Every teacher is a special education teacher. From attending Individual Education Program (“IEP”) meetings to differentiating instruction to meet the needs of students, every teacher plays some role in educating special needs students.
The Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (“IDEA”) is a federal law that guarantees that students with disabilities receive a free and appropriate education. An important component of IDEA is the IEP meeting. The IEP meeting must be held once a year by the IEP team, which consists of the parent or guardian, teachers, administrators, therapists, and other invited parties. The purpose is for the team to plan a specialized education program tailored to the student’s needs.
Although teachers and administrators can come together before the IEP meeting to discuss possible placement options, they cannot determine before the meeting the student’s final services for the year. This is called predetermination and it is illegal under the IDEA.
Predetermination is illegal because it forces the parent or guardian out of the IEP process. Parents are very important members of the IEP team and have a lot of information to contribute to the meeting. When a school district predetermines the student’s placement before the meeting, it effectively cuts the parents out of the process and may be requiring services that are not appropriate for the student.
Imagine the following scenario:
Two parents of an autistic child attend an IEP meeting at the end of Year 1. The school district decided that the appropriate placement for the student was in a full-time autism program. The parents disagreed, refused to sign the IEP, and filed a due process request.
At subsequent IEP meetings for Years 2 and 3, the same result occurred. The district decided that the appropriate placement was in a full-time autism program and the parents disagreed.
An Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) heard the case and ruled that the district did in fact provide a free and appropriate public education. The parents filed a complaint in federal court to challenge the ALJ’s decision.
A federal district court disagreed with the ALJ’s decision and overruled it. The school district did not provide a free and appropriate education because it did not involve the parents in determining a proper placement. After hearing the parents’ dissent from the district’s placement decision, the district did not consider any alternative placements for the autistic child. It did not take the parents’ input into consideration. Therefore, the district violated the student’s rights under the IDEA.
The above scenario is based on an actual case. D.B. v. Gloucester Township School District, 751 F.Supp.2d 764 (D.N.J. 2010).
So, what does this mean for you? Can you not discuss a student’s placement with your colleagues before the IEP meeting?
You can discuss possible placement options with your team of teachers before the meeting. This may be necessary so that everyone can be on the same page for the meeting. What you cannot do is already determine a student’s placement. An IEP team must work together to ensure that the placement is proper. That cannot occur if the parent or guardian is left out of the process.
Have you ever been asked to make substantial placement decisions without the parent?