Friday, July 31, 2009

Breaking Down the IEP: Frequency, Location and Duration

The IEP document must include a statement of the special education, related services and program modifications to be provided to the student. In regards to those components, the statute includes an additional requirement that designates specific details about the services that must be included.

The IDEA requires the written IEP document to include:
"the projected date for the beginning of the services and modifications... and the anticipated frequency, location and duration of those services and modifications."
20 U.S.C. section 1414(d)(1)(A)(VIII).

When will the services and modifications described in the IEP begin?

The projected start date describes when the IEP will be "in effect" for this student. In many instances, an IEP can begin to be implemented right away. However, in some instances, the IEP team may be meeting for the purposes of determining services that are to begin at a later date, for example the following school year.

In any event, the IEP document needs to specifically state when the services are to begin. The District is required to implement that IEP consistent with the start date and in a manner that does not delay the provision of FAPE to the student.

What will be the frequency and duration of the services?

This is the "how often and how much" portion of the IEP. Once services are identified as necessary for the child, the IEP team needs to determine how often the child will recieve those services and how much time will be provided for each service. This determination should be individualized, and based on the child's identified unique needs, not based on a policy or district administrative decisions. For example, how often a child should recieve speech therapy should be based on his/her unique needs in the areas of speech, language and communication, how those needs impact his/her ability to access the curriculum, how these needs impact his/her functional skills, interactions with peers, etc, and other individual factors like attention span, or how the child generalizes skills. It should not be based on a district determination that all children with this disability recieve 2 times per week of speech therapy.

Whatever the IEP team determines, the IEP document must include a statement that is specific as to the frequency and duration of the services, so that all of those involved in developing and in implementing the IEP fully understand exactly what is to be provided.

What will be the location of the services?

Location can relate to several different considerations. Location may mean whether the service is to be provided within the child's classroom setting or whether the service is to be provided in a separate setting, like a therapy room, clinic setting, or counseling office. Location may mean whether the service will be provided at the school the child attends or at a private or non-public agency's office, like the office of a private speech pathologist or occupational therapy. Finally, location may mean the actual school that the child will attend and where the child will recieve services, although this definition of location causes much debate.

The IEP document is required to specifically identify the location of the services. Although there are many different things the IEP team should consider in determining location and how it should be described, the team should avoid generalized statements like "a district school location" and try to include specific information that gives the parents and other team members enough detail to understand what is being provided.

Importance of this information

"The amount of services to be provided must be stated in the IEP so that the level of the agency's commitment of resources will be clear to the parents and other IEP team members." Appendix A to 34 C.F.R. part 300, at Q35. This required content serves the purpose of clarifying the District's implementation duties, so that all persons working with the child understand what is to be provided and at what rate. It also serves the purpose of providing parents with enough information to meaningfully participate in the development of the IEP and fully consider the appropriateness of what is being offered. A parent may agree, for example, that her child requires speech therapy, but without knowing how much speech therapy is offered, it would be impossible for the parent to know if the IEP was appropriate.

The requirement that the IEP document location of services is a cause of much debate. Location in terms of in-class versus out-of-class (or the "push-in" model versus "pull-out" model) may be debated between parents and educators. In recent years, more emphasis has been placed on providing "push-in" services within the classroom setting or other natural environments. While this model is supported by the idea of providing services in the least restrictive environment, parents often feel that their child cannot fully benefit without more individualized services outside of the classroom setting.

Location in terms of the physcial school site is also a debate. In many cases, judges have agreed with school districts that the specific school site is an administrative decision, and that therefore failure to designate the specific school is not a FAPE violation, depsite the requirement that the IEP designate the "location" of services and program modifications to be provided. In some specific cases, however, the failure to identify a specific school has been found to deny student a FAPE. See, for example, A.K. v. Alexandria City School Board, 484 F.3d 672 (4th Cir 2007).

As with any component of the IEP, if the team determines that a specific location is requried to provide the student a FAPE, then that location needs to be specifically identified. In any case, some information describing the location of the services, along with the frequency and duration of the services, must be provided to conform to the statute and allow parents to meaningfully participate in the process.

1 comment:

  1. Hi!

    Thanks for this amazing blog!

    My IEP questions is: Do you have any suggestions about how to get excellent service providers instead of those who are so so or just duds?

    Susan in Santa Monica