What is the Big IDEA?

What is the Big IDEA?

I want to get back to some basics of Special Education in this post. Many people don’t realize that what I do as a special education teacher is legal and based in law.

Two things I want to make clear:

1. I’m not a lawyer, and I’m not offering legal advice. I understand the law as a special education teacher and parent of children on an IEP. As a parent, I have a child currently on an IEP for a communication disorder. Another one for a specific learning disability. A third is currently receiving services under a 504 plan. Two of my five kids had an IFSP before they started school. I have been teaching special education for 15 years. I have a lot of working knowledge that I would like to share with others!

2. I am not making any money on any of the links or resources I present here. Information is knowledge, and knowledge take the fear out of big topics. What I am presenting today are things that helped me in my journey as a teacher and parent. My goal for this post is to simply inform.

Want a super quick video presentation? Here is my 5 minute rundown . Keep reading for more details and other resources.

What is IDEA?

IDEA stands for Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. The law was originally passed in 1975. It was first known as the Education of Handicapped Children Act (www.washington.edu/doit/what-individuals-disabilities-education-act) and was revised in 1997 and again in 2004. This is the law that ” . . . ensure[s] that all children with disabilities have available to them a free and appropriate public education that emphasizes special education and related services designed to meet their unique needs and prepare them for further education, employment, and independent living . . .” (IDEA 2004; section 1400). 

When I explain IDEA to my students, I tell them to think of it like an umbrella. It provides a safe place for IFSPs and IEPs. I also include 504 plans although this law doesn’t cover it legally. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) , section 504 is the law for students without a disability classified by an IEP.

There are a TON of acronyms we use in Special Education (SPED). Here is a quick refrence sheet to help keep you straight on what it all means. The highlighted ones are the SPED classifications.

What are IEP, IFSP, and 504 plans?

An Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) is for children under 3 in early intervention. If you have concerns about how your preschool child is developing, you can ask for a free consultation.  My Utah friends can check out this link for agencies to contact:  https://health.utah.gov/cshcn/programs/babywatch.html

An Individual Education Plan (IEP) is for students aged 3-21.  These plans are for students who are identified as having a disability. They need specialized instruction or support in order to make progress or access the general core curriculum.

A 504 Plan is for students k-12 grades. These students have a disability, but the severity doesn’t warrant direct services. Educational needs are provided by the general education teacher(s).

What Classifies a Person for an IEP?

There are 13 categories of disability that IDEA identifies. Each category has its own set of rules and ways to classify.

You can print out the brief descriptions for your records below.

After a disability in one of these areas is established, a team is gathered to look at academic progress. The second biggest question the IEP team has to answer is “How is this disability adversely affecting the student’s education?”.  If the student is able to access the curriculum or make progress with same-age, same-ability peers, they do not qualify for special education services. Sometimes they may qualify for a 504 plan instead.  If adequate progress is not being made without large amounts of supports, special educational services can be looked at. Watch for a later training on referral and reevaluations for special education services.

What Protections do Parents and Students with a Disability Have?

Once a student has been evaluated for, and offered an IEP or IFSP, there are protections you have under the law. As a parent, you should be offered a copy of the updated Procedural Safeguards at each IEP meeting.  Here is a link to the Utah Procedural Safeguards This document contains your rights as a parent of a child with special education needs.  Briefly, these Safeguards say the following:

  1. An IEP meeting will be held every year. At an annual review, the following will be reviewed by the team:
  • Present Levels of Academic Achievement and Functional Performance (PLAAFP)
  • Yearly goals
  • Services with times and frequency
  • Accommodations and modifications for classroom and year-end testing
  • Transitions plans for students aged 14 and older

2. Every three years the student will be re-evaluated to make sure the classification is still valid and the student is receiving all the services they need.

3. The special education file will be kept in a locked place and only the special education team and administration will have access to those files. A list should be posted of who specifically is allowed to handle the files.  The IEP team (the student, parent, general education teacher, special education teacher, LEA) knows what is contained in the IEP. All information is kept confidential.

4. If the plan is not being followed, students are encouraged to advocate for themselves. They can also ask a parent or the special education teacher to address the concern. After the first concern is discussed, if the plan continues to not be followed, parents are encouraged to get the LEA involved.  From there, if the plan continues to not be followed, the parent has the right to contact the State Board of Education and begin Due Process.

5. Students with disabilities are allowed access to a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE).

6. As a parent, if you feel that the evaluations done by the school are not complete, you have the right to seek outside evaluations. 

7. If you don’t agree with a goal or service that is being proposed, you have the right to revoke that service or goal.  Also, if there is a skill your student is lacking that isn’t being addressed, you have the right to ask for that to be discussed. 

What is FAPE and LRE?

As a child with a disability, your student has the right to a free and appropriate public education – also called FAPE.  This means that they are allowed to attend a public school that will be required to meet their educational needs at no additional cost. This doesn’t mean the school is required to provide everything asked for by a parent or recommended by a doctor. It does mean that the school will do all it can to provide an education that focuses on skills for future employment and independent living. 

The least restrictive environment, or LRE, is where that education will take place.  The goal of most IEPs is to move the students back to the general classroom without supports. Removal from the regular classes/schools occurs only when the severity of the disability of the student is not able to be met by the general education classroom, school, or because of medical treatment.  The environments of LRE include, but aren’t limited to

  • Push in or pull out for small group or individual work
  • Classes taught by a special education teacher only
  • Paraprofessionals in the general education classroom
  • Unit classes (behavioral or functional)
  • In home instruction. 

The IEP team determines what LRE is needed for the student based on what is available by the licensed teachers and resources available at the school. Core curriculum (like math and ELA) must be taught by a highly qualified teacher.  You have the right to know if the teachers of your student are highly qualified.  If you are in Utah, you can look up credential information of your student’s educators here: https://cactus.schools.utah.gov/PersonSearch

Other Questions?

Do you feel like I missed something? Want more information on a specific topic? Drop me a comment below and I will respond to it! If you have specific questions about your student’s placement or IEP, I can help out! I offer hourly services for IEP coaching and tutoring. Text me at 801-430-9920 and we can chat!

Additional Resources

If you would like more information about IDEA, you can visit the government website here

You can read the Special Education rules here

Recommended reading:

2 thoughts on “What is the Big IDEA?”

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