As special education teachers and parents of special needs kids know equally well, sometimes it’s all in the details. Children with special education needs have carefully-crafted Individual Education Plans, or IEPs.
IEPs are legal documents, and there are a lot of seemingly tiny details involved. Because any one of those details can change everything about your child’s education, IEP meetings are incredibly important (and often incredible stressful).
In a landmark ruling recently issued by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, an important decision was made about parental participation at IEP meetings.
The case, Doug C. vs. Hawaii (12-15079), involves a child, Spencer C., whose IEP meeting was held in the parent’s absence. The child’s father, Doug C., requested a due process hearing. He lost the due process hearing, and appealed that decision to the U.S. District Court, which upheld the Hearing Officer’s decision. The case was then appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. (For clarification, the U.S. Court of Appeals is a step below the Supreme Court.)
Hawaii’s Department of Education argued that the IEP meeting needed to take place before the IEP annual review deadline, or else services would “lapse.” Therefore, they held the meeting at its scheduled time and day, despite Doug C. requesting a change because he was sick that day.
Ultimately, the 9th Circuit sided with Doug C., saying that having a parent present at an IEP meeting must take priority over both the schedules of the staff, and even the looming deadline to get the IEP document done.
The education law website wrightslaw has an excellent analysis of the case, offering some salient points that affect families with IEPs:
- “Services do not lapse because of the lack of a new IEP,” says the analysis, co-written by Pete Wright, Esq. and Pamela Wright, MA, MSW.
- Parent involvement is critical in the creation of the IEP; after-the-fact parental involvement, even within 30 days of the creation of the IEP, is not enough.
- The attendance of the parent must take priority over other members’ attendance. The Wrights quote the court’s decision: “The attendance of [the]. . . parent, must take priority over other members’ attendance . . . an agency cannot exclude a parent from an IEP meeting in order to prioritize its representatives’ schedules.”
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