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IDEA 2004 Close Up: The Individualized Education Program (IEP)

If your child is in special education, you'll want to understand how the current Individuals with Disabilities Education Act impacts your child's Individualized Education Program (IEP).

By Candace Cortiella, The Advocacy Institute

The 2004 update of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA 2004) made several significant changes to the Individualized Education Program (IEP), both in terms of who should participate and what should be included in this important process. Since it is the IEP that lays out the school's commitment of special education and related services to be provided to eligible students, it is essential that parents of students with learning disabilities (LD) understand the changes.

In updating the IDEA Congress sought to reduce the complexity of the law, the number of required meetings, and the paperwork involved in providing special education and related services. These objectives help to explain some of the changes made to the IEP provisions. However, Congress in no way intended for these changes to compromise the role that parents play in the IEP process. In fact, under the updated IDEA, parents continue to be full and equal partners in the development of a student's IEP. Accordingly, parent input must be regarded as both meaningful and unique, and IEP team discussions should promote parent participation.

Despite a number of new provisions designed to provide flexibility within the IEP process, it remains crucial that special education services are carefully and closely linked to a student's goals - both academic and functional - and that the process be a collaborative effort focused on student need. On average, schools report spending $10,558 per year1 to educate a student with learning disabilities, 1.6 times the expenditure for a regular education student. Given this significant investment, parents should have high expectations for results.

IDEA 2004 EFFECTIVE DATE: Changes to the IEP process made by IDEA 2004 were effective July 1, 2005. The federal regulations for IDEA 2004 became effective October 13, 2006. State law and regulations can provide more than the IDEA requires. But if IDEA 2004 requires or permits something, and state law or regulation doesn't affect it, the state must follow IDEA 2004.

Every eligible student must have an IEP in effect before special education and related services can be provided by the school, and the IEP must be reviewed and revised at least annually. For students who have undergone a first-time evaluation for special education eligibility, parents must consent to the student's placement in special education before an IEP meeting can be held and an IEP for the student developed.

Candace Cortiella's work as Director of the nonprofit The Advocacy Institute focuses on improving the lives of people with learning disabilities, through public policy and other initiatives. The mother of a young adult with learning disabilities, she lives in the Washington, D.C., area.

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