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How To Get An IEP: Advocate For Accommodations In School

Figuring out how to get an IEP can be a time-consuming, exhausting process – but this article will help! While it would be excellent if every student who needed services for their learning difficulties or intellectual disabilities could access them immediately, it can be challenging to put adequate school policies into practice. Many schools’ disability services are limited; special education services are often underfunded, understaffed, and trimmed to bare essentials. 

However, with self-advocacy and support from teachers and/or parents, you can pursue and obtain services and accommodations to help you succeed in school. Since 1975, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act has made it easier for people with learning disabilities to access help. In fact, as of 2022, 15% of American public school students receive disability services and other accommodations. It is more common now for individuals with Learning Difficulties that affect specific subjects, Physical Disabilities (i.e. blindness, deafness, etc.), and Intellectual Disabilities that affect general knowledge and skills to access the help they need.

Unfortunately, students may feel anxious about asking others for accommodations, out of fear that peers will reject them, or that family members or teachers won’t believe them. Rather than feeling embarrassed, you should take advantage of the opportunity to advocate for yourself and get the support you need to excel in school. Many of these services come in the form of Individualized Education Plans, or IEPs. Read further to learn about the steps of how to get an IEP, from choosing the plan you need to advocating for yourself in front of the school board to assessing the IEP’s success.

How to get an IEP

504s vs. IEPs – Which Should You Get?

There are two major types of disability support plans for students in America. The less intensive plan is called a Section 504 plan, which provides accommodations for students who can function well in mainstream courses but may need additional in-class accommodations to succeed. For example, a student who has difficulty reading due to a learning disability or physical impairment may have a 504 with provisions to allow access to audio versions of text as well as extra time to finish reading assignments. 

Some students may need more support outside of a mainstream classroom, however. For example, students who are blind, deaf, or autistic might benefit from learning environments that are more directly tailored to them. These students usually benefit from an IEP, which creates an in-depth and personalized educational plan. Students with IEPs may work in special education classrooms for most or all of the school day, receive behavioral counseling and social skills training, have modifications made to their learning environment, or receive other similar individualized learning accommodations

Consider which plan suits your needs best. If you are struggling with mild-to-moderate ADHD, learning difficulties in a specific class, or visual and hearing impairments, a 504 plan may meet your needs. If you’re struggling with behavioral issues, severe learning disabilities, or physical impairments, an IEP could be worth pursuing. However, keep in mind that either one ought to provide helpful support.

Starting The Process

To start the IEP process, the first step is to request or be independently considered for special education. Depending on your school staff, this could be very easy or exceptionally difficult. Sometimes teachers may be uninformed about the subtleties of Learning Difficulties and Intellectual or Developmental Disabilities and thus make inaccurate claims. Certain schools may require professional diagnoses of disorders or disabilities, slowing down the process.

Considering the potential of these challenges, the first step is to organize evidence that you need support. Keep track of your performance in school, as well as other factors related to your health and abilities. Save assessments, assignments, and other relevant paperwork that spotlight your struggles. Record changes in your mental health, physical abilities, and learning challenges. Ask an adult for assistance, like a teacher or school counselor, so they also keep a record.

The next step is to ask a teacher or your parent(s) to write a letter requesting an IEP hearing from the school. This letter should include specifics as to what exactly you’re struggling with. Because IEPs are legal documents, the letter should be dated, signed, and hand-delivered to the principal’s office. Within a few weeks, you will receive a response, either formally accepting your request by scheduling an evaluation or denying your request.

If you don’t receive a reply or if you want to appeal a rejection, it is a good idea to seek out a legal IEP advocate. A professional in this field will advise on how to get an IEP, help you advocate for appeals, and even attend meetings to support your case. Because it can be expensive, try these free and low-cost IEP advocates in Texas and Illinois.

The IEP Meeting

Your school will now spend up to 60 days collecting data on your school performance. It likely won’t take all 60 days, but it is likely an intensive process. Consider taking command of your IEP process by providing samples of your work, letters, and other documents highlighting your struggles and needs. Don’t be afraid to ask your parent(s) and teachers for help.

The school will construct an IEP team to create your individualized educational plan. This team will usually include you, your parent(s), one of your general education teachers, a special education teacher specializing in your needs, and other related specialists. You and your parents can bring in a lawyer or other advocate, as well. 

Together you and your IEP committee will create your IEP plan. You will discuss what special education services you need and for how long. Feel free to advocate for more or less support, and keep in mind that you can modify your IEP later if needed. You will also set goals for yourself over the next year or so. Remember that the goals will be very specific. For example, you may try to raise your performance on assessments by 20% or increase your completion rate of assignments to 90%. Work with your teachers and IEP advisors to build a solid foundation to help you meet those goals.

Review Your Plan

Once your plan is ready, you can put it into action by following the educational models and strategies your IEP team recommends. While most schools usually review IEPs annually, you can request a re-evaluation at any time if certain aspects of the plan are not working. Legally, schools are required to consider your request for a re-evaluation. They usually give you ten days to collect more data, and then your IEP team will reconvene and discuss adjustments. Talk with a teacher to determine what kind of modifications may be appropriate. For example, if you find that you’re not meeting your testing goals, meet with your IEP team to plan different accommodations more suited to your needs.

Conclusion

Now you should have a better idea of how to get an IEP. Start by putting together evidence, getting support from adults, and seeking outside assistance. Then you’ll participate in a meeting to discuss and plan your educational support. Finally, you’ll reassess your goals every year and advocate for changes as needed. 

If you want more educational support, consider the tutoring program with Educate. Radiate. Elevate. Our nonprofit organization provides free tutoring for students of all abilities from underserved communities. In addition to academic support, our tutors teach students personalized learning and life skills to succeed in the classroom and beyond. We have tutors on staff who are experienced in working with students with 504s and IEPs. Nominate yourself for our tutoring program!

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