Lately, the conversation on my FB page has been about mandated IEP team members and lawful excusals. There are many parents who don’t know their rights when it comes to these issues and that’s the focus of Part 2 for my Blog series “Becoming Autodidactic is the road to successful parent advocacy.”
If you missed Part 1, you may find it here: https://advocates4angels.com/tip-of-the-week/becoming-autodidactic-part-1/
These articles, which I have split up into Part 1, 2, and 3, will cover topics that I get constant questions about and provide you with the legal requirements under IDEA. Remember, IDEA is federal law and therefore, every state must comply.
The best advice I can give you is to understand that powerful parent advocates know what they want, are resourceful and have strong research skills, are committed, disciplined, know their learning style, and use it actively. In other words, becoming autodidactic is the road to successful advocacy for your child.
The meaning of autodidactic is “ Relating to or being a person who learns or has learned a subject with no formal education; self-taught.” The first step in becoming autodidactic is to begin to do your own research and learn how to Google your state law and make a comparison with the IDEA, federal law. Without strong research skills, you’ll have a very difficult time becoming proficient at advocacy unless you take the time to do your own research and not rely on FB posts or what someone tells you is true.
Who are the mandated team members who must attend every IEP meeting?
A General Education Teacher
Whether your child attends general education or not, a Gen Ed teacher is required to attend every IEP meeting. The only way a Gen Ed teacher can lawfully be excused is for the IEP team to provide you an Excusal Form, and you sign it in agreement.
You do not have to sign the excusal form. You have the right to not agree to excuse the Gen Ed teacher. Now you may ask, “If my child doesn’t attend Gen Ed, why would I not agree to excuse the Gen Ed teacher?” Because a Gen Ed teacher can give insight regarding how far behind grade level your child is currently functioning, which will also provide insight on Present Levels and assist in writing appropriate goals.
You can ask the Gen Ed teacher, “What are the expectations for Gen Ed academics?” “What does the curriculum look like for reading, writing, math?” (Make it specific according to your child’s deficits and current goats.).
You can excuse the Gen Ed teacher after this conversation takes place or you can require the Gen Ed teacher to remain for the duration of the meeting if there will be continued discussion that would require the input and expertise of a Gen Ed teacher.
Special Education Teacher
Even if your child does not attend a Special Education class and is placed in General Education, a Special Ed teacher is required to attend every IEP meeting. A Special Education teacher provides support and consultation to the General Education teacher for accommodations, teaching and behavior strategies, and goal writing. A sped teacher is an integral member of the IEP team.
If your child is placed in a special education class, of course your child’s teacher would be required to be there. The only way a Special Education teacher can lawfully be excused is for the IEP team to provide you an Excusal Form, and you sign it in agreement. However, I would never agree to hold a meeting without your child’s teacher in attendance.
Special Education Representative
This is a person who can interpret evaluation results and make funding decisions. Typically, this would be an LEA (Local Education Agency) staff member who is a person who works at the district office in the special education department. However, many times the district will allow the principal to assume this position. The problem with this is that many school site principals don’t have knowledge in special education law. Furthermore, if an issue is presented in which sped funding needs to be allocated, many times the principal will tell parents they will provide a PWN response because they won’t make the call to allocate a big chunk of sped funding. This is contrary to the law that mandates a representative who can make funding decisions to be in attendance. Either way, a district administrator must be in attendance.
What I do when I attend a meeting for my client, is make a request for an LEA sped district admin to be in attendance at the meeting. That way, I know I will save time knowing that an admin who has formal training in IDEA will be there. It also avoids their assumption that I’m not requesting a school site admin. It should be typical protocol to have either the school principal or vice-principal attend an IEP meeting.
I can’t tell you how many times parents tell me their IEPs only have a teacher who facilitates the meeting without an admin present. I highly recommend you never hold an IEP meeting without a district administrator in attendance. Teachers are not versed in sped law. IEP meetings that are facilitated by a teacher only, most likely are IEP meetings in which IDEA and state law are being violated.
Staff who provide related services
If your child receives a service, therapy or special program, the IDEA doesn’t specifically require them as a mandated IEP team member, but believe me, they are. IDEA says, “A public agency must ensure all individuals who are necessary to develop an IEP that will meet the child’s unique needs and ensure the provision of a FAPE to the child, participate in the child’s IEP Team meeting. If the child has an identified need for related services, it would be appropriate for provisions under 34 CFR Section 300.321, governing how related services personnel can attend an IEP Team meeting.”
In order for that IEP team member to be lawfully excused is only when the service provider submits a written report prior to the meeting, outlining your child’s progress on goals and recommendations for that particular service. In addition, prior to the meeting, the team must provide you an Excusal Form and you must sign it in agreement to allow that person to be lawfully excused.
Others with knowledge or special expertise about your child
Parents have the right to invite anyone they choose to your child’s IEP meeting. That person can be someone who provides advocacy support or simply emotional support. That person can be another professional who has expertise in special education or a private provider.
