Cherry Picking IEP Members

Published on March 15, 2011 by Jennifer Laviano

Despite nearly 15 years practicing special education law in Connecticut, there are still some old tricks which school districts employ which astound me.  Not that I am surprised that they continue to do it, but rather, that they think I won’t notice after all of this time.

One of the oldest tactics is when special education administrators “cherry pick” which educators will attend a child’s IEP meeting. 

This strategy seems to me to be most used when invitations are sent out to the “regular education teacher.”

I’ve talked before about who is necessary to make an IEP meeting duly constituted by law, which in many cases includes the attendance of a regular education teacher.   I have also written about the sudden and amazing “blossoming” that occurs with my clients once their school district finds out that the parents have hired a special education lawyer.   But since I almost always receive all of the student’s special education and regular education records after I have been hired, it isn’t as if I walk into the IEP meetings with no idea of the problem areas.

So why does the following scenario continue to occur:

A student is in a largely mainstream middle-school program.  According to her latest report card, she is failing every core academic area, as well as her foreign language.  She is, however, passing gym, and she is actually excelling in art.  

Let’s see if you can guess which of the numerous regular education teachers gets invited to the IEP meeting?

If you guessed the art teacher, you get a gold star!  If you guessed the gym teacher, you get a silver.  If you guessed a regular education teacher who is “covering” for another regular education teacher in which the student is failing, well, I’ll give you a bronze.

Really, do they think we don’t notice?

If you know your child is struggling in the “regular education” classes in any particular subject area, here’s an idea…ask that those teachers be invited to the IEP meeting.  I’ll bet you’ll hear a whole lot less about how much your child is “blossoming” or how recently they seem to have really “taken off” in the program. 

And by “recently” they mean two days ago.

6 Responses to Cherry Picking IEP Members

  1. Rochelle
    March 16th, 2011 | 1:43 am

    My6 facorite was when the district tried passing off the high school special education manager as the special ed teacher and the district’s curriculum manager as the regular ed teacher; neither had knowledge of the girls or had been in a classroom for years.
    My new favorite is going to be the ‘psychologist’ not knowing I found out he has a working relationship with the state compliance officer and not disclosing that during an investigation … both are board members of the state’s school psychologist organization.

  2. Jane
    March 16th, 2011 | 7:51 pm

    Asking for a specific teacher to be included seems perfectly logical, but schools think they own the teachers (or aides, or anyone else a parent might want in attendance) — so how do you overcome a school that refuses to include the requested teacher?

  3. Jennifer Laviano
    March 17th, 2011 | 6:22 pm

    As I read the statute, a Parent has a right to request that specific individuals from the child’s program be in attendance at the IEP meeting, so I would suggest putting that request in writing as many days in advance as possible. Then, at least if they don’t do it, it will look pretty bad down the road if you end up in a legal dispute. Good luck!

  4. Erin Crouch
    March 21st, 2011 | 11:32 am

    As an art teacher, I am extremely offended by this. Art, of course, is of no value.

  5. Jennifer Laviano
    March 22nd, 2011 | 5:21 pm

    Erin…I wasn’t sure if you were being sarcastic or not, but I hope you didn’t understand my post to be suggesting that art is of no value. My mother and her parents are all artists, so that is NOT my view in any way. My point was that it is the subject area in which the student is not struggling who is asked to come to the meeting where the IEP Team is trying to discern whether the student is struggling in school. Another example is where the math teacher is invited as the regular education teacher when the child’s greatest difficulty is reading decoding. If I misunderstood your comment and you were making a joke, my apologies…hard to read tone sometimes!

  6. Susan McGuinness Getzinger
    April 5th, 2011 | 1:31 pm

    The School 504 teams had two chances of determining my child. They had two meetings. AT BOTH MEETINGS the school team determined (in the 504 paperwork) that my child has:

    1) an impairment, that when active, substantially limits both walking and breathing
    2) has the potential for life threatening effects

    The OCR says that close answers should favor the student. They gave no level of impairment at the first meeting besides “substantially limits” major life activities. That qualifies for a 4 out of 5, which qualifies for accommodations.

    I asked for a 504 hearing, but the 504 coord. (Asst. Sup.), wouldn’t go through with it until I went back for a second meeting. I disagreed with her assessment that no decision was given, since a decision was given – denied accommodations.

