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Resolving Parent-School Disputes

Resolving Parent-School Disputes

What follows is typical advice given on many special education websites to parents of children with special needs, contrasted with the reality of the special education system in California.

1. If a parent does not agree with his or her child’s IEP, then the parent should not sign the IEP document.

This can be a good approach if the parent plans to do something about the inadequate IEP.

When a parent does not sign his or her child’s latest IEP document, then the school district will implement the last agreed IEP (i.e., keep the old one going) and/or initiate a request for due process hearing against the parent. If the child’s last agreed IEP is better than the new one offered by the school district, then at least the parent has the better IEP in effect while the parent deals with the school district.

The school district often initiates a request for due process hearing to intimidate the parent and to force the parent to consent to an IEP that the parent believes is inadequate for his or her child.

Sometimes the school district tells the parent that the district will not put in place any services for the child until the parent signs. The school district may not legally withhold services because the parent has refused to consent to IEP offered by the district.

2. Do not become emotional at the IEP team meetings, do not tell the IEP team members what you really think of their behavior, and do not accuse the IEP team members of failing to educate your child. Parents are going to have long-term relationships with their school district and it is best to be collaborative and nonconfrontational at all times at the IEP team meeting.

When parents advocate for their children they are often emotional; parents are often forthright with the IEP team members and parents often point out when their children are not adequately learning.

Most parents are ill equipped to advocate publicly for their children at IEP team meetings. Parents are pitted against the school district’s team of educational experts who have determined what they are going to offer to the parents at a prior meeting of just the school district’s members of the IEP team. The school district’s members of the IEP team are prepared, with great expertise and sophisticated arguments, to make the parents’ requests seem unnecessary, out-of-line and inappropriate. School districts have budgets and parents just do not understand the reality of what administrators must do to keep their jobs.

3. By learning all about special education, a parent may provide relevant facts and persuade his or her child’s IEP team to provide the necessary resources for his or her child. 

There is a school district official with responsibility for the budget at each IEP team meeting; the school district official does not care about the parent’s facts, the parent’s logic, or the child’s needs. The school district officials care about the school district officials’ budget. The school district officials care about their budget because they want to keep their job, pay their mortgage, and feed their kids. It is not personal; it is just business as usual for the school district.

4. Parents should get an expensive outside evaluation by an educational expert so that parents can persuade their child’s IEP team that their child really does need the resources that the parents are requesting for their child. 

The school district official in charge of the budget at the IEP team meeting must listen to the parents’ outside educational expert give the independent educational report at the IEP team meeting. The school district official in charge of the budget must “consider” the independent educational report. The school district official in charge of the budget is then free to say ‘no’ to the parents’ request for resources for the parents’ child.

Parents are often very confused by this process because they have, in good faith, done everything that they could to reasonably persuade their child’s IEP team and after spending a great deal of money have almost nothing to show for their efforts.

5. Parents should make the school district put everything in the IEP team meeting notes relevant to documenting their requests and the factual evidence that the parents have presented to the IEP team. 

This is great advice, except that nobody ever tells the parent how to make the school district put anything in the IEP team meeting notes. The reality is that the school district creates the notes and may do whatever it wishes with regard to those notes (great fiction at times). The parent may provide his or her own version of what occurred and ask the school district to attach the parent’s version to the IEP. The law requires that the parent’s notes or addendum be attached to the IEP document; however, the parent’s notes have no legal bearing on what the school district offers in the IEP and do not alter the terms of offered IEP.

6. Parents should work with the IEP team to arrive at consensus. 

The school district’s person responsible for the budget is often willing to negotiate a little bit to bring closure to an IEP team meeting and to get parents’ consent to an IEP. If parents accept the meager offering from the school district’s person responsible for the budget, then parents often feel that they have succeeded to some degree. Only approximately one in 200 parents gets an attorney to enforce their child’s rights. The school district’s person responsible for the budget usually keeps the school district’s offer to an absolute minimum. The school district person with the budget will offer collaborative, consultation, or group services to your child because, with those types of services, no direct services are actually provided to the child. No direct services or one-on-one services means no increase in expenditures for the school district and the school district’s person responsible for the budget stays on-budget.

7. Parents have rights at IEP team meetings and the school district must observe the parents’ rights. 

School districts routinely eviscerate or do not observe parents’ rights at IEP team meetings. School districts’ creation of poorly unmeasurable goals, predetermination of minimal services, and student placement in non-performing classrooms are all evidence that parents’ rights have not been observed or implemented during IEP team meetings.

School districts are very clever about how they meet their budgets and justify what they offer to parents. Administrators constantly go to classes and learn techniques about how to present IEP’s to parents so that parents will not receive necessary resources for their children.

Special education administrators do not go to conferences to learn about how to increase services for special needs students, but rather how to legally not provide resources to children. (If you do not believe this statement, then just attend one of these conferences.) IEP advocates often see a new technique for avoiding providing necessary services to students implemented simultaneously across several school districts.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEA) requires that parents enforce parents’ rights and their children’s rights. Most parents do not even know that no federal or state agency is coming to help them and that each parent has the duty to enforce his or her child’s rights.

Most parents are not capable of personally enforcing their IDEA rights. If a child needed a medical operation to be healthy, then a parent would take his or her child to a doctor. If a child needs special education to receive educational benefit, then a parent should take his or her child to a special education law firm.

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