As a parents’ special education attorney in Connecticut, I hear outrageous statements that parents are told by their school districts on an almost daily basis. But, sometimes, I am told something that passes the realm of outrageous, and crosses into ridiculous.
Such statements mislead or misrepresent the school’s legal obligations, and always in a way that benefits the school district.
After hearing so many of them, I decided to add a separate category to my blog just for this purpose, where I will post these ridiculous comments and explain why it likely violates IDEA. Hopefully, if you’ve heard similar things from your district, next time around you will know better!
Today’s Ridiculous Comment
One of the most important cornerstones of the IDEA is the focus on the individual needs of the child. This is why each child who is identified as eligible for special education and related services is required to receive an Individualized Education Plan. And yet, this basic and essential premise is too often forgotten by school districts. There is no better example of this than when school staff respond to parents’ concerns about their child’s IEP with disclaimers about how the computer program which the school district uses to manage IEPs prevents them from customizing programs.
I have heard the excuse “IEP Direct won’t allow us to…” at least a dozen times in the last six months.
I’m not bashing IEP Direct itself, which, to my understanding, is a very commonly used program. It’s not the obligation of this, or any other, computer program to make sure that children’s special education programs are designed to meet the unique needs of the student in question; that is the obligation of the local educational agency. And yet, several times when I have pointed out an obvious flaw or illogical statement in the IEP of one of my clients, the school staff have practically thrown their hands up in the air as they blamed the problem on the computer program.
Many of the computer programs utilized by school districts have “drop down” options for goals, objectives, services, and accommodations.
I can understand how this might be attractive to school districts. After all, there are commonalities among children’s needs. But the risk of this approach is that “similar” is often viewed as “the same.” You end up with dozens, maybe hundreds, of kids with virtually identical IEPs, simply because they have the same eligibility category.
Where is the individualization in that?
The answer: hard to find. Streamlining the process is great; heaven knows anyone who has participated in several IEP Team meetings appreciates that. But if it’s done at the expense of addressing the specific needs of the student, it’s just not worth it. What we end up with are “cookie cutter” IEPs and programs, which fly in the face of the IDEA’s focus on individualization.
Just as no two children are exactly alike, no two IEPs should be.
So, the next time a member of your child’s IEP Team tries to tell you that they can not customize your child’s program because their software doesn’t allow it, remind them of their obligation to individualize the program. Then, maybe offer them a good old-fashioned pen to change the IEP, which, last I checked, still works!