Resolving IEP Conflicts
Dealing With IEP Conflicts
Independent evaluation plan (IEP) meetings are designed to create detailed plans for how to respond to a student’s disability and provide them with access to a free appropriate public education (FAPE.) Ideally, parents, teachers, counselors, and other experts can come together to create actionable items and deliver the correct support and services a student needs. However, school districts may not always prioritize students’ needs and may try to limit or deny certain services for a variety of reasons.
School districts have a duty to provide special needs students with access to FAPE under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Acts (IDEA.) Violating this duty creates unnecessary burdens for parents and disabled students and should not be abided by. At Woodsmall Law Group, we have stood up for multiple families throughout Los Angeles County in receiving access to the support and services their children need. If you need representation in an IEP conflict, contact us at (626) 440-0028 to talk about your case in a free consultation.
Five Issues Parents Can Say “No” To
School districts must abide by specific procedures and guidelines during IEP meetings, and decisions that limit or deny a student access to FAPE are a violation of IDEA. To prepare you for the IEP meeting and to better understand your rights as a parent, here are a few things you should be aware of and feel confident with saying “no.”
IEP team members who wish to leave the meeting early, arrive late, or not show up cannot be properly excused the day of the IEP meeting unless you agree in writing, and the school consents to excuse the team member, and that member provides you and the rest of the IEP team their written input prior to the IEP meeting to consider. Without advance notice that an IEP team member is going to be absent for some or the entire IEP team meeting, you lose the opportunity to gain valuable information in the IEP process. So, be sure to ask for written input and reports to be provided to you to review ahead of time. Essential team members include a district general education teacher, district special education teacher, district representative or administrator who is knowledgeable of the general and special education programs and district resources, district staff who can provide interpretation of any assessment results, the student, if appropriate, and other individuals who have knowledge relevant to the student. 20 U.S.C. 1414(d)(1)(C) and 34 CFR 300.321(e).
Sometimes IEP team meetings can run for a lengthy period of time and over what was anticipated, or a school staff member may be leading the process as they see fit, but you do not have to accept the IEP meeting skipping around necessary components of the IEP that should be addressed first. Certain topic should be discussed in the appropriate order. For instance, the district may suggest jumping right into offering related services, but the IEP team must have essential information such as the student’s strengths and needs before the IEP team can determine what related services can address those needs. Do not allow the school to jump around topics just to accommodate their own agendas or schedules. If time runs out, the meeting can be reconvened to another mutually agreeable date and location. 20 U.S.C. 1414(d)(3)(A) and 34 CFR 300.324.
You, as a parent or guardian of the student, are an essential part of your child’s IEP team. Therefore, you should voice your opinion and give your input on the student’s needs. Just because the IEP team is discussing the student’s educational program does not mean that your experience with the student outside of school is not relevant or important. Be heard and be proactive in advocating for the student. On a similar note, if you have a relevant outside assessment or private provider to invite to the meeting, you should notify the school ahead of time and provide a copy of any report, but you should not be afraid to bring up outside information to contribute to the IEP meeting discussion. U.S.C. 1414(d)(1)(B), U.S.C. 1414(d)(3)(A) and 34 CFR 300.324(a).
Being Left Out or Inconvenienced
As an essential member of the IEP team, you do not have to feel that you cannot participate in the IEP process. Even if you are geographically unavailable, the school must make attempts to ensure your participation including facilitating alternative means of including you in the process such as telephone or video conference calls. That being said, you should make reasonable efforts to attend the IEP meeting. Sometimes, if the school has made efforts to reach you to schedule an IEP team meeting and their reasonable efforts are well-documented, they may be able to hold an IEP team meeting without you. Nevertheless, you still have a right to be informed of what was discussed at the meeting and any decisions made. Ask for copies of any documents shared and the IEP document itself to review. U.S.C. 1414(f) and 34 CFR 300.322.
Often times a district will ask you to sign the IEP either right then and there at the IEP meeting or soon after. They may contact you frequently afterwards to get it signed with some urgency. Do not give in to pressure to consent to the IEP. You have a right to review the IEP document at your own leisure, sign it when you want to, consent to just some portions of it and reject other portions, or reject it completely.
Being prepared and informed of not only what you can and cannot ask for, but what you do not have to accept during the IEP process is a powerful tool as an advocate for your student’s needs. U.S.C. 1414(a)(1)(D) and 34 CFR 300.300.
Options for IEP Disputes
Not all IEP disputes automatically result on a combative situation. Some matters can be resolved by open and honest communication between parents and school districts. It is important for parents to voice their concerns during meetings and work with school districts to thoroughly evaluate all options. Steps that can be taken to resolve IEP disputes include:
- Negotiating: An IEP meeting is your opportunity to resolve any issues outside of a hearing or civil trial, and your best method of coming to a compromise is to negotiate with the school district. You should be prepared to explain the value of certain supports and services, share all relevant information with the school district surrounding your child’s disability, and listen to all options provided by the school district. Ideally, the school district will be open to your suggestions and willing to review all options.
- Mediation: Mediation involves having a third-party listen to both sides of your case and issuing a suggestion on how to resolve the matter. Mediators can be retired judges or attorneys who understand special education law, but they cannot issue final orders on a matter. Their role is to mediate the discussion and help both sides come to a resolution.
- Due Process: Due process hearings are required before you can pursue legal action against a school district. Due process involves a submitting a written complaint to the school district regarding a violation of IDEA and a formal hearing before the California Department of Education.
- Lawsuit: In order to pursue a lawsuit against a school district, you must first have lost a due process hearing. If a judge rules in favor of a school district in a hearing, then you have 90 days to file a lawsuit in a California district court or federal court. This option should only be considered after speaking to a skilled lawyer.
Why You Need To Speak to a Lawyer
Many IEP disputes can be resolved between parents and school districts during meetings so long as all parties provide honest and open feedback on all matters. Unfortunately, there are situations where school districts may break procedures, provide the wrong supports and services, or refuse to fulfill their duty. In these situations, you may be able to file for due process to get relief. Even if the due process hearing does not provide the proper resolution to your child’s situation, you can then pursue a lawsuit against the school in a California district court.
In each situation, it is important to have an experienced Los Angeles special education attorney at your side so that you understand your rights as a parent. At Woodsmall Law Group, we have years of experience representing students and their parents in contentious IEP disputes. We understand the various defenses and excuses school districts provide, and we know how to fight back on behalf of our clients. If you need representation in an IEP dispute, do not hesitate to contact Woodsmall Law Group online or call us at (626) 440-0028 for a free consultation.