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Everything You Need to Know About Special Education at Hamilton and the IEP Process

Hamilton Elementary prides itself on inclusive learning practices that support every student. In today's education landscape, especially coming out of remote learning, ensuring that each student has equal access to a quality education For students with disabilities, the Individualized Education Program (IEP) serves as a critical tool to tailor their learning experience to meet their unique needs. This blog post aims to provide a comprehensive overview of the IEP process at Hamilton (which reflects the process at all Chicago Public Schools) and help parents, educators, and students understand its significance and navigate the process effectively.

The inclusion model at Hamilton serves students of all ability levels together in the classroom. Inclusive, or “co-taught,” classrooms provide an opportunity for students

with mixed abilities to interact and learn alongside one another. This exposure nurtures empathy, compassion, and a better understanding of differences, creating a more accepting and tolerant school environment. Students with diverse learning needs benefit from specialized instruction and support tailored to their needs, while still participating in the same group activities, discussions, and assignments as their non-disabled peers. This balance ensures that diverse learners receive targeted assistance while actively engaging in the learning process.

Within the inclusion classroom, all students will interact with both general education (gen ed) and special education teachers and staff, While the gen ed teacher (sometimes referred to as the “classroom teacher”) typically focuses on providing instruction utilizing the standards-based curriculum, , the special education teacher ensures the IEP plans of diverse learners are followed by advocating for their needs and required services; adapting and modifying the curriculum and instruction so that it is accessible for students with diverse needs.

The gen ed teacher is considered the “content specialist,” responsible for what students learn; whereas the special ed teacher, or “learning specialist,” is concerned with how students learn. Both teachers in the classroom are responsible for teaching all students and creating a positive learning environment.; Together they work to create curriculum, instruct, and assess; and collaborate to create daily routines, promote lesson flow, and manage students in the classroom. Studies have shown that having two cooperating teachers in the room increases student success and productivity, and we are extremely lucky to have such a strong inclusion program at Hamilton.

Inclusion allows IEP students to access the same curriculum and educational experiences as their peers, promoting intellectual growth and expanding their horizons. With proper support and accommodations, these students can achieve academic success and reach their full potential. Inclusion provides IEP students with the opportunity to observe and learn from their non-disabled peers. They can gain insights into effective study habits, communication skills, and problem-solving techniques, fostering a positive academic mindset.

When IEP students are integrated into general education classrooms, they have the chance to develop meaningful relationships with their peers. This interaction not only enhances their social skills but also contributes to a sense of belonging and self-esteem. Every student, including those with IEPs, possesses unique strengths and talents. Inclusion allows these strengths to shine, providing opportunities for IEP students to contribute positively to classroom discussions, projects, and activities.

Now that we have shared the positive impacts our inclusion model has on students let’s discuss what happens when your student needs individualized attention.

The Individualized Education Plan Process

Step 1. Identification

The IEP process begins with the identification of a student's special needs. There are two ways to identify a child as possibly needing special education and/or related services; Child Find and Referral.

Child Find

Child Find is a process teachers and staff follow for identifying, locating and evaluating children between the ages of 3 and 21 years within the district who may be eligible for special education or related services.

Referral from a parent/guardian or school personnel

A request for a Full Individual Evaluation (FIE) must be submitted in writing to the principal or the case manager. The request should be signed, dated, and include an explanation of educational concerns and any supporting documentation.

The school must provide the parent/guardian written notice of their decision to proceed with a FIE within 14 school days of receiving the request.

Step 2. Assessment Planning Process

If the school agrees to evaluate the student, an assessment planning meeting is scheduled within 14 school days of receiving the request for an evaluation. The purpose of the meeting is to plan the evaluations needed to assess the child in all areas related to their suspected disability. Before the evaluation process can begin, the parent/guardian must provide written consent.

Step 3. Evaluations

A comprehensive evaluation is conducted to assess the student's strengths, weaknesses, and specific learning requirements. This may involve assessments by special education professionals, psychologists, speech therapists, and/or other specialists. The purpose is to gather a holistic view of the student's abilities and challenges.

The initial evaluation must be completed, and the IEP team must determine eligibility for special education and related services within 60-school-days after the date the parent/guardian provides written consent to conduct the evaluations. Parents/Guardians must receive copies of the draft evaluations at least 3 school days prior to the eligibility meeting.

Step 4. Eligibility Meeting

Before the 60th school day elapses, a formal meeting is scheduled to discuss the outcome of the evaluations. The IEP team meets with parents and guardians to review the evaluation results and determine whether the student is eligible for special education and/or related services. Parents and guardians play a crucial role in this meeting, as their insights and concerns contribute to the development of a comprehensive plan. Collaboration among team members ensures that everyone is aligned with the student's educational goals.

If the student is found eligible for special education, the IEP team at Hamilton drafts an individualized education plan that outlines specific goals, accommodations, modifications, and services required to support the student's academic, behavioral, and social-emotional growth. This plan aligns with the student's unique learning profile and fosters a supportive learning environment.

If the student is not found eligible for special education, the team may consider eligibility under a Section 504 Plan, or may recommend the student receive tiered support within the classroom.

Step 5. Individualized Education Plan (IEP)

The IEP team (including the parent/guardian) meets to develop the student’s IEP. A copy of the draft IEP must be provided to the parents/guardians at least three school days prior to the meeting.

An IEP team is assembled, composed of parents or guardians, general and special education teachers, school administrators, and relevant specialists. The team collaborates to develop a personalized education plan (IEP) that addresses the student's individual needs and ensures access to the curriculum.

The IEP identifies the student’s unique needs and describes how the school will address those needs. The IEP establishes goals and identifies the supplementary aids, supports and services to allow the student to meet those goals.

The student’s IEP is reviewed by the IEP team at least once per year.

For more information about what to do if you disagree with the IEP placement decision, visit Know your Rights.

Step 6. Special Education and/or Related Services

Before the school may provide special education and related services to the student for the first time, the parent/guardian must provide written consent.

Special education and/or related services may begin within 10 school days from the date the IEP is developed, unless a parent/guardian waives that waiting period.

With the IEP in place, educators and specialists work collaboratively to implement the plan. Regular progress monitoring and adjustments are made as needed to ensure the student's continued growth. Communication among the IEP team members is vital to track the effectiveness of interventions.

Step 7. IEP Report Cards

The student’s progress toward the annual goals is measured as stated in the IEP. IEP Report Cards are provided quarterly to inform parents/guardians about the student’s progress towards the annual IEP goals.

Benefits of the IEP Process

Personalized Learning

The IEP process recognizes that every student is unique and tailors education to meet individual needs, fostering a more effective and inclusive learning environment.

Inclusive Education

By providing accommodations and services, the IEP process promotes equal access to education for students with disabilities, enabling them to participate fully in the classroom.

Collaboration and Communication

The IEP process encourages open communication and collaboration among educators, parents, and specialists, resulting in a team effort to support the student's success.

Data-Driven Decision Making

Regular progress monitoring and data collection help inform instructional decisions, ensuring that interventions are evidence-based and effective.

The IEP process is a cornerstone of inclusive education at Hamilton, facilitating personalized learning experiences for students with disabilities. Through collaborative efforts, informed decision-making, and continuous assessment, the IEP process empowers students to thrive academically and socially, while promoting a culture of inclusion and diversity in the classroom. By understanding and actively participating in the IEP process, parents, educators, and students can work together to create a supportive and enriching educational journey for all.


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