Special Education Procedural Safeguards were placed into the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) to help school districts and parents work together for the common benefit of educating children with special needs. Unfortunately, this does not always happen.
Recently I asked several parents of children with special needs what the most frustrating thing about IEPs was for them. The most common themes in their answers fell into two main categories:
- schools don’t include their (the parents) input in creating the IEP
- schools don’t follow through with the program laid out in the IEP
Both of the frustrations raised by the parents I polled can be addressed through looking more closely at the procedural safeguards laid out in IDEA.
In regards to the first issue of parental input, there are several important points that parents need to understand. First, you are a member of the IEP Team and your opinion and insight should be seriously considered during the development of the IEP. Considered does not mean that they have to implement everything you want or suggest but you should feel like you are being listened to and that your suggestions are being incorporated into the goals and objectives and/or accommodations. Second, when you walk into an IEP meeting the document that the school places in front of you is a “working document”, which means that things can be changed, added or deleted. If the school ever tells you they have designed the IEP without your input, they are not following the process correctly. Third, if you are not in agreement with the IEP at the end of the meeting or you need more time to review the IEP before signing, you do not have to sign that you agree to the program. You may request to take a copy of the working document home to read more thoroughly. Fourth, it is important for parents to understand that their child is entitled to a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). The key word in this acronym is “appropriate”. Appropriate does not mean the best, the most popular or even the most scientifically sound. School districts are not required to provide your child with a certain type of therapy or use a certain curriculum because it is what you or even an expert thinks is what is best.
One of the procedural safeguards afford to you is that you have the right to request an independent educational evaluation of your child if you disagree with the evaluations the school district has conducted. If you feel that the evaluations conducted by the school district were not valid or reliable or missed the mark completely, it is your right to request that another independent evaluation be conducted at the school districts expense. In order for an independent evaluation to be granted, you have to have a good argument for why the one(s) conducted by the school were not adequate.
In regards to the second frustration about school districts not following through on IEPs, this is a significant compliance issue. In the USA, an IEP is a legal document based on federal and state laws. Once an IEP has been developed and signed by the parent, the program is to begin on the date indicated on the IEP. The reason for benchmarks and measurable objectives in the IEP are so that progress can be quantified through whatever form of documentation is indicated on the IEP. If you believe that certain parts of the IEP are not being followed through upon, another procedural safeguard afforded to you is that you have the right to inspect and review any of your child’s educational records. You have the right to ask for a review of any, and all, records; including teacher notes and data, specialists’ documentation of services delivered and data and email communication regarding your child.
If you feel like there has been a violation of any procedural safeguards, it is best practice to start a discussion with your child’s case manager to see if the issues can be resolved. It is in everyone’s best interest to work together as a team, but unfortunately, this does not always occur. If you do not feel the issues are resolved promptly with the case manager, write a letter to the Principal and the Director of Special Education listing your concerns and the steps you have followed in an attempt to get them resolved. You may ask for an IEP meeting to be set up to address the issues with the administrator present for the meeting. If all of this fails, another procedural safeguard granted to you is that you or the school district has a right to file a due process claim and a right to a hearing if there are disagreements regarding the IEP or IEP process. The school district should give you a Procedural Safeguards pamphlet for your state upon signing for an initial evaluation and once a year thereafter. If you do not have one in your possession, you may ask the case manager for one. The pamphlet will contain information about who to contact if you feel the need to file a due process and request mediation and/or a hearing.