If your child is found eligible for special education services, a team will hold a meeting to develop an Individualized Education Program (IEP). An IEP is based on the current evaluation. It describes the support and structure needed by a child. It also lists the services the school will provide. The IEP forms the basis for a successful school program for children and adolescents with EBD. School staff must develop the program with input from parents, mental health professionals, or others who work with the child. There must be someone on the IEP team who is knowledgeable about your child’s disability or suspected disability. This includes a person who understands your child’s mental health disorder diagnosis.
The IEP team, which includes parents, develops academic and behavioral goals they think a child can accomplish in one year. These goals become an important part of the IEP. The measure of success is progress. If your child has made appropriate progress in meeting their IEP goals, he or she is considered to be successful.
Children with EBD have many different kinds of learning needs. Some are far behind their peers in school. Some are able to do the school work but do not have friends. Some act without thinking. Some do not know how to work effectively with teachers, other adults, or children. Still others do not understand their disability or the effects of medication. Some of these learning needs are used to develop IEP goals.
The following questions may help you think about your child’s evaluation:
- Are my child’s academic skills at grade level?
Does he or she need help? What kind of help is available in the classroom?
- Did my child have a mental health assessment?
Its purpose is to help the team understand if there are medical or emotional reasons for a child’s problems.
- Were the assessment tools appropriate for my child’s culture, age, and area of disability?
- Does my child have a mental health diagnosis?
If so, is it written into the evaluation results? How will the diagnosis be used to develop effective IEP goals?
- Does my child need a vocational assessment?
For many high school students, vocational education is an important part of learning. It includes teaching work skills and social skills, reinforcing academic skills, and helping youth develop the confidence they need to succeed at a job.
- What happens if we disagree with the evaluation results?
What will the school staff do to help resolve disagreements? This is a question that may be asked of the principal or special education teacher.
The law requires that parents be given information about their child’s evaluation in understandable terms. The results should provide an accurate picture of a child’s strengths and needs. Parents have a right to give “informed consent,” which means that they understand and agree with the evaluation results and how they will be used in planning. Effective IEP goals depend upon a correct evaluation.
Parents have a right to have an independent educational evaluation (IEE) if they disagree with the evaluation completed by the school. People who conduct the IEE do not work for the child’s school. A school district may pay for an IEE in some circumstances when parents disagree with the results of the school’s evaluation. Schools can provide written information on IEEs for parents who want to understand this process. Parents may also call their State Department of Education or their Parent Information Center, such as PACER Center, to help them better understand the IEE.
What Should Be Included in an IEP?
The IEP includes all the special supports and services a child will receive during a school year. It also contains other information related to the IEP. The IEP includes:
- Your child’s “Present Level of Educational Performance” (how your child is doing at the time of testing or evaluation)
- Measurable annual goals, including academic and functional goals (some states, such as Minnesota, also require measurable objectives)
- A description of how your child’s progress will be measured and reported to you
- The special education and related services that will be provided
- An explanation of how much time your child will not spend in the regular class and regular activities
- A statement of any accommodations your child needs to participate in statewide or district wide assessments. If the IEP team determines that a child needs an alternate assessment in order to be tested accurately, it must include a statement that explains why the state or district assessment is not appropriate and why the alternate assessment is appropriate.
- A statement of when, where, and how often services will be provided, and their beginning and ending dates
- Beginning with the first IEP when your child turns 16 (some states, such as Minnesota, require services begin at age 14 or younger, if needed), the IEP must include:
- a measurable postsecondary goal based on age-appropriate assessments
- transition services needed to reach the goals
- coursework to support the measurable postsecondary goal and independent living skills goals when determined appropriate
IEP Team Considerations
At each IEP meeting, the team will talk about your child’s strengths and your concerns about education. The team will also discuss the results of the most recent evaluation and how well your child scored on statewide or districtwide assessments.
There are several other special factors the IEP team will discuss that are important for children with EBD:
- If your child’s behavior interferes with his or her learning or that of others, the team will talk about using positive behavior interventions and supports. This is a system of rewards and positive approaches to teach behavioral and social skills.
- If your child has limited English skills, the team will consider the language needs of your child as they relate to the IEP.
