Unseemly IEP Team Member: “The Riddler”

Published on June 1, 2009 by Jennifer Laviano

“The Riddler”

This can be any member of the staff or administration, who has been withholding pertinent information from the parents of a child with special education needs until the Annual Review IEP Meeting, or worse, until the parents have brought in a special education lawyer or advocate.  The Riddler has chosen not to share this important information with the parents until they are asked a direct question, or until doing so benefits them directly.

I am always disgusted when I am sitting in an end-of-the-year IEP meeting with a family, and the school staff begin reporting on the child’s present levels of performance, and the Riddler makes a statement like “he’s been very impulsive and off task this year.  It got a little bit better right before Christmas, and then when he returned from vacation it got worse again.  We have accommodated it and right now it’s getting a bit better.  Have there been any changes in medication?”

It’s all I can do not to shout:  “IT’S JUNE, DON’T YOU THINK THIS INFORMATION MIGHT HAVE BEEN USEFUL TO THE PARENTS MONTHS AGO?”

Instead I might make a general comment about how disappointed the parents are to just be learning about this, and that it is difficult for them to support the program at home if we aren’t made aware of what is happening in school.  Then I ask that our concerns be noted in the minutes, if they are being maintained.  I am not a big believer in having factual disputes at IEP Team Meetings.  There is no “third party” (like a Hearing Officer or Judge) there to determine who is right and who is wrong, so it is really best to just make your record of disputes and, if agreement can’t be reached, move on to the next level.  The Riddler makes this policy hard to follow, because it is just so illogical to go an entire year without telling the child’s parents what is going on.

I am often torn as to whether The Riddler is being lazy, mean, or both.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what the motive is, the result is that distrust has now been solidified between the parents and the school district because the parents rightly feel that they are not being apprised of what is happening in their child’s program.  How can a parent resist the temptation to constantly monitor their child’s special education program going forward, when they have learned that they will not be given the courtesy of being informed about how they’re doing until it’s too late?

What is even worse is when parents are not informed about resources available in the district from which their child might benefit.

This one really infuriates me, and even more so my clients, and with good reason.  Unfortunately, I have had many situations arise where a family has been asking for a particular type of program for a long time, sometimes repeatedly and in writing, and their requests have been either ignored or refused.  Then, they hire me and suddenly we learn that the very type of program the parents have been asking for exists right there in the school district, but the Riddler on the IEP Team did not disclose it to the parents.

Suddenly, when faced with a parent who is about to proceed with a Due Process Hearing, we learn of all of these wonderful programs and services which exist in the district!

I have seen this happen many times in cases involving kids with autism spectrum disorders, where the parents have been requesting, as an example, ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) therapy, which has been refused, and we discover at a Mediation for the first time that the school district has a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) on retainer!   This, after numerous communications from the parent that they believe their child would benefit from an ABA program.

Parents are right to then ask “well, why didn’t you tell me this before?”

The Riddler doesn’t have a good answer for this, they just hope that the next family doesn’t find out.

Usually you don’t know that a Riddler is in your midst until it’s too late, because of course you can’t know what you haven’t seen or been told.  However, if you discover a Riddler on your IEP team, I suggest sending a follow up letter or Addendum to clarify the IEP minutes which confirms that this was new information to you, and the first time you were made aware of it was at the meeting.

And from then on, I suggest keeping your communications with the Riddler well documented.

One Response to Unseemly IEP Team Member: “The Riddler”

  1. Jodi
    September 30th, 2011 | 9:27 am

    I have had this one too… It was an administrator here in FL. In OH, the staff wrote a very strong detailed IEP. I could tell by the body language that the administration didn’t like the IEP. We had a special school lined up just in case we wanted to pull him and put him in private school. I kept asking the administrator, can you support this IEP? I got yes, we can support the IEP. A couple weeks before school starts, I call the administrator and starting asking about his placement, my phone calls are avoided. I go to the EFMP rep, and she starts calling the school district. Finally, the day before school starts we find out that my son was put in an illegal placement–according the IEP my son is supposed to be mainstreamed with an aide, in FL he was placed in a self contained classroom with 8 other children (he is one of the higher functioning children), and no aide. Now, we are battling the school district, because they don’t want to honor the placement, because he is regressing from the improper placement.