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An IEP, or Individualized Education Program, applies to children enrolled in public schools who qualify. An IEP is required by law when a child is identified as having a disability that is recognized under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, as defined by the U.S. Department of Education.
The purpose of an IEP is to provide a disabled child with specialized or individualized assistance in school. In order for an IEP to be developed for a child, school personnel must first evaluate the child and identify a qualifying disability. Though the evaluation can be initiated by either a parent or a teacher, the evaluation can not be performed without the parent's consent. Even if a specific disability, such as hearing loss, is suspected, the evaluation for a disability must encompass all areas of the child's development.
Once a child has been evaluated as having a qualifying disability, a team comprised most often of the classroom teacher, special education teachers, speech or hearing therapists if necessary, and any administrators that may have relevant knowledge of a specific disability will develop an IEP for the student. The key to any IEP is individualization, so each IEP should be specifically designed for an individual child. There are some elements of an IEP that may remain the same for every child, as certain aspects of the program work well across the board, but the IEP as a whole is designed specifically for each child.
The actual development and implementation of an IEP may vary from state to state, and even district to district, depending on education laws, school funding, and staffing. Typically, an IEP is developed into a written plan that addresses specific areas of difficulty the student is having and what accommodations will be made to assist the child in those areas. The plan may include individual or additional classroom instruction or individualized homework assignments. The classroom teacher, along with other specialized staff members, parents, and the child, work together to develop and implement the IEP into a workable daily routine that benefits the child.
In the event that parents request an evaluation for an IEP and then disagree with the findings, they are entitled to an independent evaluation. In some districts, funding for specialized teachers and programs is lacking and can affect the timeliness of an evaluation. If you suspect your child has a disability that is interfering with their academic progress, it is your right to pursue an evaluation and receive one in a timely fashion. If the district fails to conduct an evaluation in a timely manner, you may also have the right to pursue an independent evaluation at the district's expense.