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The IEP: A Necessary Battleground

May 19, 2011

Google IEP (Individualized Education Program) and you get well over 15 million results. It’s a definitive element of Special Education and one that gets a lot of attention and energy. Once a child is deemed eligible for special education the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) calls for a meeting to develop the IEP. This determines the best way of providing the “free and appropriate education” for the child. This four word phrase means something different to the parent, teacher, school administrator and child making this a particularly challenging part of the process.

A recent audit of special education in San Francisco Unified School District was pretty scathing of the process there.

Many parents view “special education office” staff who attend IEP meetings as being obstructionists and more interested in controlling costs for the district than making sure that children receive the supports they need in order to succeed in school. Many parents, along with many school district employees with whom the Core Team met, also believe that those parents who are able to apply the most pressure (e.g., threaten to or, in fact, an advocate or attorney) are more likely to have their concerns addressed than those parents without the means, time, or knowledge about the law.

This critique points out how the unavoidable and competing interests can work against each other in an IEP meeting and result in some systemic flaws that are hard to overcome. It’s a battleground. This is not to say it’s the parent’s versus the big bad district, but there are distinct pressures each of the stakeholders in these meetings that have to blend into a consensus. That will always be a difficult process. It amazes me that in one school district alone there can be thousands of students in special education programs, each of which had a IEP developed for them. That’s a lot of effort of everyone’s part! When I consider the alternative of a prescribed, top down, one-size fits all approach rather than a exchange of views I see that while it takes more time, it’s absolutely necessary despite the moments of friction (including law suits) and audits like this one.

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