Have you ever applied for a job and noticed that the application you were filling out had an Equal Opportunity Employment (EOE) disclaimer listed? That’s there because employers are required by law to notify applicants that they don’t (and legally can’t!) discriminate based on certain things, like disabilities.
Similarly, as the EOE law is in place to protect workers, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) has been established to protect the rights of special education students.
For the last 47 years, IDEA – in one form or another – has ensured that students with disabilities receive access to a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) in the least restrictive environment, and to the maximum extent possible. This means that students with disabilities will learn in general education settings alongside their typically developing peers as much as possible.
Additionally, public schools are required to evaluate students who may have a disability at no cost. If a student qualifies under one of the 13 eligibilities in IDEA – schools must provide special education and related services to students.
Let’s say a kindergarten student, Molly, is suspected of having one of the qualifying eligibilities. After a few conversations, progress updates and family advocacy, Molly goes through the evaluation process and is in fact identified as having a learning disability.
Now that Molly is eligible to receive special education and related services, Molly’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP) team will get together to determine the contents of her IEP, which is a mandated document under IDEA designed to help students meet their educational goals.
The IEP team will consist of Molly’s special education teacher, an evaluation specialist, a general education teacher, campus administration, support staff, parents/guardians, etc.
Once the team meets to review her evaluation, write the IEP, and Molly’s family provides consent to move forward, Molly will be eligible to begin receiving services.
At a minimum, Molly’s IEP will be monitored throughout the year, and will be reviewed annually with the IEP team to make revisions as goals are met.
Now that Molly’s IEP is in place, what might her school-day schedule look like?
Under Molly’s IEP, she will have special education services provided to her through a special education teacher, and she will access a special education curriculum software, like TeachTown’s K-12 adapted core curriculum, enCORE, to work toward educational goals. She will attend school specials with her typically developing peers and receive 1:1 support throughout her day.
During scheduled time frames throughout the week, Molly will meet with a speech-language pathologist and an occupational therapist, as well.
Because an IEP is required under IDEA, it is a legally binding document. An IEP holds school districts and providers accountable for providing the necessary accommodations and services to a student.
Let’s say Molly’s music teacher pulls her special education teacher aside and asks that Molly no longer attends music alongside her typically developing peers. For whatever the reason may be that the music teacher gives for this request, Molly must continue to attend her specials as defined in her IEP until a meeting is set to discuss and determine if changes are warranted.
If an IEP is not followed and enforced, districts can be faced with legal implications – a journey no one wants to have to pursue.
Every student deserves the right to a meaningful education. With IDEA enacted, our student population and their families can feel confident that their rights are protected.