I feel a little guilty for having neglected my blog most of this month, but the volume of IEP meetings, mediation, and Due Process Hearing commitments has prohibited me from writing much other than responses to Motions to Dismiss, 10 day notice letters, and a whole lot of nasty grams!
The month of June has left me exhausted, but not lacking in material.
As I've said before, the economy has created all sorts of new challenges for those of us who practice special education law here in Connecticut and throughout the country. What were already big fights have gotten bigger, and it seems that more cases are headed for litigation than ever before. How this will save money is a mystery to me, but that's another conversation.
However, knowing that a case is headed to a special education Due Process Hearing can be a little liberating in a way, at least in terms of how the IEP Team meeting rolls.
When I get involved in a case, I really do try to do everything possible to resolve the dispute amicably, utilizing all available opportunities under the law, and even trying new ones still. But once all of those chances have been given to a school system to settle the case the nice way, and it hasn't proven successful, I gear up for the fight.
I know, you're wondering when I'm going to get to the liberating part.
When a special education Due Process Hearing has been filed, and the parents and the school district have already documented their respective positions in a formal piece of litigation, this does not mean that the requirement to hold IEP meetings is suspended. In fact, school districts still should meet their obligations to hold them at least annually. Therefore, we are sometimes attending Annual Review IEP meetings at this time of the year in the awkward situation of knowing precisely why the other side is in extreme disagreement with us about what constitutes an appropriate program for the child with special education needs. Usually, Parents walk into their child's IEP meetings with some sense of suspense, not quite sure what will be offered.
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It's hard to appear surprised by what the school district will offer at an IEP meeting, when the week before they outlined the program they think is appropriate to an Impartial Hearing Officer!
As in: “really, the fact that we have a Hearing pending in which we allege that you failed to identify my child's need for occupational therapy has NOTHING TO DO with your refusal to offer it today? Huh.”
So, in the midst of all of these unpredictable, contentious IEP meetings that I attend at the end of the school year, there are those handful of meetings which are eerily predictable, serene, and precise, because the parties are already embroiled in litigation, and therefore, know exactly what the other side will or will not do.
I call these meetings the “Calm Before the Storm IEP Meetings.”
It's hard to know who leaves these meetings more confounded: the Parents or the school team. But in my experience as a special education attorney here in Connecticut, when a Calm Before the Storm IEP Meeting is occurring, there are primarily two people speaking: the Special Education Director, and the Parents' lawyer. The Board's attorney is usually writing the Director notes. And nobody else says a word.
While they can be a little unsettling, these Calm Before the Storm IEP Meetings are sometimes also cathartic for Parents. And this is where the liberation comes in. After years of playing nice, and diplomatically choosing just which people to compliment when, and where it's okay to push-back; after years of kindly pointing out how little progress the Parents are seeing in comparison with the blossoming of the child that is being reported by the school team; after years of hoping that their input and concerns and insight might be taken seriously, the Parents are finally able to just be openly candid about how they feel.
Which is that they totally, completely, and officially disagree!
And yes, that can feel pretty darn good. At least until the Hearing.