One of the complaints I often hear from parents is that the school is not allowing them to be a part of the decision-making process. They are allowed to speak at the IEP meetings only to have their opinions and ideas shot down by the school district. At the end of the IEP meeting they are presented an offer of FAPE in a take it or leave it manner. Lawmakers designed the IEP process to be collaborative and, as such, nobody should leave an IEP meeting feeling like they were not an important part of the process.
According to the IDEA, the IEP team shall include parents of the child with a disability. (20 USC Section 1414(1)(B)) Parents are listed first in order as IEP team members. Often times, parents are not represented by an advocate or attorney at the IEP meeting. Therefore, lawmakers devoted an entire section of the IDEA to procedural safeguards. (20 USC 1415) Some of those safeguards are:
- Notice of meeting (time, purpose, location, and who will be in attendance);
- Right to bring others with knowledge/expertise regarding the child;
- Meeting scheduled at a mutually agreed upon time and place;
- Alternative means of participation;
- Right to a copy of the evaluation reports and any other documents considered in making decisions by the IEP team;
- Right to an Independent Educational Evaluation (if parents disagree with a district’s evaluation); and
- Right to due process.
When formulating an IEP, a school district “must comply both procedurally and substantively with the IDEA,” M.L. v. Fed. Way Sch. Dist. 394 F.3d 634,664 (9th Cir. 2005) (citing Rowley v. Hendrick Hudson Sch. Dist. 458 U.S. 176 (1982), so that the process will be informed not only by the expertise of school officials, but also by the input of the child’s parents or guardians,” Endrew F. v. Douglas City Sch. Dist. 580 U.S. (March 22, 2017). (M.C. v. Antelope Valley Union High Sch. Dist. No. 14-56344 (9th Cir., March 27, 2017)) The courts recognize the parents have a unique perspective on their child and observe their child in a multitude of situations.
Parental participation shall be meaningful. Meaningful participation is more than attendance at the IEP meeting. (Amanda J. v. Clark County Sch. Dist. 260 F.3d 1106 (9th Cir. 2001) District representatives are allowed to meet before an IEP meeting to develop a proposal or response that will be discussed at a later meeting. (34 C.F.R. 300.501(b)(3)) School districts should never say “we don’t do that here” or “we won’t consider that.” It prevents the parties from collaborating and builds mistrust.
The court frowns upon school districts lack of transparency during the IEP process, as well as during the implementation of the IEP. Congress is just as concerned with parental participation in the enforcement of the IEP as it is in the formation. (Rowley 458 at 205) Parents must be able to monitor and enforce the services that their child is to receive. When a parent is unaware of the services offered to the student—and, therefore, can’t monitor how these services are provided—a FAPE has been denied, whether or not the parent had ample opportunity to participate in the formulation of the IEP. (M.C. at 14)
If you have a question about whether your legal rights to participate in the IEP process has been less than meaningful, give me a call at 925-551-1041. Each case is unique to a specific set of facts and must be analyzed separately.
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