What does LEA stand for in Special Education? Explained by an IEP Advocate.

LEA at IEP meetings school textbooks

What does LEA stand for?

LEA is one of those special education acronyms that is more complex than it needs to be. The LEA is a largely misunderstood position or role at IEP meetings. Many times, parents want to exclude the LEA from their IEP meeting! In my professional opinion, that is not a good decision, but we’ll get into excluding IEP meeting people in a bit.

Basically, tl;dr, the LEA is the person representing the school district in an official capacity. The idea behind having an LEA separate from the rest of the other team (presumably, most of whom are also employed by the school district) is so that those other folks could speak freely about the child’s interests rather than the district’s interest.

LEA at IEP meetings

What does LEA stand for in Education?

LEA is another one of those Special Education Acronyms that we as parents have to learn. LEA stands for Local Education Agency.

LEA is defined in IDEA:

(a) General. Local educational agency or LEA means a public board of education or other public authority legally constituted within a State for either administrative control or direction of, or to perform a service function for, public elementary schools or secondary schools in a city, county, township, school district, or other political subdivision of a State, or for a combination of school districts or counties as are recognized in a State as an administrative agency for its public elementary schools or secondary schools.

(b) Educational service agencies and other public institutions or agencies. The term includes the following:

(1) Educational service agency, defined as a regional public multi-service agency—

(i) Authorized by State law to develop, manage, and provide services or programs to LEAs; and

(ii) Recognized as an administrative agency for purposes of the provision of special education and related services provided within public elementary schools and secondary schools of the State.

(2) Any other public institution or agency having administrative control and direction of a public elementary school or secondary school, including a public charter school that is established as an LEA under State law.(3) Entities that meet the definition of intermediate educational unit or IEU in section 602(23) of the Act, as in effect prior to June 4, 1997. Under that definition an intermediate educational unit or IEU means any public authority other than an LEA that—

(i) Is under the general supervision of a State educational agency;

(ii) Is established by State law for the purpose of providing FAPE on a regional basis; and

(iii) Provides special education and related services to children with disabilities within the State.

LEA in Special Education

The short answer is: The LEA is the person who is there to represent the school district. This person should know what resources are available to the district and have the authority to allocate such resources.

This is really important, because I’ve seen a lot of waffling among IEP team members as a stalling technique. In particular, when a parent asks for something that is costly like a 1:1 aide or a private out of district placement. If you ask for this and are met with, “I don’t have the authority to approve this, we’ll have to get back to you” then that means that an LEA was not at your IEP meeting!

There was no LEA at my IEP Meeting.

And, if there is no LEA at your IEP meeting, then technically an annual IEP meeting did not happen. IDEA is very specific about who are the mandated IEP team members. An LEA is one of the required IEP team members, so if one wasn’t there, a meeting didn’t happen. Your district may be out of compliance as far as the date they hold your meeting.

Your RSVP to IEP Meeting

This is why I recommend you send a thorough Parent Concerns Letter with no surprises. Occasionally, when I draft letters for clients, I have specifically asked for this. “We wish to discuss out of district placement at this IEP meeting, so please make sure that there is an LEA in attendance who can authorize this decision if the entire IEP team agrees.”

I don’t like the person who is our LEA.

This comes up in various forms. Anything from “I really don’t like our principal, why does he/she have to come?” to “The special ed director really has it in for my kid, do they have to come to the meeting?”

We as parents cannot decide who is the LEA. The school district makes this decision. It is very difficult to have individuals excluded from an IEP meeting and in my opinion, not worth the effort. My time is better spent trying to rise above this person rather than exclude them. If you work on excluding them, you’re going to burn bridges and not get much cooperation from your team. Plus, you have to have solid data that their presence at the IEP meeting is detrimental to your child. That’s not an easy task.

Charter Schools are the LEA.

Additionally, please note that after Number 2 above, IDEA specifically mentions that Charter Schools are LEA. I point this out only for reference. I have heard from a few parents that their charter school has told them that “they don’t have to follow IDEA because they’re a charter school.” You can see that IDEA says otherwise. There are only reference points, just showing you this one.

Good luck and join us in the Facebook group if you have questions.

LEA Local Education Agency school textbooks

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