Working with Families and The Special Education Process and Program Development
After the evaluation has been completed and a decision has been made by the interdisciplinary team that the student is eligible for and in need of special education services, an individualized program is developed. Depending on the age of the individual, this may be an IFSP, an IEP, or an individualized transition plan (ITP).
Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP)
Part C of IDEA mandates a written document describing the services to be provided for infants and toddlers with disabilities. This document is known as the IFSP (Bruder, 200). Instead of being focused on educational services for the child as in an individualized education plan (IEP), the IFSP focuses on both the family and the child with a disability. This family-focused document is written to enhance not only the child’s needs but to empower the family in its ability to support itself and the child with the disability.
Individualized Education Plan (IEP)
For students determined to be eligible for special education and related services, an IEP must be developed by a team of individuals who are knowledgeable about the child and about services that the child may need. The IEP team must include the child’s parents and, whenever appropriate, the child.
When developing the IEP, the team must consider the concerns of the parents for enhancing the education of their child and the results of the initial or most recent reevaluation including the strengths of the child. Dabkowski (2004) notes, “the most significant venue for exercising the right to parental participation in decision-making is the IEP meeting”. Although it is not necessary for the team to include in the IEP everything the parent suggests, close attention should be paid to parental requests. As with evaluation information, parents may have unique insights into the needs of their children and into the non-school environment in which they live. The length and context of the parent-child relationship may provide very useful information for the IEP and for the development of long-term goals. Involving family members in the development and implementation of the IEP is a professionally sound practice and can greatly enhance educational opportunities for students with disabilities (Smith et al., 2004). Family members are better able to support their child’s intervention plan if they were involved in developing it (Hutinger, 1996). As participants, parents are more likely to better understand the entire plan and how to implement components of the program at home. The participation of parents gives them an opportunity to become actively involved in their child’s educational program. Strategies schools can use to enhance participation by parents in IEP development are discussed in a later section. Prior to the IEP meeting, ask parents to write goals for their child and then bring them to the meeting. Early in the IEP meeting, ask parents about their goals for the child. This sends the message that you care about their input. When they give you input, make sure you discuss their information or ideas and give them serious consideration.
Individual educational plans should be reviewed periodically, but not less frequently than annually, by the team that includes the parents. In addition to the annual review, parents may request a review of the IEP at any time. Unfortunately, most parents are unaware of this right, or they lack information concerning the child’s program and are hesitant to request such a review. Therefore, when possible, school personnel should periodically ask parents if they are satisfied with the IEP, or discuss with them as to whether they see the need for a formal review. Even though this is not a legal requirement, it indicates to the parents that school personnel are concerned about their input and desire their participation.
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