EC Legal Updates

January 2016: DPI, B. Elvey

Strengthen parental involvement in transition planning process

Ideally, parents are engaged in every facet of their child's education and postsecondary transition planning. They're actively involved in the student's IEP team and making decisions with the best perspective of anyone involved -- they know their child best.

Your teams, however, may encounter parents who are not responsive or participatory in the planning process. It could be due to a lack of interest, a busy work schedule, issues at home, or simply because they feel intimidated.

Get parents better involved in their child's transition planning by taking some of these suggestions into account:

1. Assuage their fears "Schools are very busy places, and it's really important to make sure that parents feel they have the undivided attention of all school team members during meeting[s]," said Carol Kosnitsky, a special education consultant in Penacook, N.H

2. Get them in the know

3. Offer resources, training, and support. One of the main challenges in transition planning, said Louis Ruccolo, supervisor of Exceptional Student Education and Support Services for Broward County (Fla.) Public Schools, is communicating to parents and students all of the resources available to them. "It's about helping students become self-determined advocates," he said.

4. Teach the importance of postsecondary transition.

CASE FILE: District errs by holding IEP meeting without parent Case name: Southfield Pub. Sch. Dist., 115 LRP 31270 (SEA MI 06/19/15). Ruling: The Michigan Education Department concluded that a district violated 34 CFR 300.322 (a) by proceeding with an IEP meeting without the parent being present. What it means: Although districts may hold IEP meetings without parents in attendance, they should be prepared to demonstrate that they made efforts to secure the parent's participation. In such cases, keeping detailed records of their attempts to arrange a mutually agreeable time and place, such as by documenting telephone or in-person conversations, is crucial.

Timely address students' unexcused absences

A student may skip school because he wants to avoid stressful classes or social pressures. Or he may have to miss school because of troubles at home that are out of his control.

Regardless of the reason, don't ignore when a student begins accumulating unexcused absences or you may violate your child find obligations. You may also deny a student already identified with a disability FAPE. Take early action using general and special education avenues to uncover why a student misses school and how your district and the student's parents can collaborate to ensure he can benefit from his education without lengthy setbacks.

Mind your manners: Social media enables parents to broadcast bad behavior

"Act as if your conversations with parents -- whether they occur in person, over the phone, or via email -- are going to show up on the morning news tomorrow"

"With social media use ever-expanding, everyone must be careful and prudent in what is said, emailed, posted, or tweeted. It all becomes public quickly and is accessible and subject to interpretation or judgment," said Will Gordillo, director of special education for Miami-Dade Public Schools in Florida.

Be careful what you write in email. Don't assume that your words are more protected in an email than in a face-to-face conversation that may be recorded

Don't wait for red-flag warning that student is at risk of dropping out

1. Learn to spot the warning signs. If a student with a disability is having a hard time keeping up in class, he may fall behind and express his frustration through aggressive or disruptive behaviors, or he may skip school.

"A lot of kids would rather act out than have it disclosed that they can't read," said Loujeania Bost, co-director of the former National Technical Assistance Center at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte.

2. Cultivate feelings of inclusion, connection

3. Fine-tune student's IEP. It's mandatory that a student's IEP is updated once a year; however, you can make changes to it as needs arise.

"If those signs of dropout risk emerge ... call an IEP meeting and decide what support and services can [be] provided based on this need.

4. Foster family engagement. According to Manning, if school administrators support stronger family involvement, it will have a positive impact on student progress. But this isn't always easy to achieve with parents of children with disabilities, she said.

Bullying and EC

Advocates for students recognize bullying and other mistreatment of children with disabilities as a pervasive problem, and a number of writers have suggested approaches to address it (the list includes me; see Disability Harassment in the Public Schools, 43 Wm. & Mary L. Rev. 1079 (2002)). The Second Circuit’s recognition that ignoring parents’ complaints about bullying denies a child appropriate education is a major development towards effective legal remedies. It is my view, however, that claims for compensatory damages would in most cases be a more effective deterrent than the more limited tuition reimbursement remedy available under IDEA. Further judicial development of claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act are the next step to dealing with the problem.