A Legal Victory For Special Needs Families
Some details of the story might sound familiar: A kid with special needs was due for an IEP. His father, Doug, scheduled and rescheduled the meeting several times. We’ve all been there, right? Juggling our work and life responsibilities with our children’s needs isn’t easy.
Here’s a detail of the story that will shock you: On the morning of the scheduled IEP, Doug emailed the school’s special education coordinator, Kaleo Waiau, to say he couldn’t make the meeting because he was sick. When Waiau suggested other dates before the review deadline for the IEP, the father said he couldn’t commit at the time.
They went ahead and had the IEP meeting without any parent present.
And they changed this boy’s school from a private placement to a public one.
I’ve heard a lot of different IEP stories over the years, mostly ones about schools refusing to grant services and parents having to fight for them. I have never heard of a parent being left out of a meeting. Never .
The school tried to make up for it by scheduling a second IEP meeting after the first had been held. The father attended, and made no changes—most likely because he knew he’d be fighting a legal battle to overturn the original IEP.
As detailed on Wrightslaw, the father requested a due process hearing against the State of Hawaii Department of Education, where they live. He lost. He appealed to the U.S. District Court. They upheld the hearing. He appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit—which reversed the decision. As the Court explained, “Under the circumstances of this case, the Department’s decision to prioritize strict deadline compliance over parental participation was clearly not reasonable.”
I am not un-empathetic to the challenges special ed coordinators face. This one testified that he had previously asked “13 people on three separate occasions to change their schedules and cancel other commitments.” Utlimately, though, the purpose of the IEP meeting is deciding what the best course of education action is for a child. And a parent absolutely needs to participate in that plan.
Some key legal bottom lines here:
• Even if a parent’s delay in scheduling an IEP meeting means it extends past the deadline, a school cannot deny a student a fair public education.
• A school cannot schedule an IEP without a parent and then try to make up for it by scheduling a second one with that parent present.
• If there are scheduling challenges for an IEP meeting, priority is given to the parent. In case you ever want to cite the law, it clearly states: “The attendance of [the]…parent, must take priority over other members’ attendance…an agency cannot exclude a parent from an IEP meeting in order to prioritize its representatives’ schedules.”
You can read the full decision here.
I’m sorry this father had to go through this; I am eternally grateful to him for establishing a precedent.
From my other blog:
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Tags: Doug C. v. Hawaii, health, special ed, Special needs | Categories: Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Children With Special Needs, Disability, Down Syndrome, Must Read, SPD, Special Needs, Special Needs Parenting, To The Max