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Georgia Special Education Law Blog

You Are a Member of The IEP Team

on Thu, 06/28/2012 - 18:51

As the parent, you are a member of the IEP Team.* You have incredible knowledge about the practical issues created by your child’s special needs. Remember that you have more experience about your child’s difficulties than any school employee. Feel free to talk about how problems you have at home might be similar to problems at school. Try to suggest ways that the school could implement solutions like those you use at home. If there is a difference between the types of problems at home and at school, it is worth the effort to figure out the reasons for the differences.  Those reasons help you and the school design concrete changes that will help your child learn more effectively.

You might be worried that a school employee will suggest or imply that you are doing something wrong at home that is causing your child’s problems. You should respond that vague suggestions are not helpful and ask for concrete actions to take. Then give other IEP team members a chance to make concrete suggestions. Although this can be unpleasant to hear, your child is worth the effort it will take to think about better ways to help your child learn. If the school employee cannot make precise suggestions, then politely suggest that the meeting re-focus on specifics for the IEP. Remember that your purpose at the IEP meeting is to create a plan with specific steps to help your child learn despite special needs.

* 20 U.S.C. ∫ 1414(d)(1)(B)(i)

Crowded IEP Meetings

on Fri, 06/15/2012 - 18:39

When you attend an IEP meeting, there are often a lot of school employees at the meeting. Who are these folks and why are they there? The legal answer is fairly simple(1) – certain school employees be attend the IEP meeting, including at least one regular education teacher, at least one special education teacher, and someone who can interpret the evaluations used in making the IEP. Additionally, a district employee who knows the potential special education placements within the district and knows the general education curriculum must be there. Finally, someone who can commit the district to implement the plan needs to be at the meeting. A district does not meet its obligations by submitting a potential IEP to higher officials for review and approval because that would defeat the purpose of the IEP meeting, which is to create a plan to implement.

In practice, there are an overwhelming number of people working for the school district in the room during the IEP meeting. Having that many people in the room can be stifling because you interrupt the flow of the meeting with every question. But you are a co-equal member of the IEP team. You know your child better than anyone else in the room. Give yourself permission to politely but firmly make suggestions or ask why the district proposes a particular goal or service. The district must consider alternatives, even if it decides not to implement them.(2)


(1) 20 U.S.C. ∫ 1414(d)(1)(B)

(2) Greer v. Rome School Dist., 950 F.2d 688 (11th Cir. 1991)

IEP Advocacy: Prior Written Notice

on Thu, 06/07/2012 - 19:37

The school district is required to consider and explain rejection of your requests for particular services. When you are at the IEP meeting, the school district will not always agree to provide services that you request. That can be very frustrating, but it is very important that you focus on your purpose at the IEP meeting – designing the best IEP for your child - instead of letting school officials distract you from that purpose.

Even so, you have a legal right to a written explanation of the school district’s refusal to include a request in the IEP. Among other things, the writing must describe: (1) the action refused by the district, (2) the reasoning why the action was refused, (3) the data used in making the decision, and (4) the factors used by the district to make the decision.* This writing is called prior written notice  - because same notice is required is when the district makes a change in the IEP.

I have had districts tell me that the IEP document satisfies these requirements, but this is not necessarily true. The IEP is a plan, listing what the school district is required to do. Usually, the IEP does not contain much data, and it does not list why a particular goal was included instead of a different goal.

One district told me that a Georgia Board of Education rule** authorizes use of the IEP as written notice. Section 5(c) of that rule does state that notice requirements in “most cases” can be satisfied by the IEP. But section (b) of the same rule explicitly requires “an explanation of why the [school district] proposes or refuses to take the action” and “any other factors which are relevant to the [school district’s] proposal or refusal.” Section 5(b) also requires a description of the data that the district used to make the decision.

If the school district still refuses to agree to provide additional written notice after you have calmly asserted that it should be given, you need only ask to make sure the discussion is clearly included in the minutes. Getting school officials agree at you will prevent them from putting in their best effort to generate the IEP. Negotiations are the path to success in the IEP meeting – if legal confrontation comes later, the notation in the IEP minutes will show clearly the district’s attitude to its legal obligations.

* These requirements are contained at 20 U.S.C. § 1415(c)(1). (available here)

** State Bd. of Edu. R 160-4-7-.09 (available here).  In the rules, the school district is referred to as the Local Education Agency (or LEA).

Effective IEP Advocacy: Meeting Minutes

on Mon, 06/04/2012 - 15:13

The IEP meeting is a design session with a specific purpose: creating a plan for your child’s education for the next year. Your child deserves the best effort from all the IEP team members in designing the plan. The school district has expertise in education techniques and you have expertise in your child’s behaviors and ways of thinking.  By combining those types of expertise, a plan can be created that will effectively help your child learn despite your child’s special needs.

Although the school district is legally required to individualize the plan for each eligible student, the district may not be focusing on your child’s individual needs. As a parent, you are the person who cares the most about your child, so don’t hesitate to speak up and advocate for things that will help your child learn.
One way that you can be effective in advocating is paying attention to the meeting minutes – the written record of what is discussed. When important issues are discussed, make sure that the minutes reflect it. Try to honestly paraphrase the school official’s most recent statement in your own words and ask in a calm tone of voice whether the statement is reflected in the minutes. 
Doing this helps you two ways. First, your statement facilitates communication because if your honest paraphrase is incorrect, it helps the school officials communicate their true intent. Second, the fact that you are explicitly thinking about the minutes shows your seriousness in advocating for your child. The minutes are the record of what happened and will be very important in any legal challenge, and school officials know that. By being careful to protect your child’s rights, you let the school district know that you are a careful thinker who deserves to be taken seriously.

Preparing for IEP Meetings: Managing Expectations

on Fri, 06/01/2012 - 14:42

Your child’s IEP is very important because it is the plan the school will follow in educating your child for the next school year. Go to the IEP meeting with a purpose – to see that good goals are included in the IEP and services are provided that help make it likely that the goals will be achieved. But the school district is not required to do everything any parent asks be done. Therefore, it is very important to prepare for the IEP ahead of time, thinking about what you want to ask for and how you will persuade the school district that it is legally obligated to provide the services you are suggesting.

Persuasion is extremely important, because the school district is only required to make a plan that has a decent chance of providing educational benefit, even if that does not actually educate your child. As the federal appeals court for Georgia explained*, school districts are only obligated to provide a basic floor of opportunity. If you can’t persuade the school district, you will have a very difficult time forcing the district to increase what it is doing, given the low legal standard the district must meet.
In short, you must manage your expectations. You are your child’s champion, but you are also the world’s greatest expert on your child. You must be honest with yourself in order to figure out what you (as champion) want for your child and what you (as expert) know your child needs. Once you have focused on your expertise, you can think effectively about how to explain your reasoning to the school officials.
Again, you must be brutally honest with yourself about whether a desire for your child is a want or a need.  It would be nice if every child with special needs received a one-on-one tutor in every subject, but this simply isn’t possible.  School district officials are only human – if they decide (rightly or wrongly) that your first request is unreasonable, that will affect how they view your later, smaller requests.
*JSK v. Hendry County Sch. Bd., 941 F.2d 1563 (11th Cir. 1991)