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IEPs vs. IESPs: One letter can make a huge difference

Any special needs parent in NYC will know that acronyms run rampant in this area of the law - IEP, IDEA, CSE, CPSE, RSA, OHI, CTT, ICT, SETSS, SEIT, to name only a few. Sometimes terms can be only one letter off, and yet that difference can have a major impact. This is no more true than when discussing the difference between IESPs and IEPs - one letter off, but two completely different documents. Failing to understand the difference can have far reaching implications for your case.

Most parents in NYC will be looking for the DOE to develop an IEP, and most CSE teams will assume as much and do just that. An IEP, or Individualized Education Program, lays out a student's entire program mandate, including their class program and related services as well as goals and management needs. An IESP, or Individualized Education Services Program, does not include a class program mandate as, in asking the District to develop an IESP or allowing them to do so, you are agreeing to pay for your child's tuition. There is no point more important to understand about the differences between these two documents than that. The premise behind an IESP is that you will be parentally placing your child in a school or program that you intend to pay for at your own expense (this is opposed to unilaterally placing, which means that you have placed your child in a private school or program with the intent to sue for reimbursement). The IESP will lay out services that will be administered at your child's private school, at an agency, or at home, but you, as the parent, will be responsible for finding and paying for the school portion of the program.

If the DOE creates an IESP over the objection of the parents who are asking for an IEP, this can be challenged as an inappropriate program in the same way an inappropriate IEP is challenged, however, the creation of an IESP must be objected to immediately. If the CSE insists on creating an IESP despite your objections, or you end up with an IESP when you mistakenly thought an IEP was being created, contact your attorney right away. In almost every case, an immediate objection, in writing, must go out to the CSE in order to preserve your right to sue for tuition reimbursement. You must make a written record of the fact that you did not want or ask for the IESP that was created.

What can parents do to avoid problems at the CSE meeting? First, if you are going to ask for an IESP outright, and even if you are convinced that you are OK with paying for your child's tuition, contact an attorney prior to your meeting. You may be giving up more rights than you are aware of, and you want to have all of the facts before doing so. If that is not the case, and you are looking for the DOE to provide you with an appropriate school program (either in public school, or through reimbursement of a private placement if the DOE fails to provide your child with an appropriate public placement), you need to be explicit about that during the meeting. Be very clear: "I want an appropriate school placement for my child." Moreover, if you are offered anything that you do not understand, ask the CSE to fully explain it. Ask the team what document they intend on creating. Do not assume that because two things sound alike that they are the same.

For additional questions about CSE meetings, IEPs, IESPs, or any other inquires contact me at or 646-741-3030.

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