Overview of the Individualized Education Program (IEP)

 

Parents and individuals with disabilities have more questions than answers about the IEP and how to use it well. An Individualized Education Program (IEP) is an important program for students who need additional services to access learning. We hope this video can answer some questions you might have. For additional support, please make sure you search on this website for informative articles. For 1:1 support, you can fill out a Get Help request form!

Introduction to Special Education

 

The process of special education can feel overwhelming for parents already working hard to manage home and medical challenges. This presentation is for parents of students ages 3-21, with known or suspected disabilities, who may have unique educational needs that require additional supports and services through an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or a Section 504 Plan. This information can help parents participate in decision-making with schools by understanding basic principles of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

For an additional video about communication strategies for collaborating with the school, watch PAVE’s video, Parents as Partners with the School.

Parents as Partners with the School

 

Parents partner with schools when they work together on a team to design and support an Individualized Education Program (IEP). The federal law that governs special education is the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The IDEA describes parent participation in the IEP process as a primary principle. However, not every meeting feels collaborative to every family. This presentation provides information about how to participate as part of a team and what parents can do when they disagree with school decisions.

For a foundational video about the IDEA, IEPs and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, watch PAVE’s video, Introduction to Special Education.

OSPI Provides Guidance for Families

The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) is the agency responsible for oversight of all public schools and non-public agencies in Washington State. In addition to supporting schools, OSPI provides resources and support directed toward students and families.

OSPI upgraded its website (k12.wa.us) in July 2019. The home page provides news about current events, a calendar, and an option for Parents and Families to seek resources specific to their needs and concerns.

The Parents and Families section of the website is divided into three categories:

  • Learning, Teaching, & Testing: Information about graduation requirements, learning standards, testing and more
  • Data & Reports: Access to data specific to a school or district, financial reports and guidance about the Washington School Improvement Framework
  • Student & Family Supports: Special Education guidance and information about student Civil Rights, how to file a complaint, health and safety, English Language Proficiency (ELP) and more

Under Guidance for Families: Special Education in Washington State, the website provides this statement:

“The OSPI Office of Special Education aspires to ensure students with disabilities receive Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) as required by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). About 14 percent of students overall receive special education services in the state of Washington.”

Linkages through the Special Education section of the website provide information on a range of topics. Here are a few examples:

  • How Special Education Works
  • Laws and Procedures
  • Parent and Student Rights (Procedural Safeguards)
  • Making a Referral for Special Education
  • Individualized Education Programs (IEPs)
  • Placement Decisions and the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE)
  • Transition (Ages 16-21)
  • Behavior and Discipline
  • Disagreements and Disputes related to Special Education
  • Special Education Advisory Council (SEAC)

Each section includes state guidance under the rule of federal law (the IDEA) and provides linkages to other resources within and beyond OSPI.

A Need Assistance? link on the Special Education page provides contact information for the Special Education Parent Liaison, available as a resource to parents in non-legal special education matters. According the OSPI’s website, the liaison “serves as a neutral and independent advocate for a fair process.”

“The Special Education Parent Liaison does not advocate on behalf of any one party. Rather, the Parent Liaison exists to address individual concerns about bureaucratic systems and act a guide for anyone attempting to understand and navigate various special education or school district processes and procedures.”

To contact Scott Raub, the Special Education Parent Liaison, call 360-725-6075 or submit a message through OSPI’s Contact Us web page.

 

Special Education Parent Advisory Councils (SEPACs) Bring Parents to the Table

A Brief Overview

  • Parents and schools can learn step-by-step how to create and manage a SEPAC through the downloadable Advocacy in Action guidebook.
  • An informal webinar about SEPACs is freely available through Facebook.
  • Parents and schools who want to learn more about special education process, rights and responsibilities can reach out to PAVE’s Parent Training and Information (PTI) staff for guidance and training. From PAVE’s home page, click Get Help!
  • This article contains information about a special-education bill proposed in 2019 that would have required SEPACs throughout the state. Currently the option to develop a SEPAC is available voluntarily.

Full Article

Parents, school staff and invested community members can collaborate to improve outcomes for students in special education by building together a Special Education Parent Advisory Council (SEPAC).

Any school district can establish a SEPAC, and anyone within the local district—including a parent—might start the work to get the group going. No legislation is required. Although a few states require districts to develop SEPACs, Washington State does not. SB 5532, which failed to pass in the 2019 legislative session, would have required Washington school districts to establish SEPACs.

Note: Conversations continue statewide about which aspects of the special-education bill may be revived in 2020. In addition to the SEPAC requirement, SB 5532 included provisions for safety-net funding for special education; requirements for teacher-preparation programs; service district advocacy; and requirements for the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR) to participate in transition meetings for students older than 16 with Individualized Education Programs (IEPs). A complete summary of the bill and information about its sponsorship and movement through the legislative process is available on the Washington State Legislature Website.

Once established, a local SEPAC is part of the local school district, not a private or independent group. It is not a Parent Teacher Organization (PTO); nor is it a parent support group. A local SEPAC addresses system-level challenges affecting students with disabilities and their families. A local SEPAC is parent-driven, and often parent-led, but there is an important role for school district staff and leaders. Ideally, membership is diverse and inclusive.

A parent center in New Jersey, in collaboration with the national Center for Parent Information and Resources (CPIR), provides a guidebook to help families and schools work together to build SEPACs. The Statewide Parent Advocacy Network (New Jersey SPAN), created the 67-page, downloadable Advocacy in Action guidebook with grant funding from the U.S. Department of Education.  Debra Jennings, who serves as co-executive director of SPAN in addition to being director of CPIR, speaks informally about the guidebook and SEPAC development in a webinar available through Facebook.

According to Advocacy in Action, “Participation in a SEPAC offers the opportunity to raise questions, voice concerns, and provide direct input to school leadership and influence policy and program decisions. The great benefit of participating in a local SEPAC is that the individual needs of a child become part of ‘the big picture’ and can reach a broader community of children.”

A SEPAC is parent-driven, meaning that:

  • Parents determine priorities and activities.
  • Parents strategize to seek solutions on issues that matter to them, helping schools overcome challenges and make decisions related to special education programs and services.

The guidebook emphasizes that parent-driven does not mean that parents do all the work: “District leaders participate, provide information, background, data, and support.”

Washington has a statewide Special Education Advisory Council (SEAC), and PAVE participates on that council. Staff from PAVE’s Parent Training and Information (PTI) program are available to consult with parents and can provide information and resources to assist anyone who may wish to build a SEPAC. For example, PTI staff may provide a training in special education process, parent rights and responsibilities to families wanting to get more involved with their local school districts.  PTI staff can help by providing tips for collaboration and developing a partnership with the district. Ideally, a SEPAC creates a sense of shared investment toward successful outcomes for students with disabilities.

From PAVE’s home page, click Get Help!  to request assistance from PTI staff. Or call: 800-572-7368.