The Individualized Education Plan is the blueprint for success. The only legitimate focus of an IEP meeting is on the special needs of the student and how those are to be addressed. If the student is not present at the IEP meeting a strategically placed photo of the youngster can serve to help all participants stay focused on the needs of that student. Many IEP meetings lose this essential focus and wander, becoming inefficient and frustrating for all.

     The single most important principle of the IEP process is that the school must appropriately address all the student’s unique needs without regard to the availability of needed services. Prior to the passage of IDEA (then P.L. 94-142) in 1975, schools were legally free to offer only the programs or services, if any, they had available. Parents were supposed to be grateful for anything at all that was provided. The primary purpose of the law was to turn that squarely around and entitle the student who has a disability to a free appropriate education individually designed to meet her or his unique needs. Educators who have entered the field in the last twenty years lack this historical perspective and too easily revert to the pre-IDEA mentality of trying to stretch existing programs and services to fit the students. Instead they must start with the student and design services to fit the student’s needs, however unique they may be.

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