- If your child needs assistive technology (devices or services such as a computer, communication aid, or software), the team will include these services in the IEP.
- If your child needs extended school year (ESY) services in order to meet his or her goals, or to maintain skills over the summer break, the team will include these services in the IEP. Extended School Year is not the same as summer school. It is part of your child’s specially designed instruction based on the disability.
Evaluating the IEP
After the IEP meeting, the agreed-upon goals will be written into an IEP document. The IEP is either mailed or a copy is given to parents after the meeting. It may be wise to do a final check of the IEP before making a decision about the program. If this is your child’s first IEP, you must give written consent for the program to begin. If it is not the first IEP, parents will have the opportunity to disagree in writing with any aspect of the program. If you do not disagree in writing with any of the services, the IEP may be put into place after you have had time to consider the program for a designated time period.
Questions to consider are:
- Do the goals on your child’s IEP address the issues identified at the IEP meeting?
The evaluation identifies needs and goals to provide instruction to meet your child’s needs. The goals state how much progress your child is expected to make in one year.
- Are the goals measurable?
How will progress be measured and how often will you be informed of progress? You must be informed of your child’s progress at least as often as parents of children who do not have disabilities, usually through report cards or mid-term reports.
- Does the IEP list accommodations or modifications that are needed?
The general education teacher will use accommodations and modifications to help some students learn effectively in the classroom.
- Does the IEP include information about your child’s performance on statewide or districtwide assessments?
Does it list any accommodations needed for these assessments? Because these tests are required by law, the discussion about accommodations is important. For some children, accommodations are vital to ensure that the assessment results are accurate.
- Are positive behavioral intervention strategies included in the IEP?
One of the most important parts of IDEA is that the team must consider positive behavioral interventions if a child’s behavior interferes with their learning or that of others.
- Has the team discussed whether assistive technology should be included in the IEP?
Assistive technology may help children who have a hard time paying attention, who are not on task, or who have poor handwriting note-taking, or study skills, or have trouble keeping current with schoolwork. Assistive technology needs to be considered and discussed with the parent.
- Does each service have a starting date?
Is there a date to review or end services? How often will the child receive each service?
- For children who are receiving “interagency” services at school, who coordinates services and oversees fiscal responsibility for services?
- Does the IEP include transition services that are based on age-appropriate transition assessments?
If my child is age 16 (age 14 in some states, such as Minnesota), transition is a required part of the IEP.
Communicating with the School
Partnerships are dependent on clear communication. Developing a communication plan between home and school can help reduce misunderstandings. This is important for parents of children with emotional or behavioral disorders because their child’s needs may require more in-depth help or support.
Questions to consider are:
- How will the school staff communicate with me?
Will the teacher call at a scheduled time or will the teacher send written notes? Who will be the primary contact person at school if my child has more than one teacher?
- Under what circumstances will I be called at work?
Some parents are comfortable being called at work, while others cannot be reached except in an emergency. It is important to be clear about what information the school should or should not communicate to parents during the work day.
- How will I communicate with school staff if I do not have access to a telephone, email, texting, or other communication device?
- How will I know if my child is keeping up with classroom assignments?
Who monitors academic progress in the regular classroom settings? Will it be daily or weekly? How will I know what homework is due?
- Who will tell the general education teachers about my child’s academic and behavioral needs?
Who at school will develop accommodations in regular education when needed?
- Will all teachers have a copy of my child’s positive behavior support plan?
Who will explain my child’s IEP goals to the general education teachers?
- Who makes decisions regarding discipline, such as detention or suspension?
The professional who enforces the school rules (often the principal or the assistant principal) needs to know of any exceptions to the standard discipline policy. Disagreements over discipline are less likely to occur if those responsible for discipline are involved in helping to develop positive behavior interventions.
- What happens to my child in a behavioral emergency?
What does the school view as an emergency? Is a positive behavioral intervention plan (BIP) in place that directs the youth in what steps to follow? Who will teach these steps so that they are clear, positive, and easy to follow?
- What is the procedure for involving law enforcement?
What are the roles of schools and parents in that decision? The parent should inform the school in writing that they need to be called immediately by the school if law enforcement is involved.
- If other agencies are involved, what information will be shared?
How will services be coordinated across agencies?