Every so often, Congress “reauthorizes” the IDEA. The most recent was the 2004 Reauthorization, also known as IDEA04, and sometimes IDEIA (the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act). When the 2004 IDEA came out, there were a number of changes with which I, and many parents’ attorneys and advocates, disagreed. However, there was one change which has proven rather useful, and that is an IEP “Amendment.”
What is an “Amendment” to an IEP?
In a nutshell, an Amendment is a written change to the IEP which is arrived at by agreement between the parents and the school district without the necessity of convening another IEP Team Meeting. 20 USC 1414 (d)(3)(D) and (F); 34 CFR 300.324 (a)(4) and (6).
At first I thought this was a recipe for disaster, and that school districts would be abusing this procedure all of the time, using it as a “quick fix” for much larger problems with the IEP.
So far, at least in Connecticut, that’s not what I’m seeing. In fact, I’ve been able to use it as a useful tool to sidestep one of the most common stall tactics of some school district attorneys, which is to haul everyone back into IEP meetings all of the time over every little thing, which drives up the costs AND the acrimony. As a special education lawyer who represents parents in Connecticut, I actually rather like the Amendment process.
However, most parents are not represented by counsel, and I worry about how the Amendment is being used in most cases.
Therefore, here are some important things to remember about Amendments, and what is, and is not, permitted by this relatively new creature of law:
1. The Amendment MUST be in writing. Simply having a verbal agreement to change the IEP will not suffice.
2. The Amendment MUST be agreed upon by both parties, and the use of it in lieu of an IEP Team Meeting must be agreed upon by both parties. This means if your school district wants to just change the IEP through Amendment, and you want to discuss it an an IEP Team meeting, you have the right to insist upon the meeting.
3. An Amendment does NOT eliminate the school district’s obligation to convene the IEP Team at least once a year. It’s clear from the language of the statute that this mechanism was intended to be available only to change IEPs created annually.
4. Parents SHALL be given a copy of the new IEP, complete with Amendment, upon request. It can be hard enough to track your child’s progress towards goals without a mid-year change; if you agree upon an Amendment, I recommend you ask for a new copy of the full IEP.
5. The IEP Team MUST be notified of the changes to the IEP. Just because the Parents and the school agreed to change the IEP without convening the meeting does not mean that this part of the IEP is any less important to be implemented than any other. The Team can’t do that if they’re unaware of it.
Generally, there are some very good reasons to Amend IEPs, but parents should be absolutely certain that they both understand the proposed change, and are comfortable making it without the benefit of discussing it with the IEP Team, before they sign it.