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Is your IEP “in place” for September?

By Theresa Sullivan, B.S., A.A.S

Many children with IEPs struggle when trying to adjust to the changes a new school year brings. A common complaint among parents of children with IEPs is that there is a delay on the part of the school staff to have the agreed-upon program and services actually functioning at the start of the school year. While it’s understandable for everyone involved to need a moment to adjust to new staff, new policies, and a new environment, not having the program and services operational at the start of the school year may be costing your child valuable time and resources and is a violation of your child’s rights under the law.

The law governing special education requires that each school district, “At the beginning of each school year…have an IEP in effect for every student who is receiving special education and related services…”

The IEP “shall” be “in effect” at the start of the school year. But what does that mean?

The IEP being in place means that your child is actually receiving the programming and services outlined in the IEP on the date they are set to begin. Many times, our parents will come to us and say, “my son was supposed to have a daily specialized reading instruction period, but it didn’t start until mid-October, because the district wasn’t able to find a reading specialist.” Or, “my daughter is supposed to be receiving twice-weekly speech therapy in a group, but this hasn’t started yet. She started receiving individual therapy at the end of September and the district hasn’t identified appropriate peers for her group.”

Courts have determined that a failure to have an IEP in place is a procedural violation which may rise to a substantive denial of a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). Saddleback Unified School District, California State Educational Agency – 406-95, November 20, 1995.

Translation: A school district’s failure to have the IEP in place at the start of the school year may be an actionable violation if it is significant enough to result in deprivation of an appropriate program. Denial of FAPE may entitle a student to an award for reimbursement of outside placement or compensatory education for lost services.

We can all sympathize with the level of difficulty required to operate a large organization. Sometimes staff are unaware of the IEP requirements because the information they need hasn’t made its way to them yet. That’s why you as the parent and a member of the IEP Team can take steps to help ensure your child’s IEP is in place at the start of the year. As the parent, you have the right to contact your child’s teachers, therapists, and school coordinators, to request a meeting to go over the requirements in your child’s IEP. You can request to visit the facility where your child will be attending and take your child on a tour of the program, to help prepare for the transition.

It’s a good idea to keep track of the things you request or discuss with school staff, as well as any missed services. Consult with an attorney if you are unsure about your child’s rights.

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