By Andrew M.I. Lee
Special education can seem like a foreign language. You may hear unfamiliar terms and acronyms in meetings and wish for a translator! Learn these key terms and you may find it easier to protect your child’s rights.
An accommodation is a change in teaching techniques, materials or environment. Accommodations can help students work around or overcome weaknesses. This can level the playing field for kids with learning and attention issues. For example, if your child has trouble with writing, she might be allowed to answer test questions orally. Even with that accommodation, though, she’s expected to learn the same content as other kids.
A modification is a change in what a student is expected to learn and demonstrate. For example, instead of being asked to write an essay analyzing the outcomes of three major battles during the American Revolution, your child might be asked to describe in writing the basic facts of three American Revolution battles. Modifications are often confused with accommodations, but they’re not the same thing. Learn about the key differences.
Children with disabilities—including eligible learning and attention issues—have the right to free and appropriate public education (FAPE). FAPE is one of the most important terms to know for your child. It ensures that she receives an education that is “appropriate”—it meets her individual needs. Learn more about FAPE.
Least restrictive environment (LRE) means that students with disabilities have to be educated in the same setting as students without disabilities as much as possible. “Setting” refers to a general education classroom. For example, if your child has dyslexia or ADHD and needs specific supports and services to succeed in the general education classroom, the school has to offer those supports and services.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is the federal law that guarantees the right to FAPE and the right to be educated in the least restrictive environment. IDEA serves students with disabilities in a number of other ways, too.
An Individualized Education Program (IEP) is a legally binding document. If your child qualifies for special education, this is a very important document for you and your child. It spells out your child’s educational goals, academic challenges and strengths. It describes how she’s currently doing academically. It also lists when and where your child will receive special education services and accommodations.
PLAAFP is short for present level of academic achievement and functional performance. It’s also known as PLOP (present level of performance) or PLP. All three of these acronyms refer to the same thing. If your child has an IEP, PLOP serves as the starting point, or baseline, for the coming year’s IEP. It explains your child’s academic skills (like reading level) and daily life skills (such as the ability to hold a conversation). This plays an important role in setting annual goals for the IEP.
A functional behavioral assessment (FBA) is a process used to try to solve a child’s behavioral problems. It can uncover why a student is having behavioral issues by identifying social, emotional and environmental causes. The school then writes a behavior intervention plan (BIP), which outlines how to address the issues.
IEE stands for independent educational evaluation. This is different from an evaluation given by the school. Professionals who are not school district employees conduct IEEs. Parents sometimes request an IEE if they disagree with the results of the school’s evaluation of their child. Sometimes the school requests an IEE when they don’t have the right experts to evaluate a specific issue a student might have. You have the right to request that the school pay for an IEE. Whether or not the school ends up paying for an IEE, it has to consider the results.
Due process is the legal method you can use to formally disagree with the school. You have to file a written complaint to begin the process. The complaint could have to do with your child’s eligibility for special education services or the types of services she receives. It’s important to understand your legal rights under due process.
Prior written notice is a formal letter the school sends to parents. It’s also a legal right under IDEA. Any time the school district denies, refuses or accepts a parent request for an evaluation or change to special education services, it must give prior written notice. It explains what the school plans to do or refuses to do. Find out when schools send prior written notice.
When it comes to your child’s legal rights, knowledge really is power. But there are a lot of misconceptions about the rights of kids with learning and attention issues. Learn the truth behind these 10 common myths.
Understanding your child’s legal rights can help you advocate for him. But legal language can be complex and hard to follow. Here we define key passages from the laws that govern special education.
Andrew M.I. Lee is an editor and former attorney who strives to help people understand complex legal, education and parenting issues.
Virginia Gryta, M.S., teaches and mentors students working toward master’s degrees and certification in special education at Hunter College.
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Download: ESSA Parent Advocacy Toolkit
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