6 Principles of Special Education

I have to open this post with a shout-out to blog reader Mike T. He emailed me a link to this post, and the printable was gone. I searched and searched, and sure enough, he was right. So, starting over with the 6 Principles of IDEA. They also go by other names like the 6 Pillars of Special Education.

6 principles of IDEA for IEP meeting stack of books

Because the 6 Principles of Special Education are something every parent needs to know.

  • FAPE-Free Appropriate Public Education
  • Appropriate Evaluation
  • Individualized Education Plan
  • Least Restrictive Environment
  • Parent Participation
  • Procedural Safeguards

The 6 Principles of IDEA are what school districts are held accountable for funding. They must adhere to these principles and concepts or risk losing funding.

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And knowing these core special education concepts helps parents. If you have IEP issues and are having trouble defining them, chances are that issue will fit into one of these 6 buckets.

First, a little background.

What is IDEA?

IDEA is the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. It was enacted in 1975 and was re-authorized in 1990 and 2004. Ideally, it is supposed to be updated as appropriate every 10 years, but you can see that doesn’t happen.

That’s because of changing political climates and priorities and politics. (It’s also why every special needs parent must be involved in politics, but that’s another rant for another day.)

Anyway, these 6 Special Education principles are at the heart of IDEA. They embody the spirit of IDEA and are an umbrella over the entire document.

Parents should learn and use the 6 principles of IDEA in IEP meetings.

The IEP process should exhibit all of these principles. You can also think of these principles as buckets. If you are having trouble defining an IEP problem, it should fit into one of these buckets.

That’s why, at the end of this post, I have an IEP meeting printable with a cheat sheet with these 6 principles. If you are ever in a meeting and having trouble wording your concerns, see if you can attach them to a Special Education Principle.

Of course, there often is an overlap of issues.

If a team does not include your parent concerns on the IEP or does not provide you with a PWN, you could correctly claim that your child was a) denied FAPE because b) you weren’t allowed meaningful parent participation and c) they didn’t put your concerns on a PWN. So one issue could check 3 of the boxes.

6 Principles of Special Education

Here is how I will organize the 6 Principles of IDEA for you.

First, yes, I will list them. Then, each has a link to a blog post that will explain it further. Also, I have listed a definition of the principle.

Lastly, I’ll give 1-3 examples of how it might manifest itself in an IEP meeting if it’s not being followed.

FAPE-Free Appropriate Public Education

I’m not trying to shame anyone, but I recently had someone take me to task on an issue. I don’t “need to be right,” but in this case, I was. And it was on my Facebook page, so yeah, I care.

So anyway, I answered her with something about FAPE, and she asked: “What’s FAPE?” So I told her. And then she said, “Well, that’s not a term we use here in my state.” The moral of the story here is this: Don’t argue special ed if you don’t know what FAPE is.

It’s the number one principle; it’s what we fight for our kids, day in and day out. It has been re-defined and clarified by the Supreme Court several times since 1975.

Each and every one of our kids is entitled to FAPE. Full stop.

Examples of Denial of FAPE: This gets tricky. Because many parents will argue that a certain goal, support, or service (or lack thereof) is a denial of FAPE for their child, all of our kids are entitled to FAPE. Unfortunately, what FAPE looks like is up to each IEP team and the court system.

Appropriate Evaluations

To receive FAPE, each child needs the appropriate evaluations. Your child is entitled to the appropriate evaluations.

Examples: Take a look at your child’s Present Levels Section of their IEP. Is it thorough and accurate? If not, chances are IEP evaluations are your issue.

Ask for more or different IEP evaluations. Or, consider asking for an IEE.

Individualized Education Program

The plan that your child receives must be individualized to their needs.

Examples: On the surface, it might seem like your child’s IEP is individualized. Some red flags are phrases like “We don’t do that here” and “all XYZ kids get/do not get this.” I get it. Schools have limited resources, and there will certainly be commonalities among kids.

But too often, our square pegs get stuffed into round holes because the school already has a program set up, and it is what is easiest for them. And our kids suffer for it and don’t make progress.

Least Restrictive Environment

LRE is one of my favorite special education principles.

LRE, or Least Restrictive Environment, is a concept that was decided by a Supreme Court case affecting Special Education. The main point of LRE is this: You must be educated in the least restrictive environment to the maximum extent possible, and you cannot use budget issues as an excuse not to do it.

While it would appear self-explanatory, in daily practice, craziness occurs.

Examples: More often than not, if you have an LRE issue with your team, it will be an IEP placement issue.

Parent Participation

IDEA itself spends a lot of time addressing parent participation. It is your right, as well as your responsibility, to participate in the IEP process.

At the very least, you should participate in these 5 parts of the IEP process. Your participation also has to be meaningful; you have to be allowed meaningful participation. Not just attending meetings where an IEP is just read to you out loud and you had no participation in the process.

Examples: There are many ways that this issue can manifest itself as a problem. For example, if they do not include your Parent Concerns letter in your IEP. Or if they do not find an IEP Meeting time conducive to all participants.

Procedural Safeguards

Twice this morning, I was digging up copies of IEP Procedural Safeguards for parents. I get it. It’s a big booklet, and it’s boring. But you have to read it.

It is your book of parental rights. And when you ask me, “What are my rights?” I know that you haven’t read them. For your own peace of mind, you want to read them before you need them.

As in my example above, two moms I know of, who are frantically reading and trying to digest their Procedural Safeguards, and they have a PWN to sign.

Examples: Not only do districts have to provide you a booklet with your Procedural Safeguards, but they also have to adhere to them. If you don’t receive a PWN would be an example of not following Procedural Safeguards. Denying you a records request would be another.

**Please remember that these are only violations if you have followed the process. For example, casually mentioning to a teacher that “you’d like to see your child’s records” is not a violation if they do not send them to you. If you do a written FERPA request and are denied, then yes, that is.

That’s why it’s our responsibility to learn and follow the process.

Principles of Special Education

Here you go.

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