EC Legal Updates; December 2015

Collaborative IEP Meetings

Take 7 simple steps to boost professionalism at IEP meetings

"An IEP meeting needs to be treated like a professional meeting where people show up prepared and on time and respect each other. You should want to make a good impression on parents just like you would want to make a good impression on Bill Gates," he says.

A business-like approach to IEP meetings can help improve parent relations and set the stage for a productive meeting environment, sources agree.

Staff should view parents and students as customers that you want to please and make comfortable, says Barb Van Haren, director of special ed services at Cooperative Educational Service Agency #1in Pewaukee, Wis.

Bill Elvey, 2015
Dispute Resolution Consultant

Embrace simple IEP meeting 'soft skills' to reap huge rewards with parents

IEP team leaders can foster stronger relationships with parents and pave the way for smoother meetings by taking a few simple steps before, during, and after the meeting process.

These steps include verifying staff members' knowledge about a child's needs, asking parents about changes in their family situation, and making the IEP meeting a more comfortable setting in which to communicate.

The best part is none of these steps requires a great deal of time.

"Especially in larger districts, administrators might think that there is not enough time in the day to give to all of the little things that are actually really important. But it only takes a little time to see huge benefits," says Anne Tafoya, executive director of special education for Albuquerque (N.M.) Public Schools.

Bill Elvey, 2015
Dispute Resolution Consultant

Don't accept 'backslide' in academic performance without investigation

A middle school student with SLD exhibits a significant decline in reading skills early in his sixth-grade year.

The student's IEP states that he is reading at level 7 in the Wilson Reading System. But his new sixth-grade teacher, who is Wilson-certified, recognizes that he is reading only at level 2.

The district decides to offer instruction at the lower level because of the student's struggles with reading fluency and comprehension, but it fails to investigate why the student's performance has declined five skill levels.

  • Rule out teacher error
  • Look beyond school walls
  • Amend student's IEP
Bill Elvey, 2015
Dispute Resolution Consultant

Don't let these evaluation mistakes 'taint' IEP process

Failing to evaluate a student in all areas of suspected disability is a big mistake that can tarnish the IEP process, raising questions as to whether the student's IEP goals, special education services, and educational placement are appropriate. Conducting poor evaluations is similar to improperly obtaining evidence during an investigation, says Ryan L. Everhart, a school attorney withHodgson Russ LLP in Buffalo, N.Y. "If evidence is obtained improperly, then it is poisoned, and that poison is going to taint the investigation."

The same idea applies to evaluations and IEPs, Everhart says. "If you don't conduct good evaluations, you're going to taint the whole IEP process from that point forward," he says. "Everything you do from that point on is questionable."

Avoid these common pitfalls:

  • Failing to evaluate in all areas
  • Neglecting to ask for help with evaluations
  • Dismissing importance of in-school observations
  • Not reviewing evaluations in their entirety
Do this:
  • Assess all areas of suspected disability
  • Consider all data
  • Eliminate environmental factors
  • Use your clinical or professional opinion
Bill Elvey, 2015
Dispute Resolution Consultant

Clearly outline frequency, duration of services in students' IEPs

The U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Pennsylvania recently denied a private tuition reimbursement request by the parents of a first-grader with speech apraxia and a brain malformation. Rachel G. v. Downington Area Sch. Dist., 57 IDELR 4 (E.D. Pa. 2011).

The parents in this case claimed that the private school offered more minutes of individual speech therapy and classroom speech instruction a week than the public school. They also contended that the lack of specificity in their child's IEP meant their child would receive only group therapy in the public placement. The district testified that it would offer a combination of group and individual therapy.

The district satisfied IDEA requirements by planning a combination of individual speech therapy and a language-rich classroom environment to target the child's deficits, the court held.

The ruling shows a district doesn't have to offer a particular amount or type of related services as long as what it offers addresses the child's needs and is calculated to confer meaningful benefit in the student's areas of deficit.

  • Spell out services to be provided
  • Explain how child's needs will be met in proposed placement
  • Ensure parents understand their child's IEP
Bill Elvey, 2015
Dispute Resolution Consultant