Dear Friends and Family Caregivers,
Developing an effective, individualized education program for a student with a disability is a team effort. Parents, teachers, specialists, service providers, and in many cases, the student come together at a meeting to look closely at the student's strengths and needs, and craft a program that will help the student receive a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). The IEP is the roadmap that lays out exactly HOW students will progress from where they are today to where the team wants them to be a year later in all areas of need.
We often receive questions about who MUST participate in an IEP meeting, what participation really means (a five-minute teacher drop in, for example, is not really participation), and how to excuse members or deal with situations that arise when a school district refuses to make certain staff available even though the parent sees such attendance as essential. In this issue, we clarify these requirements.
The IEP Team:
So, who's on the team? The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) lays this out clearly (at §300.321). At a minimum, these are the required team members unless formally excused by the district AND the parent in WRITING:
Parents: If no parent is available, a person holding education rights must attend. If you have questions about whether you hold these rights, call your Parent Training and Information Center. Parents are a very important part of the IEP process – so much so that an IEP is not binding until the parent approves it. Approval is not possible without really understanding and participating during the meeting. As parents, we understand and are committed to our child in the deepest way, and our input is critical. Districts are required to help parents participate meaningfully; including scheduling meetings at a time they can attend, giving them enough notice of a meeting date, providing translators and interpreters, and allowing them to bring friends, advocates or other support to the meeting.
General Education Teachers: No less than one regular education teacher of the child (if the child is, or may be, participating in the regular education environment). Note that since in most cases the goal is to educate the child in the LEAST restrictive environment (LRE) with nondisabled peers, even if the student is not in such a setting NOW, a general education teacher should attend to help the team plan for that child's return by helping the team understand the curriculum, schedule, setting, etc. If the student is struggling in a particular subject area, ask in writing that this teacher attend. Otherwise, any general education teacher technically meets the requirement.
Special Educators: No less than one special education teacher of the child, or where appropriate, no less than one special education provider of the child. For a child in a special day class, their teacher generally attends, andor a child in a resource program, the resource teacher attends.
School District Representative (sometimes referred to as the Administrative Designee): A person who can commit district resources and is qualified to provide, or supervise the provision of, specially designed instruction to meet the unique needs of children with disabilities; is knowledgeable about the general education curriculum; and is knowledgeable about the availability of resources of the public agency.
Person(s) Qualified to Interpret Assessment and Evaluation Data: Is there someone on the IEP team who can interpret the child's evaluation results and discuss what they mean in terms of instruction? Since everything in special education is based on a clear understanding of where the student IS today as shown by EVALUATION and DATA, an individual who can translate the results of the evaluations and assessments, and help the team understand the instructional implications is required. This person must have enough expertise in the area being discussed to act as a "translator" to the team, especially the parents, for whom testing and evaluation data are often difficult to understand. Generally, any specialist who has completed a recent assessment of a child will attend to present their findings to the team and to be available for questions/discussion.
Other Individuals Who Have Knowledge or Special Expertise Regarding the Child (at the discretion of the Parent or the School District): This can include related service personnel such as a speech and language therapist, a paraprofessional who spends substantial time with the child throughout the day, a mental health provider, a mentor or community service provider, a childcare provider--anyone who the parent or district feels can help the team better serve the child. Recently, the federal Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) and the California Department of Education (CDE) have both clarified that no blanket policy barring particular staff members from attending an IEP meeting is appropriate. These decisions are made based on the unique needs of each child.
Student with a disability when appropriate: Starting at age 16, the student MUST be invited to the meeting to plan for transition to adult life and education beyond high school. And at 18, the student MUST attend and approve the IEP because they hold their own education rights as an adult unless a conservator has been appointed, or the student states in writing that another adult (often a parent) retains the rights to advocate for their needs in education.
What if a Team Member is not needed, or cannot attend?
Sometimes, an IEP meeting is called to address a specific area, such as progress toward speech and language goals, and the parents and district agree that other team members are not essential. In this situation, as long as the district and parents agree, other team members can be excused in writing ahead of time but should still submit any input to the team prior to the meeting. If a particular team member cannot be available, the parent and district may agree to accept a written summary from that person provided ahead of time. Note that this does NOT mean that if you arrive for a meeting, and find someone missing who is a required team member, that you are required to excuse them. In such a case, this is not a legally compliant IEP meeting. Your options include going forward with an informal meeting, and coming back together once all members are available; having someone conference call in; cancelling the meeting and asking that it be rescheduled when all team members are available.
NOTE: Be especially careful to ask WHO the administrative designee is at the meeting. Without this person , decisions about what a student needs are not binding, since the district has not officially committed those resources. In addition, if one person tells you they are fulfilling multiple roles, get more information. While a special education administrator may hold a teaching credential, if they are not currently teaching at your child's grade level, they cannot also serve as your general education teacher for the purposes of the meeting.
UPCOMING DREDF WORKSHOPS
REGISTRATION IS REQUIRED. SPACE IS LIMITED.
Understanding the Special Education Process: IEP Basics & Beyond
FREE: Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund (DREDF) Education Advocates will provide an overview of the special education process, Section 504, and IDEA laws.
Date: Saturday, March 31, 2012
Where: CARE Parent Network, 1340 Arnold Drive, Suite 115, Martinez, CA 94553 http://www.careparentnetwork.org
Time: 9:00am to Noon (Coffee and goodies 8:45am-9am)
Must RSVP: Phone (800)281-3023/(925)370-8651.
Date: Second Monday of the month (not August or December)
Next Offered: Monday, April 9, 2012
Time: 6:00 8:30 pm (Pizza and drinks included!)
Where: DREDF, Ed Roberts Campus, 3075 Adeline St, Berkeley, CA 94703 at Ashby BART
Classroom: The Bernard Osher Foundation Education Center, First Floor
To Register: Contact Becky Lyons at (510) 644-2555 x5227 or firstname.lastname@example.org