It is really hard to choose which, among the many statements which violate the IDEA, I hear the most as a parent-side special education attorney. But if I were pressed, this statement would definitely be towards the top of the list: “we don’t hold IEP meetings over the summer.” In fact, I hear it so often that it doesn’t even surprise me anymore, which is why this post isn’t listed under “Ridiculous Comments.”
You might be thinking: “but my child has an IEP and he doesn’t go to school over the summer!”
I am not talking here about whether your child requires summer special education services, which are referred to as “Extended School Year” (ESY) services. That determination must made on an individual basis, and the best case to review the standards for that is the 1994 Maryland case of Reusch v. Fountain. While I also regularly encounter violations of the ESY standards in my special education law office in Connecticut, what I am referring to here is whether the IEP Team must meet over the summer if it is necessary.
Your child’s disability does not take a summer vacation, and neither does the IDEA.
The IDEA requires that an appropriate IEP be in place by the “beginning of the school year.” And, IEPs are required to be reviewed (and presumably revised) at least annually. Therefore, if the IEP last developed before the end of the passing school year was not complete, or did not include necessary supports for the student to receive a Free and Appropriate Public Education at the start of the coming school year, then it may be necessary to reconvene the IEP Meeting over the summer to finalize the IEP.
If you are concerned that the IEP last offered to your child is incomplete, or if their needs have changed significantly over the summer, request an IEP team meeting.
Sometimes children change dramatically over a summer; and that can include progress as well as regression. Consider your child’s strengths and weaknesses as the summer progresses, as compared to where they were when the IEP was last developed. If the goals and objectives and services are no longer appropriate, then you may need to revise the IEP.
Be prepared for “we don’t do that.”
Despite the legal requirement that an appropriate IEP be in effect by the beginning of the year, and also despite the right which parents of children with special education needs have under the IDEA to request that an IEP Meeting be convened to review information which they have to share, school districts continue to believe that they can say “no” to parental requests for IEP meetings over the summer.
If you continue to get resistance, be sure to document, in writing, your request that an IEP meeting be held over the summer.
There is no guarantee that your school district will honor their legal obligations when you ask for a summer IEP meeting, and in fact my experience is that they won’t. Summertime tends to be a recipe for disaster when it comes to special education. If your administration refuses to convene the meeting until after school starts, just be sure to send a letter or email which outlines the person with whom you spoke, the date of the discussion, and the refusal to convene the IEP meeting at your request. Then make 5 copies and put them in a safe place.
Sadly, you aren’t likely to get a lot of good services out of school districts over the summer; but you can end up with a number of legal claims if they refuse to convene an IEP Meeting.
I realize the difficulties school districts face during the summer months, with staff whose contracts may not require them to attend IEP meetings over the summer. I understand it’s not all that easy. Yet, school districts can (and do) convene these meetings over the summer when they want to. I assure you, if a child attends the school’s summer program, and their behavior suddenly becomes aggressive to the point where the staff can’t handle it any more, they’d be able to get together the necessary staff to convene an IEP meeting to try to remove the child from the program.
Even in July or August.