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El Dorado Hills Mom Finding Her Own Way in School IEP

Jun 29, 2015 11:31AM ● By Kristen Castillo

Photo © lev Tyler Olson/

Eight-year-old Owen Christensen, a third grader at William Brooks Elementary School in El Dorado Hills, has a mild to moderate intellectual delay but is thriving in the classroom. “He’s pretty easygoing and loves school,” says Owen’s mother, Sue, explaining her son was born with a loss of brain tissue and a bilateral cleft lip and palette.

Owen, whose family includes his father Bob and brother, six-year-old Ian, has always received special education at school from individualized education programs, known as IEPs. Over the years, he’s had speech and occupational therapy, physical therapy and adaptive PE, in addition to his regular classroom education.

“The hardest part about an IEP, for a parent, is it’s a learning process,” says Sue. “I feel like I find my own way.” While not every IEP situation over the years has been ideal (Owen has attended a few other schools), he’s doing well now. “It’s taken to third grade to see what works for Owen,” Sue says.

What is an IEP?

IEPs are part of the government-regulated Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and their purpose is to design and implement individualized educational plans for students, ages three to 21 who have a disability, as defined under IDEA. A truly successful IEP involves the support of students, parents, teachers, administrators and school staff.

“The plan helps address the unique needs of each child so that families and the school can work together to create a road map that allows the student to be educated in general education to the maximum extent possible,” says Betty Jo Wessinger, director of SELPA and student support services at Folsom Cordova Unified School District, explaining IEP goals include academic, social-emotional, behavioral and mental.

Teachers typically request an IEP evaluation with parents’ consent. If an evaluated child needs services, an IEP meeting will be held and an IEP written; once drafted, the IEP will be implemented and reviewed. The child will be reevaluated every three years, unless the parent or teacher requests more frequent evaluations. Parents should note that they don’t have to sign anything they’re not comfortable with; once you sign, it becomes a legal document.

“An IEP supports students with exceptional needs and benefits the student through ongoing progress monitoring,” says Debbie Morris, director of student services at Roseville City School District, noting “only about 10 percent of a district’s overall population qualify for IEPs, though many more students need additional support.”  

Be an advocate

Sue appreciates the value of integrating special needs kids into traditional classes. “My son loves being around [general ed] kids,” she says, noting Owen spends a quarter of the school day with his peers in classes like art, physical education and some social studies and science classes. 

“It’s a huge benefit for general education kids and Owen,” says Sue. “He’s learning how to be more socially adaptive.” For example, Owen used to hug his peers but nowadays he’ll say ‘hi,’ shake hands and high five,” says his mom. “Now he’s one of their peers.”