IEP Meetings: You Can Say “No” to These 5 Things
By Kelly Cheung, Esq.
With summer break nearing its end and back to school sales in full force, the season for IEP team meetings for your student with special needs is right around the corner. To prepare you for the IEP meeting, 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.
For more information or assistance with the IEP process or other special education needs, contact Woodsmall Law Group for a free consultation.