IEPs: Individual Education Plan or Incredibly Exasperating Plan

Individualized Education Plans (hereinafter IEPs) are critical for the educational progress of children with disabilities. An IEP as defined under 20 U.S.C. § 1414(d)(1) is a “written statement for each child with a disability” that includes information regarding the child’s current education level and performance, annual goals, progress reports on the child’s ability to meet those goals, lists of services and resources in place to be provided to the child, and a description of the extent the child will participate with nondisabled students in classes and activities.

The Supreme Court case, Endrew v. Douglas County School District, decided earlier this year should have had parents dancing in the streets. It held that to meet the obligations of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), IEPs should be created with the goal of educational progress for a child with a disability in mind. The broad focus of IEPs encourages children with disabilities to become thriving students by increasing access to resources and educational goals. However, the Endrew case, while well-intentioned, did nothing to help parents and guardians of those children with disabilities understand the IEP so that they may ensure that their children are getting access to the resources needed for them to thrive.

IEPs are written in highly technical language, making it difficult for the average parent to understand. As a result, the fiercest advocates for these children are potentially excluded from doing so, simply because they cannot understand the document. Moreover, these parents are forced to spend hundreds of dollars to hire an advocate to navigate them through the IEP process. When it comes to one’s child, most parents are willing to do anything for them and may be prohibited when crucial documents are drafted with such highfalutin and technical language that they cannot fully comprehend.

A parent or guardian knows their child better than anyone. They know what will allow their child to succeed. They have probably been to every doctor and therapy appointment. They have probably researched their child’s particular disability in depth. They have spent years developing strategies and learning what steps to take in order for their child to succeed, but are precluded from advocating for their child simply because of a piece of paper they cannot understand. This piece of paper has such power. It determines a child’s access to resources over the course of the school year.

One concerned parent of a child with autism noted:
They are written in legal language and terminology that most parents do
not understand. Parents tend to assume that the school automatically
knows what the children need and just sign off on the IEPs due to the
language. Additionally, if parents have questions regarding the
document, the school tends to send the message that it’s inconvenient to
take time to over things in a broken down or simplified way. Frankly,
many parents put too much trust in the education administration because
of the jargon used. And not to say that all school systems fall into the
category of doing what’s best for their bottom line, but that’s been our
experience.
-Brittney Effler

Brittney Effler is a mother to a three-year-old boy on the autism spectrum with childhood apraxia of speech about to begin pre-school. He may be on the spectrum, but he is capable of doing just about anything when given the correct resources. A parent knows best, but without being able to assess what an IEP is actually providing for a child, how can a parent advocate zealously for a child? For a child on the spectrum, every resource counts. It could mean the difference between verbal and non-verbal, socializing and making friends, or even gaining a level of independence that every child is entitled to no matter what disability they may have.

The spirit of the Endrew case cannot be achieved for as long as IEPs remain inaccessible to the majority of parents and guardians. The responsibility is on the parents and guardians to advocate for their child to ensure their child makes progress and does not plateau, but they cannot do so if they do not understand the document that states how the school system plans on achieving success for each and every child.