FAPE is the Free and Appropriate Public Education.
LRE is the Least Restrictive Environment.
If you hear these acronyms being thrown around, they really drive directly back to IDEA.
IDEA (Individuals With Disabilities Education Act) is the federal mandate that allows and requires public school settings to provide access to education for kids with disabilities.
IDEA in Colorado
In Colorado, the Office of Special Education at the Colorado Department of Education is the governing office. They administer the Exceptional Children’s Education Act and IDEA, Individuals With Disabilities Education Act for kids with disabilities. There’s some specific components with IEPs that you should know about.
First of all, if you are a very young child or have a very young child where you suspect that they might have a disability, or perhaps a delay, and could use some early childhood education and support, there’s a function of IDEA called Child Find. You’ll be able to find that in any of your school districts that will provide some evaluation and diagnostics to figure out what kind of support your child could use to achieve at a level similar to their peers.
Look into Child Find to get some early intervention support so before you’re at a public school setting, or before you expect to be at a public school setting, you have a better idea of how your kiddo learns and perhaps have some access to some of those supports before they get into a public school setting.
Your team will gather regularly, definitely annually, to look at the IEP, update it, and build in some additional goals, objectives, or talk about accommodations that your child might need.
You have to be eligible for an IEP. There are 13 disability types that your child could find themselves eligible for an IEP under. These are for kids that are three years old to 21 years old. You do have access to a public education through 21 years old if you need that kind of support.
Keep that in mind that there are some potential transitions after that typical senior year, at 18 years old. You have to be identified as having a disability that impedes your learning. It closes the gap on that educational support that you need.
The eligibility is determined through standardized assessments. Just because you have a medical diagnosis doesn’t always mean that an IEP is necessary or appropriate. The school will want to do some evaluations and assessments to identify whether your disability impedes your learning, or impacts your learning style.
Once you have identified a disability type, either educational or through a medical diagnosis, the IEP team will determine whether or not you fit in one of those 13 disability types. If there is a fit, you’ll move on to building some goals and objectives.
Goals & Objectives
Again, these goals and objectives are in place to help you start to close the gap on achievement and build in some of those educational skills that you’ll need to continue to progress. You’ll also talk during that IEP process about accommodations.
Accommodations can be physical accommodations, like preferred seating in a school setting, visual AIDS, or tasks that are broken down in multiple steps. They could even be extended time for homework.
Those accommodations should follow you throughout all school environments. They’ll also be talked about, the accommodations, in regards to state standardized testing as well. An individual might be eligible for an accommodated standardized test. That’s a pretty important piece for that team to talk about. So, make sure that those accommodations aren’t just a passing part of your IEP. Make sure you’re talking about accommodations as they relate to all of the school environments and all the goals and objectives.
In the IEP, you’ll also talk about service hours. Those service hours are intended to designate the amount of time that your child will spend in certain areas of the school. Whether they are in a general ed setting, a specialized learning center, or a special education room. Whether they’re spending time with an occupational therapist, or a speech therapist, or even a counselor.
When you’re talking about service hours, this really helps set the schedule for your child to better understand what kind of supports, or access to itinerant staff, that they’ll have. You’ll also want to include any kind of healthcare information. If there’s specialized healthcare needs, that would be included in that IEP as well.
You’ll also want to include a behavior plan. The behavior plan is typically driven by a functional behavior assessment or analysis. This helps assess, from a standardized way, what is the function of the behavior? What is the child getting from the behavior? Whether it’s to escape a certain scenario or to access a certain scenario. There is always a function of that behavior and the FBA helps to identify what that is and should then start addressing some of those to help your child find that that behavior is less challenging in a school environment.
You’ll always want to be collecting data to make assessments and to make improvements with both the FBA and your goals and your educational goals and objectives.
In the IEP you’re going to talk a little bit about the extent that your kiddo will participate with their general ed peers. You’ll want to get a good idea if your child is only spending lunch with general ed peers, or are there other opportunities to include your child in more of the school environment with their peers.
You’ll also be talking about an extended school year. That’s really for when children are on breaks. Whether it’s spring break, or summer break, or your winter break. Extended school year provides some goals and objectives to work in a school-like setting, but it looks really different than the school year. Oftentimes some of those same itinerant staff, like speech language pathologists or occupational therapists, aren’t as readily available.
You’re oftentimes not in the home school that your child is used to attending and the service hours look really different. Sometimes it’s broken up throughout the summer. Get a better idea of what extended school year really looks like for your child so that you know what to expect and you can start to kind of build some social stories around that for your kid so that it’s not super scary and totally new for them.
Transitioning to Adulthood
When you get to be 14 years old, the IEP team starts to shift. Conversations begin about both academic goals and transition goals. You’ll begin talking about what the adult world looks like for your child. Oftentimes, we’re not really ready to talk about what our kid is going to be like when they’re 18, 19, 20 years old. When they’re 14 years old, they’ve barely turned into teens, but you want to start thinking about adulthood early so that you are feeling, as a parent, pretty prepared by the time your child gets to be an adult.
You’ll start talking about some preferred interests for career paths. You’ll talk a little bit about where your child will live. Will they continue to live in your home, or will they perhaps be looking at other opportunities? Be prepared for that at 14. It’s not intended to replace all academic goals and focus, but it is intended to start the team and your family thinking about what the future looks like.
Your IEP should be updated annually. You’ll want to look at the kind of timeline of education for your child. You’ll want a better idea of what kind of progress has been made. You might ask for, or be requested by your school team, your child to take some additional tests in order to get a better idea where they’re at communication wise.
Be prepared that at least every three years you’ll likely have a different kind of discussion. You’ll talk more about what some standardized tests and assessments are telling you about the child’s needs. Of course, you’ll go right back through all the same pieces like goals and objectives and accommodations, but hopefully at the triennial you get a little bit more information as far as problem solving and programming for your child.
Always tie back if you are experiencing issues regarding discipline in the school setting, or just issues with your child getting what they need in that school setting. Always look back at that IEP, the IEP team, and that document. Is there more that you can do in that document? Is there more that you can build in for service hours or supports?
That IEP is supposed to be living and breathing. It’s not supposed to be something you do once a year and put on a shelf. It’s supposed to be something that is referred to and used regularly. Contact the Arc of Aurora or your local advocacy organization if you’re ever having trouble with your IEP or the school setting.