The district can also invite someone who has knowledge or special expertise about your child to the meeting. However, you have the right to be informed prior to the meeting that the district has invited someone who is not a member of the IEP team. The district cannot have a lawyer show up at your meeting unannounced. If you don’t have a lawyer in attendance, the district should not invite an attorney either. If this happens, you have the right to ask the attorney to leave as they are not a member of the IEP team. It is up to you whether you agree to move forward with the meeting with an attorney present, a person who is not a member of the IEP team.
The Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) has repeatedly discouraged school districts from having a school district attorney present. See, Letter to Clinton, 37 IDELR 70 (OSEP 2001) ( ‘”an attorney’s presence would have the potential for creating an adversarial atmosphere that would not necessarily be in the best interests of the child”).
A hearing officer found that the district’s insistence on the participation of its attorneys in the IEP meeting without limitation, made them de facto IEP team members. This constituted a procedural violation of the IDEA, and resulted in forcing the parent to leave the team meeting and thus a denial of FAPE. District of Columbia Pub. Schs., 110 LRP 39063 (SEA DC 06/29/09).
Parents have the right to provide their input on inviting an attorney to the meeting who is not a mandated IEP team member and may have the potential for creating an adversarial atmosphere that would not necessarily be in the best interests of the child.
Of course, parents are the most important person required to be in attendance at an IEP meeting. The only way the district may hold a meeting without you is if they made every effort to contact you and the parent did not respond after multiple attempts by the IEP team. The district is required to show written evidence of their multiple attempts to contact you through Notice of Meeting Forms, emails, letters, and phone calls. If the team holds a meeting without you and cannot show evidence of multiple attempts to contact you through many forms of communication, that district is out of compliance.
School districts like to invite the student to their own IEP meeting starting around Middle School. However, you have the right to disagree with having your child attend an IEP meeting. The only time in which a student is required by law and the district can demand the student attend a meeting is when the student has turned 18 years old. Prior to their 18th birthday, you don’t have to allow your child to attend. Many districts misinform parents about this issue and force parents to have their child attend a meeting. Please know that this is a violation of your parent rights. It is up to you whether it is best for your child to attend a meeting and begin to learn self-advocacy or choose to speak on behalf of your child and without their attendance.
The Excusal Rule Facts that Parents Need to Know
Some school districts may abuse the excusal rule. All districts are subject to the state’s monitoring and enforcement provisions, so be sure to look up your state’s excusal requirements. Nevertheless, a school district that routinely excuses IEP team members from meetings is not in compliance with the law.
Parents must be informed in writing prior to the meeting and agree to excuse a team member. This is typically a specific district excusal form. You have the right to disagree to excuse an IEP team member. You have the right to request all team members be in attendance for the full duration of the IEP meeting.
As soon as you know the team is preparing to schedule a meeting, write an email requesting all IEP team members be in attendance for the duration of the meeting. Let them know up front, that you do not agree to excuse any team member. This will inform the team that you will not excuse a team member which may avoid having to reschedule a meeting to ensure all team members are available and can be in attendance.
Bottom line — schools should not routinely excuse team members. They should things right the first time and not require the team to reschedule the meeting because a team member cannot attend. When you think about it, why would they provide a Notice of Meeting without confirming all IEP team members are available to attend? Reconvening meetings so that all members can participate in the IEP decision-making process is inconvenient for everyone and delays the student’s goals, supports, and services.
The Excusal Rule
The law includes two circumstances that allow a required team member to be excused from a meeting:
- If their area of expertise will not be discussed or modified during the meeting.
- If their area will be discussed, they must submit a written report to the parent and school team members before the meeting.
As a parent, you may agree with the school that the team member does not need to attend because their area of expertise will not be discussed. In addition, you may, together with the school, consent to excuse a team member whose area will be discussed, but they must submit a report prior to the meeting and provide an excusal form. Both parental agreement and consent must always be in writing. I have had many parents and even teachers tell me the district will accept parent’s verbal agreement to excuse a team member. This is in violation of IDEA. The district must provide an excusal form and the parent must sign in agreement in order for that team member to lawfully be excused. 20 U.S.C. 1414(d)(1)(C) and 34 CFR 300.321(e)
Overall, reschedule the meeting if you have to. You may have to step out of your comfort zone to ensure you have all your IEP team members there. But chances are if you stand your ground once or twice, they’ll get the message and see that their tactics aren’t working on you.
Stay tuned for Part 3, where we will discuss topics such as a “Records Request” for your child’s cumulative file and request for Assessment.
Cheering you on always!
If you haven’t joined our Private Special Education Parent Empowerment Facebook Group yet, you should check it out here.
Here’s what parents are saying about the group:
“I take my job of advocating for my sped students very seriously! I love your page Valerie. Thank you for all the great information you provide!” – BJ, Teacher
“I tell parents and grandparents all the time, about her, as a fierce mamma-bear who never gave up. Because it is a story that needs repeating, to empower those who are where she was all those years ago when her daughter was in school. She’s a wealth of information. God bless you, Valerie!” – CA, Parent
Valerie Aprahamian is a special education advocate, IEP strategist, and speaker. She speaks on behalf of parents to protect the rights of neurodiverse children to receive the supports they need in public school.