Some IEP meetings are contentious the moment you enter the room. Who are these additional people? If that happens to you, it is a direct violation of your rights and you can do something about it!
The IDEA is the federal law that specifies who is on the IEP Team. In brief, the members of the team are (authority):
- The parents
- Not less than one regular education teacher of the child (if the child is, or may be, participating in general education)
- Not less than one special education teacher of the child
- A district representative
- Someone to interpret the evaluation results
- At the discretion of the parent or district, other individuals who have knowledge or special expertise regarding the child
- If appropriate, the child
This is important for today’s discussion. The other important consideration is IDEA Section 300.322 Parent participation. Paraphrasing here (and emphasis mine) …
The school district must … notify the parents of the meeting early enough to ensure they will have the opportunity to attend … and the notice must “Indicate the purpose, time, and location of the meeting and who will be in attendance.”
That is key. You must get a notification of the meeting, it must include the why, when, where, and who. That is the federal law.
(Note for those of you who are not special ed geeks like me … “OSERS” is the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, part of the U.S. Department of Education. They put out important reports, publications and policy letters dealing with special education. “Public agency” refers to the school district.)
OSERS has a policy letter dated February 17, 2016 that deals with the question of a parent coming to an IEP meeting with a lawyer and not previously telling the district of the lawyer’s attendance.
Under 34 CFR §300.322(b), the public agency must inform parents in advance of the IEP meeting, including the purpose, time, and location of the meeting and who will be in attendance. There is no similar requirement in the IDEA for the parent to inform the public agency, in advance, if he or she intends to be accompanied by an individual with knowledge or special expertise regarding the child, including an attorney.
Thus the school may NOT have anyone at the meeting who is not explicitly listed on the meeting invitation. The parents may bring someone not on the list, but, as the letter goes on to say …
We believe that in the spirit of cooperation and working together as partners in the child’s education, a parent should provide advance notice to the public agency if he or she intends to bring an attorney to the IEP meeting.
If you arrive at a meeting and there are uninvited members, you can ask them to leave or reschedule the meeting. You are entirely within your rights to do so. It is only appropriate (and the law) that you have the time to prepare properly based on who may be in attendance.
The district may offer that someone is to be at the meeting “purely to observe.” They may be a supervisor or administrator. Having them at the meeting is a further violation not only of the invitation but of the make-up of the Team. An observer does not qualify as one of the seven acceptable team member types (first part of this post). Just say “no.”
I had a phone conversation with Ms. Pagano of the OSEP staff (the part of OSERS that produced the letter). We discussed the letter, and the discussion here, and she agreed with it all.
But then the discussion went into her “but what if” theory of the world. It is a test that really should be applied and I agreed. Here is a real scenario I offered to her to showcase her theory …
A parent walked into an IEP meeting recently (really, in my home district). Two uninvited people were there and, being a good student of mine 😉 , the parent asked why. The guidance counselor said that she had some new information to offer but if the parent wanted her to leave she would. The administrator said he was there to observe and would not leave.
Ms. Pagano’s “but what if” comes into play … but what if the guidance counselor was allowed to stay? Yes, there would be a violation of the statute, but in everyone’s favor. The parent was correct (in my and Ms. Pagano’s opinions) in asking the guidance counselor to stay.
The administrator was wrong on multiple counts. He was not on the invite list, and, although moot, he had no knowledge to be offered to be considered on the list of Team members. The parents felt uncomfortable with his presence, did not know he would be there, and had every right to either ask him to leave or reschedule the meeting. His statement that he would not leave made the meeting instantly contentious, non-compliant, and all too typical.
And, yes, let the district know who you are bringing. You don’t have to, but it does help. Just don’t say my name …