The Special Education Process


UNDER THE INDIVIDUALS WITH DISABILITIES ACT (IDEA),

Once a child qualifies for special education, the school has a legal responsibility to provide a free appropriate public education (FAPE) at no cost to parents, which meets the unique needs of the child with the disability in the least restrictive environment (LRE).

           The school district is obligated to provide a free appropriate public education (FAPE) in the least restrictive environment (LRE).  LRE refers to the least restrictive environment that meets the educational needs of the student.

Determining the LRE is an IEP Team responsibility, after the strengths and needs of the student, as well as special education services, have been thoroughly explored.  

Generally speaking, the LRE for a child with a disability is in the regular classroom, learning along side children who do not have a disability.


Procedural Safeguards:

IDEA has a section called procedural rights to insure parent and student’s rights. Therefore school districts must give notice to parents of their rights:

1. When a parent request a notice of their rights
2. Once a year
3. When a school district takes or refuses to take actions
4. Initial evaluation for special education services
5. When a complaint is filed

Click here to view your rights as a parent/guardian whose child is involved in Special Education.


The IEP Team:

The school district must ensure that the IEP Team for each child with a disability includes:

  • The parents of the student;
  • Not less than one regular education teacher of the student (if the student is, or may be, participating in the regular education environment);
  • Not less than one special education teacher of the student, or where appropriate, not less than one special education provider of the student;
  • A representative of the school district (who has certain specific knowledge and qualifications);
  • An individual who can interpret the instructional implications of evaluation results and who may also be one of the other listed members;
  • At the discretion of the parent or the agency, other individuals who have knowledge or special expertise regarding the student, including related services personnel as appropriate; 
  • Whenever appropriate, the student.

*The parent is an important part of the IEP team. No one knows a child better than their parent!  Parents may invite anyone with knowledge or special expertise regarding the child to be on the IEP team. Such persons may be a friend or relative, an advocate. IDEA regulations provide that the person who issues the invitation determines whether that individual has knowledge or expertise that may be helpful in the IEP meeting. It is a matter of courtesy to let everyone know who is being invited.

*If the above key team members are not at the IEP meeting, you can ask for the meeting to be reconvened.

* If the student is 15 years or older, different information applies.  To read more about services as they pertain to older students, please read our Transition Page.


Excusing an IEP Team Member

There are two reasons an IEP team member can be excused in whole or in part:

1. If the parent of a child with a disability and the public agency agree, in writing, that the attendance of the member is not necessary because the member’s area of the curriculum or related services is not being modified or discussed in the meeting.

2. When the meeting involves a modification to or discussion of the member’s area of the curriculum or related services, if

  • The parent, in writing, and the school district consent to the excusal; and
  • The member submits, in writing to the parent and the IEP Team, input into the development of the IEP prior to the meeting.

IEP Meetings:

There are three types of IEP Meetings: Initial, Annual and Triennual.

  • INITIAL IEP MEETING

The purpose of the Initial IEP meeting is to review the evaluation information, determine eligibility/ineligibility for special education services and then, if eligible, develop an Individual Educational Plan ( I.E.P.) and determine implementation of the Individual Educational Plan in the least restrictive environment (LRE).

  • ANNUAL IEP MEETING

The purpose of annual IEP meetings is to review the progress or lack thereof towards annual goals, to discuss any new information pertaining to the students education and review the appropriateness of the plan for the next year. Often times this review leads to the need to make changes to the IEP.  Changes can be made to the IEP without an IEP meeting under certain conditions.

  • TRIENNUAL REVIEWS

Every three years the IEP Team must convene to determine if the current disability category is still appropriate for the student and determine continued eligibility for special education services. Typically the Annual Review and the Triennual Review will occur at the same time, three years from the Initial IEP meeting and every three years thereafter. Parents and all other IEP Team members are invited to attend this review. Parents can invite others who they believe have a something to contribute to the meeting.  

The IEP Team will review previous evaluations, current academic data, and the current IEP. If there is enough data to support that the student continues to meet the criteria for that particular disability category, or if there have been no significant changes, the committee may determine the student to be continued eligible for special education and related services.

