Complying With Idea: Questions Every Special Education Teacher Should Ask Themselves

As a special education teacher, how can you make sure that you are in compliance with IDEA, while helping your students to make a smooth transition to a new school year?

The first thing that a special education teacher needs to do upon receiving her caseload at the beginning of the school year is to ensure that the students' IEP's are in compliance with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). In fact, if you have the opportunity to go to work a few days before school begins and review the students' IEPs, then you will save a lot of headaches and heartache further down the road. If schedule changes and the like need to be made in order to ensure compliance, the time for these changes to be made is before school starts and the student has become accustomed to her new schedule and peers.

Is Each IEP Current?

Every student should have an IEP that is no more than three years old. In addition, you should check to make sure that speech evaluations and similar assessments are current as well. If a reevaluation will be due, prepare for it now, and obtain the appropriate consents and contact the individuals who will responsible for the evaluations. An easy way to get out of compliance and let children slip through the cracks is to let an evaluation slip by. It will also not earn you any bonus points with evaluation personnel who are asked to perform evaluations at the last minute for reasons of compliance.

If the student is older than 14, transition services should be addressed in the IEP. This is especially critical after the student turns 16.

Is the School Prepared to Completely Implement the IEP?

It is not enough to provide the majority of services and accommodations provided for in the IEP. Each and every modification, accommodation and service must be in place at the beginning of the school year. If, for example, the student is scheduled to receive occupational therapy, but this has not been scheduled, then the school will be out of compliance, and chances are, as the student's case manager, the blame will lie at your feet.

Double-check the accommodations and modifications listed in the IEP. Does the school have the required technology on hand? If the IEP calls for it, then the student should have access to it beginning on the first day of school. Just as a general education student would not get off to a good start without a pencil, neither will a student with disabilities without the accommodations or modifications that he or she needs. In order to ensure that the students on your caseload receive the designated accommodations and modifications that are required for each class, make a copy of the relevant sections of the IEP and make sure that each teacher receives one to refer to throughout the year. Also have conversations with the teachers to let them know that you will be monitoring the progress of some of their students. Be sure to emphasize that the IEPs are confidential information and should be kept in a locked drawer away from the eyes of other students.

A very important thing to check for at the beginning of the year is scheduling discrepancies. If the student's IEP designates resource math for one class each day, check the student's schedule to ensure that the resource math class is listed on it. It is very common for scheduling errors to be made at the beginning of a school year, and it is best if these are caught early, before they cause disruption for the student and cause the school to be out of compliance with the student's IEP. A good person to speak with about schedule corrections is your school's counselor.

Is the IEP Complete?

Check the IEP to make sure that all schedule pages have been completed and are attached, all contact information is current and that all other pertinent information has been completed. IEP's can be very lengthy, and all it can take for a school to be out of compliance with IDEA on an IEP is for one box to remain unchecked, such as the one stating that a particular team member agrees with the ARD committee's decision. Often, IEP's are audited by governmental agencies, who check for errors such as these.

The job of a special education teacher is not an easy one. As an added responsibility in addition to teaching students and preparing for classes, case management can be very time consuming, and challenging, as well. You will serve as the liaison between the school, the parents and the children, always representing the children's best interests. You will have more paperwork than any other teacher, and be expected to please everyone from district personnel, your general education colleagues and the students' parents. However, with a dedicated case manager, fewer students with disabilities will become lost in the system, and many will have the opportunity to flourish.

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