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.

If there was no official LEA at your IEP meeting, then the annual IEP meeting did not occur.

Basically, the LEA is the person representing the school district in an official capacity.

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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 interests.

Yes, really. It’s crazy that we have to even discuss the child’s interests vs the school district’s interests, but that’s where we are. As many of you know, IEP meetings are quite contentious. School district staff should be able to speak freely at IEP meetings without repercussions from a school district but that is not always the case.

Three women sitting around a table with laptops at an LEA IEP meeting.

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 at IEP meetings

LEA in Education Definition

In typical government-esque speak, they made this more difficult than it needs to be. It’s the school district. I have attended hundreds of IEP meetings, I’ve never once heard any school district staff refer to themselves as a “local education agency employee” or “I work for the local education agency.” They say school district.

No one uses LEA in every day language. No one.

What is an LEA?

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 Representative in Special Education

The LEA is the person at the IEP meeting 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!

And since an LEA is a mandated IEP team member, then you didn’t have an official IEP meeting. Guess you’re going to have to reschedule!

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LEA vs SEA in Special Education

SEA stands for State Education Agency. It would be highly unusual for a representative from the state department of education to attend your IEP meeting. I am sharing that acronym just for informational purposes.

Sometimes people confuse the two.

Once again, in every day language, no one uses SEA. They say some version of “the state department of ed” or something like that.

Who can be an LEA at an IEP meeting?

Anyone! Yes, really.

If the district decides that a person can act as an LEA at IEP meetings, then that person is the LEA.

This is another area of concern that I see from time to time. Parents will contact me with “and the principal said she’s the LEA!” Well, if the district said she’s the LEA representative, she’s the LEA representative.

It can be anyone from a teacher to a principal, or a related service provider.

As long as that person has the authority to allocate district resources, then they are the LEA.

There was no LEA representative 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. It’s disappointing to work up your data and your courage to ask for something big, only to find out that no one at the meeting could approve it.

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 representative 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 from clients and blog followers. 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. It comes up sometimes in the Charter School vs Public School discussions.

Good luck and join us in the Chat Forums if you have questions.

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