Okay, less than a month left in IEP Season, and hopefully I won’t have as many rants about how special education cases are handled over the summer. But for now, I am just getting more and more annoyed by the same tactics being employed by school districts all over the place! In particular, why is it that suddenly school districts are demanding documentation and observation of kids with special education needs in these last weeks of the school year, and issuing threats that the IEP team can not offer a program for the summer or next year until that happens?!
Where have they been since September?
When a school district has not observed a child all school year, and then they suddenly scramble around to get information days before the Annual Review IEP, just so they can have something “on paper” suggesting they know what he or she needs, it does little but frustrate the parents. Worse is when this last-minute frenzy is accompanied by subtle (and overt) threats to the family that any limitation or refusal to allow the school district unlimited access to the child will result in the school district’s inability to offer an appropriate special education program. How convenient that a parent’s refusal to allow testing may result in a denial of reimbursement for private services. It seems that almost every day I am getting an “urgent” communication from a school district for updated information about a child that they could have observed or evaluated at any point during the school year!
This is where I have to respond: “your lack of planning is not my emergency.”
The eleventh-hour panic particularly comes into play in those cases where the child has been placed in a private special education program at district expense, or through a settlement agreement, and suddenly the school is realizing that they need to develop an IEP for this child, but know nothing about their needs. When they come to this realization, suddenly I am receiving all sorts of letters and emails saying “please immediately send us all documentation on this child since the beginning of the school year” or “we request any and all written documentation of this child’s progress during this academic year.”
For many children who are placed in private special education placements, the school district’s attitude becomes “out of sight, out of mind”…until they realize the Annual Review is due!
Look, neither I nor my clients are looking to withhold information about a child’s program from the school district; on the contrary, we are usually thrilled to provide the information necessary to develop an appropriate program. In my special education law practice in Connecticut, I typically encourage my clients to share any requested information with school districts. But to ask parents of children with special education needs, who are already carrying a tremendous load in caring for their child, to chase down documentation and information right before the IEP meeting is just unfair, and is probably guaranteed to set the tone for the next school year as one of disagreement.
Beginning the process of assessing a child’s special education needs in the final days of the school year sends a message to the parents that the school district doesn’t really care.
School districts, if you want parents of children with disabilities to trust you, it might be a good idea to show some interest in their child during the school year, and not just the week before the Annual Review IEP meeting.