    She wouldn’t put my request through (which, I believe, is noncompliant with OCR procedure) and so I went to a second meeting.

    The team declined accommodations and put no impairment level down at first meeting and after speaking with Asst. Sup., the team put a level one down at the second meeting, though they still found my child to be, “substantially limited” in “walking and breathing” and impairment has the “condition for life threatening effects”.

    The OCR has made the case for life threatening potential as to extraordinary circumstances that warrant accommodations. (see OCR complaint # 11-06-1147 for case study re: OCR’s position on this).

    The Superintendent is the one who allegedly discriminated against us when she refused to let the buses stop for our children in our neighborhood, as buses were passing our homes (which is against their own policy per their email to me and their intra dept. emails I obtained through FOAI requests. Also, the district’s safety walking limitations policy, when hazardous conditions exist, which the Sup. Stated in email to me) leading me to go the disability route for my own children.

    The three BOE members (I believe) were allegedly protecting her and themselves from a possible lawsuit re: alleged discrimination, and so they took the cul de sac turn away (going against the police report 9/2009 and the Sup.’s own route designation) January 21, 2010 and my Kindergartener’s drop off away January 22, 2010, after saying “no changes” which would have left them both in tact, but they broke their binding agreement, which is allegedly CONTEMPT OF COURT.

    The Asst. Sup. allegedly perjured herself in my 504 hearing, when, under oath, she said: “No bus ever went down that road.”

    I asked her three times, “Who told you that?” She evaded the question three times and the hearing officer then cut off my cross-examination. She gave no proof. I had proof that the buses “came down that road.” The hearing officer wouldn’t allow my evidence.

    The hearing officer ended up to be an attorney formerly of the same firm as the school district’s. He was also hired by the firm in a nearby town during the same year as my cases (2009-2010).

    They are supposed to be impartial, but he gets paid by the jobs he gets through the firm.

    Conflict of interest.

    The Dir. of Pupil services, did not comply in the allotted ten days to get the hearing officer or to set the date for the 504. He later judged against my children in the review of the 504 decision. (I think that his judging the case goes against town ethics, as well.)

    Alleged Violations:

    Alleged Discrimination (stopping for children as bus passes homes per Administrations email and internal emails)
    Alleged Retaliation (Three BOE members took my safe and legal turn away & my kindergartener’s afternoon drop off away, no other children get off the bus with her on our entire road, but the BOE said she was safer with other children at the bus stop than at her own driveway, even though no other children were ever with her at either bus stop)
    Alleged Purgery (Asst. Sup. making false statements under oath that “bus never came down this road” emails from Sup. designating route contradicts this)
    Alleged Defamation of Character (I said bus came down that road,; asst. sup. contradicted me under oath and hearing officer cut me off and said that I was misleading them. He wouldn’t allow my evidence that would show the buses DID come down the road and attorney did all she could to keep my evidence out. I got it in when I sent in my post hearing brief under “policy”, since, it was, in fact “policy”, since, according to our town’s policy, the Superintendent designates the bus routes, as she did ours, per her emails)
    Alleged Bias (Three BOE members who ignored safety policy to avoid cul de sacs, though, no “no cul de sac” policy exists)
    Alleged breaking DMV law (avoid backing of bus when possible)
    Alleged breaking contract (Superintendent must abide by DMV law and safety walking to school bus policy – she admitted concerns in email to me regarding our road conditions and allowed cul de sac turn, but no stop at our end of neighborhood)
    Alleged violation of Professional Code of Conduct (Sup., Asst. Sup & Dir. of Pupil services)
    – I asked who chose the hearing officer and no answer was given, which might be allegedly covering up attorney connection, which would allegedly prove corruption.
    Alleged violation of attorney code of ethics (no frivolous cases – all four attorneys – 2 hearing officers and 2 attorneys for the boe, not allowing bus to stop as it passed our homes is a frivolous case and waste of tax payer dollars, and goes against the emailed policy sent to me by transportation dept. with the approval from both the Asst. sup. and Sup. per their internal emails)
    Alleged retaliation (Hearing Officer threatened in email to postpone my decision if I didn’t destroy evidence of alleged FERPA/alleged HIPAA violations of district’s attorney)

    This is off the top of my head. There is more.