You’re Not Invited

Published on December 15, 2009 by Jennifer Laviano

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How is it that, in disputes between parents and school districts, whenever an IEP Team Member starts to align their recommendations with the parents’ position, they suddenly stop getting invited to that child’s IEP Meetings?  In my Connecticut special education law practice, I see this all the time.

Example 1:  the parents believe that their child has a reading disability, and have been asking the school to test her for dyslexia.  The regular education teacher attends the meeting, and states that he has noticed that the child is seriously struggling in his classroom with written material.  The next time the IEP Team meets, guess who is invited to participate as the regular education teacher?  Mrs. Smith, who teaches math.

Example 2:  the student has been diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder by a private evaluator, at the parents’ expense.  The school district does not agree with said diagnosis.  At the IEP Team meeting, the speech pathologist indicates that she is concerned with the child’s pragmatic language and ability to appropriately interact with peers, based on an observation she made of the student in his classroom.  The next time the IEP Team meets, the speech pathologist from the other elementary school is invited, instead of her.

Example 3:  a teenager with Bipolar Disorder has been spiraling out of control for months.  The parents usually get a phone call around lunch time, asking them to pick their son up.  For many weeks, he has been going to his morning classes without incident, but by mid-day he becomes agitated to the point where the school can not handle his behavior.  A question has been posed to the IEP team as to whether this student requires an IEP based on an Emotional Disturbance.  Which teacher is invited to attend the IEP meeting?  The one who teaches first period.

Example 4:   after many years of disagreement as to whether Occupational Therapy services are required, the parents finally request an Independent Educational Evaluation at public expense in the area of OT.  The outside OT recommends 1 hour per week of direct OT services in a written evaluation report which was distributed to the parents and district weeks before the IEP meeting.  Instead of inviting the independent OT to the IEP meeting to discuss her findings, the school invites their own OT; the one who never thought the child required OT to begin with.

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So, here’s what you need to know:  as a parent, you have the right to invite whomever you believe is necessary to your child’s IEP meeting.

The IDEA states plainly that, in addition to the required school staff, the IEP Team should include…

at the discretion of the parent or the agency, other individuals who have knowledge or special expertise regarding the child, including related service personnel as appropriate…”  20 USC 1414 (emphasis supplied)

This means that parents have the discretion to invite any person they believe has special expertise regarding their child to the IEP meeting.

If you get the IEP Team Meeting Notice or Invitation from your school district, and individuals who you believe should be invited are NOT, then you have the right to ask that they be included.  I suggest you make that request in writing.   It’s a tougher case when it’s an outside, private evaluator who has not been invited, as those individuals typically charge for their time, and if the parents invite them they are likely to be billed for it.  However, even in those cases, I recommend that the parent request that the evaluator be invited by the district, at district expense, to share their findings.

Bottom line:  pay as much attention to who the school isn’t asking to attend the IEP Team Meeting, as you pay to who is invited.

2 Responses to You’re Not Invited

  1. Cousin Vinny
    December 16th, 2009 | 6:55 pm

    Great advice. It could backfire a bit, though. (I think! I may be overstating my personal experience.)

    One time, a parent requested my attendance to an IEP at California School for the Deaf as an advocate. We were treated to a ‘thundering herd’ attending the meeting, such as teachers, related and special services personnel. I don’t think it’s the school standard operating procedure to invite this many people to an IEP, but rather in response to my presence.

    As a result, these people, who all had the experience, degrees, and were considered highly qualified, were present at the meeting compared to a parent who is a layperson. Granted, I was there, but the equation was lopsided. I got the impression that the parent was overwhelmed by the personnel at the meeting and simply acquiesed to whatever was proposed at the IEP.

    Any tips and tricks in ‘thinning the herd’, so to speak? I’ve been to countless IEP’s since then, primarily as an ESE teacher, and most of them were pretty small. Still, there’s always an imbalance of sorts at an IEP meeting between the school personnel and the parents, unless the parents happen to be educators. So, it’s a pretty good idea actually to have someone on your side who’s knowledgeable about education, be it an advocate or someone already on the IEP team.

    Also, what do you suggest parents should do about ‘hidden’ persons on the IEP team? For example, the LEA is always invited to IEP meetings, but rarely are they present at the meetings. Usually, the ESE caseworker handling the IEP will inform the parents that he/she will review the IEP papers with the Asst. Principal (the LEA) and obtain his/her signature.

    Ordinarily, this usually poses no problems, as most IEP’s are routinely done and are appropriate for SWD’s. The LEA has other administrative duties at the school and as a pragmatic matter, need to devote his/her scarce time to contested or ‘hot’ IEP meetings.

    My initial impression is to reduce the # of personnel at IEP meetings, so the ‘hidden’ people can stay that way. But, I guess the provision of an LEA for all IEP meetings is there for a reason.

    Thanks for writing this, and looking forward to a response.

  2. Jennifer Laviano
    December 16th, 2009 | 7:50 pm

    Oh yes, I have the “everyone and their brother” present more often than not when I appear, and it is almost always startling to the parents, given the small group usually assembled. I would say that the dynamics of each case are going to change whether you’d prefer to have a larger or smaller group, and of course more does not necessarily mean better. Further, when an experienced advocate or attorney is present, it’s an entirely different matter altogether, and there may be advantages to having a few or a lot of people there depending on what the family wants. Hopefully, a large assembly of people won’t be intimidating to parents who are attending with representation, as they are not there alone. My experience is that my clients usually respond to the suddenly massive team positively, and feel like this might be the first time they’re being taken seriously. There may, of course, be times when you might not feel the need to alert the district to every conceivable person who would help them develop an IEP, and certainly if the parent is going to be funding an outside expert’s attendance, the parent needs to consider whether the recommendations of that person will be genuinely embraced by the district, ignored, or worse: used to bolster the district’s position. As to your question about “hidden” members who don’t participate but are later approving, finalizing, or changing the IEP document without having attended or participated in the IEP Meeting, I would say that is of questionable legality.

    The key, to me, is for parents who are not represented to understand that they have the right to invite individuals of their choosing, both district employees and people outside of the school, to attend the IEP meeting.

    Thanks so much for reading, and feel free to continue to comment! Best, Jen

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