Your Child’s IEP

Getting the right special education services can make a world of difference when it comes to your child’s future. What do you do when the school district is not following your child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP)? What if you cannot afford the evaluations that your child needs? What can parents do when their children are denied critical special education services, or have been denied an IEP altogether? An education attorney can help.

An Albany IEP lawyer from Pierro, Connor & Strauss, LLC can help guide parents through the complex Committee on Special Education (CSE) process. Our attorneys fight for the rights of special needs children.

Qualifications for an IEP in New York State

Per the New York State Education Department, an IEP is a “written statement for a student with a disability that is developed, reviewed and revised by a Committee on Special Education, Subcommittee on Special Education or Committee on Preschool Special Education.” Essentially, an IEP is sort of contract between the school district and the parents, which outlines all of the services and supports that the special needs child is entitled to and should receive.

While a child does not need a specific diagnosis in order to qualify for an IEP, children with the following disabilities may be eligible to receive special education services through their local school district:

  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
  • Autism
  • Cognitive disorders and intellectual disorders
  • Developmental delays
  • Social and Emotional disorders
  • Learning disabilities, including Dyslexia
  • Physical disabilities
  • Vision or hearing loss

Pursuant to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”), school districts must have an appropriate IEP in effect by the beginning of each school year for all students classified as “disabled” under the IDEA.

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parent teacher meeting with child to discuss the child's IEP

The IEP Process

The IEP process starts in New York when either the parents, guardian, or a school district employee submits a “referral” to the special education department of the child’s local school district. The referral should be made in writing, and sent to the Director of Special education or a school principal. For children attending private schools, or those who are homeschooled, the referral process is a bit different. For example, students in private schools should submit the referral to the school district where the private school is located, commonly known as the “district of location” – and it should be done before June 1st to ensure that the child will be eligible to receive services.

Upon receipt of a referral, the school district will generally request parental consent to evaluate the child. After the parent gives written consent, the school has 60 days in which to evaluate the child. The evaluation process often includes:

  • Social history report – The parent discusses the family history and the child’s development.
  • Psychoeducational testing – Learning the child’s functional levels, what the child knows, and how they learn.
  • Classroom observation of the child in the classroom
  • A physical examination conducted by a doctor
  • Sometimes, an independent educational evaluation will be conducted by a private evaluator.

Other assessments may be conducted based upon the individual child’s needs. These other assessments may include speech & language evaluations, functional behavioral assessments, or assistive technology evaluations.

How to Prepare for an IEP Meeting

It is critical that parents prepare for their child’s annual IEP meetings. The “preparation” starts well in advance of the meeting. Really, parents should be planning all year by keeping records and creating a paper trail highlighting the difficulties their child may have experienced throughout the school year. Parents should gather all the official documents concerning your child, including their current report cards and progress reports. Once a new IEP has been completed, the parents should review it carefully to ensure that it is accurate.

Parents should always ask the school district to provide copies of all recent evaluations, along with goals, objectives, and general recommendations before the meeting.

Make a list of questions that you want to ask the CSE members during your child’s IEP meeting, as well as any points you may want to make during the meeting.

Parents are allowed to bring people with special experience or knowledge to the CSE meetings. Inform the school district in advance of any guests or advocates, including attorneys, that you plan to bring to the meeting. Remember that if your lawyer is attending the meeting, the school will also have its attorney present. Bringing your special education lawyer to the meeting without notifying the school generally means the IEP meeting will be rescheduled.

If you want to consult with your attorney to plan for the IEP meeting without them actually attending, that is fine. You do not have to inform the school district if your attorney is not going to be present for the IEP meeting.

When to Involve an IEP Lawyer

Keep in mind that parents have the right to review their child’s IEP at any time. Parents can request a CSE meeting at any time throughout the year if they feel their child’s IEP needs to be changed. The same holds true for requesting evaluations.

If you fully understand your child’s IEP and you feel that the special education program being offered to your child is appropriate, then you may not need to involve an IEP lawyer. However, there are certain situations when hiring a special education attorney is a wise choice.

This may include:

  • If you cannot read or understand your child’s IEP.
  • If you have been denied special education services that your child needs to make progress.
  • If your child is regressing academically, socially, emotionally, or behaviorally.
  • If you have lost trust with the school district officials based on prior experiences.
  • If past CSE meetings have been contentious.
  • If you are unsure of the CSE process.
  • If IEP goals have not been adequately explained.
  • If the school district has made recommendations which you disagree with.

Having an IEP lawyer present at CSE meetings, or behind the scene, can help make the process less adversarial. A special education attorney is trained and experienced to represent your interests, and to advocate for your child.

How Lawyers Resolve IEP Disputes and Changes

Often, the simple act of hiring an attorney and bringing legal representation to a CSE meeting can help secure a more favorable IEP for your child.

Special education attorneys are well-versed in the IDEA and New York Education laws that govern IEPs. Your lawyer can help your child receive placement in a different class, or ensure they are receiving all of the services outlined in his/her IEP. In some situations, the attorney can arrange for a transfer of your child into a different school or program that can accommodate their needs.

If issues cannot be resolved at the CSE meeting, an IEP lawyer can represent the parents and child in mediation sessions. Or, if a due process hearing becomes necessary, the lawyer is there to file a complaint on your behalf and represent you at an impartial hearing.

Contact a Special Education Attorney

You want the best for your child, and you are their primary advocate. If you have questions concerning your child’s IEP, contact an experienced special education lawyer at Pierro, Connor & Strauss, LLC today.

We provide legal services to clients in the Albany Capital Region, New York City, Long Island, Westchester, Hudson, Utica, Lake Placid, Clark, NJ, Fort Lee, NJ, Falmouth, MA, and Clearwater, FL.

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