What does IDEA say about parents attending IEP meetings?
Whew, can we please put this issue to bed, once and for all? Because I have had it up to here (I’m pointing to my forehead, lol) with schools telling parents that “we only have IEP meetings at 7 or 2.” Or something like that. No, no. A thousand times no.
Thankfully, this issue is pretty easy to rebuke.
Parent Participation in IDEA
Parent participation in IEP meetings is clearly defined in IDEA section 300.322. The snippet below is from the 300 page discussion companion of IDEA. (read that link for all details)
Here is the exact wording from IDEA.
Sec. 300.322 (a)
(a) Public agency responsibility—general. Each public agency must take steps to ensure that one or both of the parents of a child with a disability are present at each IEP Team meeting or are afforded the opportunity to participate, including—
(1) Notifying parents of the meeting early enough to ensure that they will have an opportunity to attend; and
(2) Scheduling the meeting at a mutually agreed on time and place.
Mutually Agreed on IEP Meeting.
Ok, so it’s pretty cut and dry. That being said, everyone has to be reasonable. So the school saying “We can only meet at 7:30 am” is not reasonable. But, neither is a parent saying “I can only meet at 7:30 at night.” The parent gets the benefit of the doubt, but you have to give a little too.
I get it. We are taking time off work to go to these meetings. Parents are the only people at the table not being paid to be there. And that’s not fair. But it’s also not going to change, so focus on what we can control.
Predict ahead. Should you find yourself in a Due Process hearing or filing some kind of complaint, are you being reasonable?
How much notice should you get for an IEP meeting?
If you read the last sentence in the snippet above, it talks about “leaving it up to the states.” IDEA does not say how much notice a school has to give you for an IEP meeting. Check your state’s regs for this. Most have determined it to be between 5-10 days.
What about Doug C v. Hawaii?
In 2013, there was a Federal courts decision in the 9th circuit that further defined this issue. Wrightslaw has a full discussion of the decision. However, the main takeaway from that case is this:
Question – If there are logistical scheduling conflicts for an IEP meeting, is priority given to the schedules of the school staff or the parent?
Answer – Priority is given to the parent. “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.” (Page 13)
Inviting Parents to IEP Meetings
The school must keep records. And those records must be complete. They have to be able to show multiple attempts to contact the parents.
I know it’s hard (and sad!) to imagine, but there are actually parents who ignore or refuse to go to IEP meetings. But a school must make several attempts to engage the parent and document those attempts.
Teacher Contracts and IEP Meetings
One obstacle that often comes up when scheduling IEP meetings is teacher contracts. Teacher unions (who for the most part, I support) get contracts that are very specific about days and times that the teachers work.
And, IDEA is very specific about who attends an IEP meeting. Those two things don’t always get along so well. A school district may not be able to require a teacher to stay past a certain time in the day. Or come in on weekends.
To that, I say, “Not my problem.”
Because here’s the thing. The national average of kids with IEPs is about 15%. That is, about 15% of all school children have IEPs.
If you, as a school board and administration team, neglected to think about the 15% of your students who will require annual IEP meetings when you were negotiating with the union…that’s your problem. Plan better during next negotiation time.
Getting an Amenable Meeting Time.
The above being said…as a parent, you’re going to have to fight like hell to get an IEP meeting time that is outside of teacher contract hours. Up to you if you want to fight that fight.
IEP Meeting Times as Bullying Tactics.
An inconvenient IEP meeting time is used as a bullying tactic. Particularly with lower-income families. Schools know that for many jobs, it’s difficult for the parent to take off work. Or, that the parent really cannot afford to take off unpaid time.
So, they force an inconvenient time to strong-arm the parent and discourage them from attending.
How to Handle IEP Meeting Schedule Conflicts.
Remember, stay calm and professional in your communication. Respond promptly. Offer solutions, and alternate dates and times.
There is no “well we only hold meetings at these times and these times.” That might be what is best for them as far as administrative convenience, but it’s not in the spirit of IDEA.
Keep advocating, stay engaged in all parts of the IEP process. I hope it doesn’t come to where you’re sending them a screen shot of IDEA, but it might. You can also file a compliance complaint. Keep your paper trail and save all email.
IEP Meetings aren’t that important anyway.
No, really, stick with me here. First, yes, by all means, push for your rights and participate in the IEP meeting.
But, in the end, if you are actively engaged and participating in all the essential portions of the IEP process, the IEP meeting isn’t that important. It should merely be a meeting to finalize some details. When you do the legwork during evals and parent concerns, the IEP meeting is nothing but a formality.
My son’s IEP meetings are less than an hour. And that’s not because I do the Jiffy Lube version. It’s because I participate in the process all year long. Right now? It’s October and I have a phone conference next week to discuss his FBA. Which isn’t due until January.
Stay engaged all the time, and your relationships are better and the IEP meeting is no big deal.