Future Reflections Spring 1992, Vol. 11 No. 2


by Christopher Button

     Editor's Note: The following item appeared in the 1991 Special IEP Issue of Circuit, a newsletter of South Dakota Parent Connection, Inc. Christopher Button, Ph.D., is a Senior Policy Associate, Governmental Activities Office, in the national office of United Cerebral Palsy Associations, Inc.

     As the end of the school year approaches, many school systems will begin their annual review of Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) for students receiving special education and related services. IEP meetings must be conducted at least once a year to review and revise each child's IEP. Although these meetings may be held at any time during the year (including the summer), frequently schools review and revise IEPs towards the end of a school year so that they will be in effect at the beginning of the following school year.

     The last year has brought several developments which you should consider as you prepare to take part in crafting the IEP for your child. As a result of an amendment last year to P.L. 101-476, the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (formerly the Education of the Handicapped Act), IEPs must now consider the transition needs of students with disabilities who are 14 years of age (or younger if appropriate) as they plan for eventual move from school to adult life.

     In addition, on August 10, 1990, the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) issued a policy letter which clarifies the right of a student with a disability to assistive technology services and devices under P.L. 94-142, the federal mandate for a free, appropriate public education. This policy letter (reproduced in the Fall, 1990, issue of Family Support Bulletin), clearly states that assistive technology can be considered special education or related services. It can also be supplementary aids and services which are designed to assist a student with a disability stay in a regular classroom. Assistive technology devices include thing that help students with disabilities in their daily lives--such as hearing aids and wheelchairs. Assistive technology devices also include other things which may be less familiar--such as changes in school equipment that make it easier for kids with and without disabilities to learn together: computers; adapted toys and computer games; remote control switches that allow kids to use computers and other equipment in the classroom; and electronic devices that enable a child with limited speech to say whatever is on his or her mind. Examples of assistive technology services include help figuring out what devices can best assist a particular child, training in how to use the devices, or help getting devices required.

     IEPs must reflect the areas of transition and assistive technology if they are appropriate for your child. However, particularly where requirements or regulatory interpretations are new, it is often up to you as a parent to ensure that these areas are considered. It may be helpful to bring a copy of the OSEP policy letter on assistive technology if you are requesting inclusion of technology for your child. Contact Jenifer Simpson at (800) USA-5UCP if you need a copy.


     The following facts are intended to help guide you as you approach working with school personnel to develop or revise the IEP for your child:

     As a parent, you should be included in IEP meeting as an equal participant. This means that the meeting should be held at a mutually convenient time, and that you should have sufficient notice that it will be held. The IEP should not be presented to you as a completed document, but must be developed jointly at the meeting. Some schools prepare a draft IEP in advance of the meeting to use as a "working" document. If your school does this, request that they provide you with a copy in advance so that you will have all the time you need to review what they propose. You may view this document as a "starting point" for your IEP discussion. Do not be afraid to request additions, deletions, or other changes once you get to the meeting. You may also develop your own "working" document to bring to the meeting.

     Remember that you have the right to request that certain services, such as assistive technology, be included on your child's IEP. If you are requesting inclusion of specific services, it is important to be prepared to discuss why you believe they are important for your child's education.

     IEPs must list all special education (specially designed instruction) and related services (services necessary to assist the child to benefit from special education) which are required for your child. Assistive technology (e.g., augmentative communication devices and/or training; a wheelchair; a computer) may be either of these things, depending on the individual needs of a particular child. Related services may also include such things as occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech therapy, transportation services, and even parent training.

     IEPs must also specify how much of your child's education program will be spent in the regular classroom. If modifications to the regular education program (sometimes referred to as supplementary aids and services) are necessary to insure that your child can participate in regular education, those modifications must also be included on the IEP. This applies to all regular education activities in which your child participates—including art, music, p.e., lunchroom, recess, and, of course, the regular classroom for his or her age. Modifications might be as simple a minor rearranging of the desks to allow for movement of a wheelchair, or special seating arrangements for a child with vision or hearing difficulties. Or they can be more complex, including such things as a computer, specially adapted switches, modifications in how assignments are presented, an augmentative communication device and training for the child and teacher in how to use it, or a classroom aid.

     Remember that IEPs must be individually designed to meet the needs of your child, not to fit pre-existing programs or services for administrative convenience. Just because your child as a disability does not mean that he or she must automatically be segregated from friends, from classmates without disabilities, or from the mainstream of school life. Nothing prevents a school from including students with disabilities in regular education classrooms with necessary supports to ensure success.

     Special education may consist of only specially designed physical education for a student with physical disabilities, or only speech/language therapy for a student who has difficulty with communication. However, it may include most of the education program for a student with sever or multiple disabilities. The critical point is that programs are individually designed. Special transportation needs should be specified, including such things as a lift-equipped bus, or even special training for the bus driver to deal with specific behaviors which might occur on the bus. A personal attendant to assist in daily school activities such as general mobility, toileting, or feeding should also be specified if appropriate. One parent included a specific timeline for the school to repair a broken cash register which was essential for her daughter's vocational education.

     Lack of availability of services or lack of sufficient funds may not be used by school personnel to deny services, or to eliminate a needed service from you child's IEP.

     All required special education and related services needed by your child must be listed on the IEP, even if they are not directly available through the local school. The school system must arrange for everything listed to be provided, through contract if necessary.

     All services must be provided at no cost to you. The school system may ask you to use your private insurance to pay for some of the services, such as speech or physical therapy. You do not have to do this! Consider the long-term effects, such as lifetime limits on coverage, before you agree to use your own insurance.

     Evaluation results are key to what is included on the IEP. Therefore, it is critical that evaluations accurately reflect the strengths and needs of your child. You may request an independent evaluation of your child at the school's expense if you are dissatisfied with the evaluation provided by the school system.

     You may bring another individual, such as an advocate who is familiar with the law, or someone who conducted an independent evaluation of your child, to the IEP meeting. You may tape record the IEP meeting if you choose.

     The IEP is a written record of decisions you make jointly with school personnel regarding the special education program for your child. It is a commitment on the part of the school to provide specified services. You have a right to a copy of this document.

     You may request a review of the IEP at any time. If you do not feel that your child's IEP accurately reflects the program he or she needs, or if critical components of your child's program (such as assistive technology or transition planning) were not considered, you may request another meeting of the IEP team to consider these areas for your child. Make your request in writing, and keep a copy for yourself.

     If your request for inclusion of specific IEP goals is met with resistance or if you are dissatisfied with your child's program, you may request a due process hearing. Attorney fees must be paid by the schools if the hearing officer decides in favor of your request and you used an attorney.

     Note: Each state has a Parent Training and Information Center (PTIC) which is federally funded to provide information, training, and support to parents...If you do not know how to contact the (PTIC) in your state, please contact the National Parent Network on Disabilities at (703) 684-6763 or the Technical Assistance for Parent Projects (TAPP) at (617) 482-2915...Each state also has a federally funded Protection and Advocacy (P&A) system to advocate for persons with disabilities, including children....If you do not know how to contact your state P&A, please contact the National Association of State Protection and Advocacy Systems (NAPAS) at (202) 408-9514.