changes, as the IEP represents a school district document that reflects CSE consensus. You may request a CSE meeting. If the CSE will not agree to your changes, even after a meeting, you should write a formal letter indicating your disagreement and your requested changes and ask that it be appended to the IEP. You may also file for due process as described below.
You may also submit a request for reevaluation, for instance if you believe that the child needs additional services or a different program. Your child may not be making appropriate progress under the current IEP, or he or she may have made so much progress that new goals are no longer appropriate. The school district can also request reevaluation. If a reevaluation is requested, the school district must consider conducting the necessary testing, even if it is not time for the triennial reevaluation. The CSE will then hold an additional IEP meeting to review the new evaluations, clarify the student’s needs, and amend the IEP.
If you request a new IEP or important changes and you believe the school district has not responded appropriately, you may file a Due Process Complaint to request an Impartial Hearing to resolve the dispute. An Impartial Hearing also constitutes the remedy for any other situation when you believe the school district has violated your child’s rights under the IDEA. An Impartial Hearing Officer, a trained and certified individual, usually a lawyer, not employed by the school district, will conduct a hearing and issue a decision and order. You have the right to have a special education attorney represent you at this hearing. A special education attorney can also assist with any situation where you believe your child is not receiving a free appropriate public education. It is important to act relatively quickly, as the IDEA has a two year statute of limitations, which means you have two years from when you knew or should have known of any violations, to bring a due process complaint.