Sometimes the school will recommend more comprehensive evaluation.  There are many reasons that a full evaluation is beneficial to the student.  Students change, make progress, receive new diagnoses and adults learn more about their learning style. 


Content of the IEP:

The Individual Education Plan must include the following areas:

  • PRESENT LEVELS OF ACADEMIC ACHIEVEMENT AND FUNCTIONAL PERFORMANCE(PLAAF): The PLAAF statement offers a snapshot of a student at a particular time and place. 

  • GOALS: IEP goals determine the educational program for a student with special needs.

  • SPECIAL EDUCATION SERVICES: The services the student needs to reach their goals and objectives, and how they’ll be delivered, are identified.  Available services may fall into the following two categories:

    • Related Services: These services are designed to help a child with a disability benefit from special education, he or she may also need extra help in one area or another, such as speaking or moving.  
    • Supplementary Aids and Services: These services are intended to improve student’s access to learning and their participation across the school day.  
  • PLACEMENT: The IEP team must consider the way, to the maximum extent appropriate, to educate a student with a disability alongside students without a disability.  

To read more detailed information about what content must be included in the IEP, please refer to our IEP Page.


Implementing the IEP:

It is important for all of the teachers working with the student to have a copy of the IEP and to have read it.

The school will adhere to the IDEA time lines to review the IEP (annual and triennual IEP meetings).  If the school does not or if you are interested in discussing a change in the IEP, you have the right to ask for another IEP meeting. 

Put any requests for an IEP meeting in writing.  Putting your request in writing helps the school know that you are serious about making sure the IEP meets your student's needs, that it is followed and that it is not just “put it away in a file.”

The following includes suggested agenda items to be discussed at IEP meetings: 

  • The vision for the future of the student and the reasons why that is very important 
  • Academic and functional performance
  • Academic, developmental and functional needs
  • Previous successes, failures and challenges
  • Accommodations and/or modifications that were successful
  • Home and home-to-school communications
  • Results of most recent evaluations
  • Clarify the responsibility of all the teachers the student will have, including the paraprofessionals and any one else providing services

Work in the spirit of collaboration and cooperation as much as possible.  Discuss successes and challenges equally.  Remembering the IEP meeting is a business meeting helps you keep your emotions in check, and helps everyone work together to benefit the student. 

Follow up with any unresolved concerns or agenda items and discuss strategies and time lines for addressing those issues.


Monitoring Progress:

Progress monitoring is the practice of assessing students’ academic performance and evaluating the effectiveness of instruction. Progress monitoring is implemented with all students, those on IEP's and those who are not.  Progress monitoring is very important for students receiving special education as it assists in understanding the effectiveness of the IEP and can indicate success or the lack thereof.  IDEA requires that progress of students with disabilities is measured at least with the same frequency as their non-disabled peers.

Standardized tests and informal assessments can be used to measure a student’s progress toward their goals.  Other options are tallies or checklists or tests specific to the action desired.  All those reviewing the measurement should be able to come to the same conclusion.

When progress monitoring is implemented correctly, the benefits are great for everyone involved. Some benefits include:

  • accelerated learning because students are receiving more appropriate instruction;
  • more informed instructional decisions;
  • documentation of student progress for accountability purposes;
  • more efficient communication with families and other professionals about students’ progress;
  • higher expectations for students by teachers

IEP Team Disagreements:

If you have a concern that you feel is not being properly addressed, meeting face to face is a good way to work on a solution. People are usually much more willing to work collaboratively when they have to look one another in the eye. Face-to-face meetings also eliminate the risk of miscommunication, which is more likely to happen over email or the phone. Come to the meeting with clear intentions and goals. Be willing to listen to one another, and try earnestly to solve the conflict there. Ask for an informal parent-teacher meeting, and perhaps include others such as administration or related services staff as needed.

If these are steps are not successful, you have the right to access the formal dispute resolution methods offered under the Individuals with Education Act, as well as the ability to file a Complaint with the Office of Civil Rights for any situations in which you believe that your child has been discriminated against as a result of being a child with a disability.  Please see our Dispute Resolution Page for more information.


Contact us at the THRIVE Center.  We are a resource for parents and other community members to learn more about special education, rights and responsibilities, and the law.