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What is an IEP?

Posted by Paul Hefley | Aug 08, 2021 | 0 Comments

An IEP, or Individualized Education Program, is a written statement (typically, a multi-page document) that provides an individualized educational program for a student with specials needs. An IEP must adequately address a student's unique needs and must be reasonably calculated to enable the child to receive educational benefit. An IEP is the delivery tool of special education. It is through the implementation that a school district provides a free appropriate public education (its legal requirement) to the student requiring special education. Special education is instruction specially designed to meet the unique needs of a child with a qualifying disability. 

Whereas a child who receives a general education will receive the same instruction (i.e., curriculum) and is required to meet the same standards as her peers in general education, a child who has an IEP is eligible, based on the child's needs, to receive specialized instruction, supports, and accommodations. How much a special needs student's program will differ from the general educational curriculum will depend on the student's unique needs. Generally speaking, the more significant the child's needs, the more significantly his educational program will differ from the general education curriculum. 

What are the components of an IEP?

An IEP must contain several components including:

1. The student's present levels of academic achievement and functional performance;

2. Measurable annual goals, describing what the child can reasonably be expected to accomplish within a 12-mont period;

3. A statement of how the child's goals will be measured;

4. A statement of the special education and related services that will be provided;

5. A statement of the projected start date for services and modifications; and the anticipated frequency, location and duration of services and modifications;

6. A post-secondary transition plan during the school year in which the child turns 16 years old.

What are the requirements of an IEP?

An IEP must provide for an educational program that is reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress appropriate in light of the child's circumstances. 

What are the limitations of an IEP?

It may surprise many parents, but the law sets a pretty low bar for school districts when it comes to providing special education. While unfortunate, legal authority has long established that an IEP need not be ideal; nor must it maximize the student's education. An IEP must only provide educational benefit to the child (sometimes also referred to as "some educational benefit" or "meaningful educational benefit").  Such being the case, a school district is not legally required to place a student in a program preferred by a parent, even if that program will result in greater educational benefit to the student. 

Determining whether the IEP has provided educational benefit?

When parents challenge the legal sufficiency of an IEP, they are questioning whether the school district has, through the IEP, provided their child with educational benefit. The legal adequacy of an IEP is judged based on the information that was known to the IEP team at the time it was developed, not in hindsight. This analytical approach, which is utilized by reviewing administrative bodies and courts, is called the "snapshot rule." This rule, taken from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals case of Adams v. Oregon (9th Cir. 1999) 195 F.3d 1141, 1149, states that "an IEP Must take into account what was, and was not objectively reasonable when the snapshot was taken." As such, the relevance of a student's performance after the IEP was developed is of limited use in determining whether the IEP was legally adequate. The real question that must be asked and answered is whether the IEP team acted reasonably in developing the IEP based on the information they had at the time the IEP was developed.

Proving that a school IEP team acted unreasonably is a fact-dependent analysis. If you have questions or concerns regarding your child's IEP, please feel free to give us a call at 619-764-6168.

About the Author

Paul Hefley

Paul is an experienced litigator and trial attorney. He has litigated special education cases in the California Office of Administrative Hearings, the United States District Court for the Southern District of California, and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.


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