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OSEP Reiterates That IEP Services Must Be Based on A Student’s Individualized Needs, Not on A Program’s Ability (or Inability) to Provide Services

Posted on November 13, 2019

A recent September 2019 Office of Special Education Programs (“OSEP”) policy letter reiterates school districts cannot make program decisions for students with disabilities based on what a placement offers. Rather, individualized education programs (“IEP”) and their specific program and service recommendations must be based on the individual and unique needs of the student.

In Letter to Rowland, OSEP stated “[t]he overriding rule is that placement decisions must be determined on an individual, case-by-case basis, depending on each child’s unique needs and circumstances and based on the child’s IEP,” and “[i]in all cases … placement decisions must not be made solely on factors such as category of disability, severity of disability, availability of special education and related services, configuration of the service delivery system, availability of space, or administrative convenience (emphasis added).” Letter to Rowland (OSEP 2019) (emphasis added). OSEP further explicitly stated:

barring a specific related service from being included in a child’s IEP or restricting the provision of a specific related service or services based solely on the child’s placement in a particular program – without regard for the child’s identified needs for that service – would be inconsistent with the individualized decision-making required in both the IEP and placement processes.


OSEP previously stated in its 2007 Letter to Clarke that a student’s IEP – including the student’s class placement, related services, and accommodations – “are matters for consideration by the IEP Team, based on a child’s individual and unique needs, and cannot be made as a matter of general policy by administrators, teachers, or others apart from the IEP Team process.” Letter to Clarke (OSEP 2007).

If an IEP Team is recommending, for instance, related service amounts based on what a recommended school, class placement, or related service provider can provide, and not on what a student actually needs, this could be a red flag that the student might not be receiving appropriate services.

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