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Special Ed IEP Meetings and IEP Plans

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Special Ed IEP Meetings and IEP Plans

Why don’t school IEP meeting teams listen and agree when parents speak at IEP (Individualized Education Program) team meetings?

Why do IEP plans reflect what school administrators want and not what parents want?

Does special education eligibility mean that your child will be segregated or will be discriminated against in the school?

Why do school IEP team members act as if parents are crazy and don’t understand what their children need?

Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) are for parents who have children with learning problems.  A child who is IEP eligible or special education eligible has many procedural safeguards and rights that other children do not have in the school.

Parents are experts about their own children and almost always know what is best for their children.  IEP plans are supposed to provide for all the resources that a child with a learning problem needs to succeed in school.

Politicians run school districts.  Special education students’ families do not belong to the special interest groups that elect school board members.  School boards intentionally give limited budgets for special education to the school administrators.

School administrators get to keep their jobs, pay their mortgages and feed their families if they say no to parents at IEP team meetings.  There is a person with budget responsibility at every IEP team meeting.  The school administrators will retaliate against teachers and therapists if they speak up at IEP team meetings.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA) is a civil rights and education law for children with learning disabilities.  It was written to protect children from school districts.  It requires that school districts provide a free appropriate public education (FAPE) in the least restrictive environment for children with learning problems.

Children with learning disabilities must be treated equally and receive benefit from their education.  This includes children receiving significant additional resources so that they can learn as much as other typical children.  These are civil rights, plain and simple.

Unlike other civil rights laws, the IDEA requires that parents enforce their children’s rights.  No government agency is going to come and help parents and special needs children get necessary resources for learning from the school district.

The IDEA requires that school districts spend whatever they have to provide appropriate resources for special needs children.  This is a strange situation where local school board politics overrides both the United States Congress and the California State Legislature regarding special education.

Most special-needs parents are told “no” when parents ask for resources for their children at IEP team meetings.  One parent out of 200 parents gets an attorney and enforces their child’s rights.

There are no monetary damages available to parents who are illegally denied their children’s rights and the school district only has to give the assertive parent what the parent’s child was entitled to in the first place.  School districts have little downside risk of saying “no” to parents.

Advocates and attorneys are generally quite expensive.  There are four ways to hire advocates and attorneys.

  1. By The Hour: paying attorneys and lawyers by the hour is the most common way of hiring attorneys and advocates.
    1. Lawyers usually charge between $200 and $400 per hour.
    2. Nonlawyer advocates usually charge $75 to $150 per hour.
    3. Lawyers and advocates charge for transportation time, telephone calls, research, letter writing, and attending meetings at the going hourly rate.
    4. Lawyers often charge a retainer of $3000-$5000 to start, $25,000 to go to due process, and $100,000-$200,000 to appeal to a federal District Court.  School districts count on parents going broke before the parents can win a significant victory.
    5. By the hour lawyers usually serve the upper-middle-class parents and children.
    6. Free Lawyers: not-for-profit agencies such as Disability Rights provide free consultations and advice to parents.  Occasionally, they even provide legal assistance with letter writing and due process actions.  The resources of these not-for-profit agencies are very limited and generally difficult to obtain for middle-class families who have parents with jobs.  Free lawyers generally serve the very poor parents and children.
    7. Free Advisers: not-for-profit agencies such as Team Advocates for Special Kids (TASK) provide free instruction as to parents’ rights and procedural safeguards.  Generally, these free advisers are not allowed to teach parents how to initiate Due Process Requests and how to litigate because these organizations receive their funding in whole or in part from state agencies.  These groups are very good for explaining and helping parents understand their rights with regard to special needs children.  Free advisers generally serve all social economic groups.  Will
    8. Flat Fee: Some groups and law firms charge an annual flat fee to represent parents with special needs children.  These charges typically charge parents between $1,800 and $3,800 per year and the law firms receive additional monies from the school district if the parents win at a Due Process Request hearing.

Flat fee arrangements include everything in the annual fee such as attending multiple IEP team meetings with parents, handling IEP paperwork and letter writing, transportation costs, incidental filing fees, filing for and attending Due Process Requests hearings, and appeals to federal courts.

Flat fee groups serve the middle-class working parents and their children.  These groups are sometimes known as low bono (low-cost) instead of pro bono (free).

Parents often make cost-benefit analyses of how much to spend for special education representation.  If a parent can spend $2,500 per year for representation so that their special needs child can receive $30,000 to $40,000 per year worth of educational services from the public school system, then it may be worthwhile to obtain representation.

The alternative is for caring parents to put their children in private schools and pay $20,000-$40,000 a year for their child’s necessary services or to pay $8,000-$15,000 for private services such as tutors, reading programs, ABA therapists, speech pathologists, occupational therapists, etc.  These alternatives often create a detrimental resource drain on the family.

When a child only requires a little more therapy, such as speech therapy, it may be wiser to pay for the private speech therapy or to use personal insurance.

The next time you are at an IEP team meeting, make sure you can identify who in the room is the school district’s budget person.  Their nod or headshake will determine whether your child’s IEP team OKs what your child needs to receive meaningful educational benefit or whether your child is denied necessary educational services.

Know your rights by educating yourself at organizations like the free Team Advocates for Special Kids.

If your school district refuses to provide the resources that your special needs child requires, then consider that you and your child may need attorney representation will at the next IEP team meeting.

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