Yes, it is a legal process, but that shouldn’t scare you away…
The foundation of any Individual Education Program (IEP) or Educational Evaluation that is done within the United States is truly rooted in the laws outlined by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Yet, my goal will not be to detail those verbatim because quite honestly that would be really boring for me to write and for you to read. Furthermore, as with most things related to the law the definitions and technical aspects are quite fluid and constantly changing. It would be impossible to get it exact in this format. It is however important to understand that a distinct set of laws exist to govern the processes that occur within the realm of special education. Laws designed to protect the rights of the students and their families that are being served, as well as to create realistic boundaries for the expectations put upon educators.
My first experience with the special education process as a parent was quite overwhelming. I left it feeling as if I was faced with a huge insurmountable learning curve that would prevent me from gaining the knowledge I needed to effectively advocate for my son. Thankfully my fears were not realized and instead I gained the information that would support my role as an advocate. Yet, looking back on that journey there are essential elements within the laws related to the IEP and Evaluation process that I wish I had learned early on. Elements that would have helped to guide how I focused my energy and attention while advocating for my son. I knew special education was literally drenched in statutes and regulations and being the rule follower that I am this was enough to intimidate me. What I didn’t realize was that my fears were unfounded because it is never expected that a parent know the laws inside and out.
The cool thing that I have discovered about advocating for your child or student is that it is not necessary to memorize all of the statutes and regulations identified in IDEA. Even if you wanted to, it isn’t as simple as it sounds. I have read through most of it and I am often left scratching my head trying to interpret the meaning of what I just read. That interpretation can be understood very differently from state to state, school district to school district and from person to person. Clearly this can lead to a great deal of confusion. So, if things are so confusing, how does a person truly ever understand this process? How can parents and educators effectively advocate for their child or student? In my experience by keeping it simple and focusing on what is truly essential to the process it can be done. I believe that when there is a concerted focus on essential elements, a solid foundation is created that will support the IEP and evaluation process as a whole.
Further information in our Advocacy resources.