Friday, March 19, 2010

Fast Fact Friday: Attorney or Advocate at IEP Team Meetings

Is a parent permitted to bring an advocate or attorney to an IEP meeting?

Yes! Parents are permitted, at their own discretion, to bring to the IEP meeting any individual with "knowledge or special expertise regarding the child." 20 U.S.C. 1414(d)(1)(B)(vi); 34 C.F.R. section 300.344
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This can include an advocate, friend, relative, attorney, other professional, caseworker / social worker, therapist, etc.

It is important to note that if the parent invites the individual, it is the parent who has the ability to make the determination as to whether the person has "knowledge or special expertise." The District can't, therefore, prevent parents from bringing an advocate or an attorney to the meeting! Even if there isn't already a dispute, and even if the District has not invited their own attorney, the parent has the explicit right to include any individual he/she deems to be an appropriate IEP team member, including their attorney or advocate.

This provision goes towards the ability of parents to meaningfully participate in the IEP process. Parents can choose to bring an educational advocate or special education attorney to assist them in participating and will help to ensure that they fully understand the offer. If they are denied the right to bring such persons to an IEP meeting, they may in turn be denied the ability to give informed consent to the program.

7 comments:

  1. I find this to be valuable information to a parent that is just getting involved with a school system for their child's IEP. It something that a parent may not be aware, and could really benefit them and their child that is being discussed.

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  2. Hi, my name is Tiffany and I advocate for many children with special needs here in Northern California. Yesterday I went to a meeting with the local School district with the parent, and I was told by the faculty that they would not hold a meeting with the parent, without 24 hours notice and in writing, that a parent was bringing someone to the meeting. The faculty went on to say this was IDEA law and also stated in the SELPA policies,even after being informed that I was not an Attorney. The district immediately canceled the IEP meeting, in violation of the parent being able to meaningfully participate. I am not in the best graces with the local public schools because I am for the interest of the child and I know quite a bit about the law. Just FYI, these and other types of tactics are used up and to calling the police on parents when school districts feel defensive or are in the wrong.

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  3. Thanks for sharing that information Tiffany! Unfortunately, you are correct that these types of tactics are in fact used by school districts in order to intimidate parents in some instances. It may be worth looking into whether you want to file a compliance complaint with the CDE based on the District failing to hold the IEP meeting that was schedule, or possibly even an OCR complaint if you believe that the conduct rises to the level of retaliation against your clients for engaging in the protected activity of bringing a person with knowledge / special expertise to the meeting. I don't know all of the specifics, so I can't tell you which I would think is best, but both of those options may be worth investigating if this is a persistent problem you are seeing.

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  4. Our child has a hearing disability. She has a 504 which was established a year ago once her hearing loss was documenetd. We have been having problems with her 4th grade teacher this year, including an episode where the teacher went and turned down her amplification box (she now has fitted hearing aids from the school just last week), and another time took the box from her desk, put it on another student's desk and said "Can't YOU hear this?" because she didn't like the noise. Last week my daughter took a spelling test and the teacher had a parent volunteer grade the papers. A letter in a word was interpreted incorrectly, even though it is obvious it is like all other letters like it in all her other papres. The teacher refused to change the grade. She then said she's going to give her extra penmanship worksheets to do "if she wants" even though she ahs always told my daughter she had lovely writing. We asked to have a meeting, and she referred to the princiapl and asst principal who said they would uphold the teacher's grading and there was no need for a meeting. We then contacted the Parent Center in our area (funded by US Dep of Ed). The rep believes we need a meeting, and would like to attend. I alerted the school that would like a conference with the teacher, the prin and the asst prin, and that we were inviting a representation from the Parent Center and I gave how the Center is funded etc. I also gave them the schedule that the rep can meet (the reps are only part time, and I have offered any morning, or anytime at all on one day of the week. The response I have received from the principal is that they will review their schedules, but "I hope that you recognize that the student instructional day should not be compromised in anyway to accommodate the schedule of non school based participants." I am certain that they will pick times when the representative can't attend. It is so frustrating.

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  5. It is always concerning when the school district makes statements about "school based team members" being the most important - it doesn't really seem from those types of statements that this district considers the parents to be equal participants in the IEP process, which they should be.

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  6. I would point out as someone who has been both a special education and regular education teacher that guests like this who are invited are their to advise the parent, not drive the meeting. Schools also have the right to question whether or not the person legitimately has a special knowledge or expertise about the student. Also, it is not a given that such a person will automatically be a "voting" member of the IEP team. Being someone's next door neighbor and friend does not automatically qualify you. Again, you can advise the parent--but not necessarily the team.

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  7. To clarify, there is no such thing as a "voting member" of an IEP team, as it is not legitimate or legal for determinations about placement and services to be made based on an IEP team "vote." All team members - including district team members and those invited by the parent - are equal team members and in fact, attorneys and advocates are often there to ensure that the parent is treated as an equal member rather than as a member who is "less than" the district staff. Attorneys and advocates should never be adversarial, but they can certainly in some cases drive the discussion by asking questions on behalf of the parent or by making sure that parents' concerns are articulated clearly. Also, it is the knowledge of both the child and of special education laws and policies that enable this person to be a team member, and they should be free to express that knowledge in order to contribute to the discussion fully. To limit a parent's representative's participation in a meeting, in my opinion, would be the equivalent of limiting the parent's own participation.

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