The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is excruciatingly SLOW, but then again I can’t think of any Federal law that acts quickly!!! The problem is IDEA was written to make sure things like assessments and services were done accurately and with much thought but many School Districts are breaking the spirit of the law. They are using the vague language of the law to delay parents from getting the help their child needs to receive a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). Delay is defined as: To cause to be later or slower than expected or desired or to act or move slowly by putting off an action or a decision. I can’t go more than two hours without receiving a call from a frustrated parent who either, 1) can’t get their child assessed for special education, or 2) can’t get the proper amount of services in their child’s IEP, or 3) can’t get the proper amount of support in their child’s IEP. The number one reason for these parents frustration is the delay tactics that the school district’s use.
Let’s walk through an extensive example of how I have seen these delay tactics used. A sweet girl starts second grade and the Teacher notices in the first month of school that she seems to be way behind in almost every subject. The Teacher pulls the Mother aside after school and in the shadow of darkness and suggests that Mom open an Individualized Education Program (IEP) for her daughter but, “You never heard this from me”. That’s right; it is often frowned upon by the School Administration for Teachers to suggest an assessment for an IEP. I have even heard some Teachers “randomly” bumping into the Mother at a grocery store to have this conversation. Mom, who has never heard of an IEP goes into the office and verbally requests that her Daughter be tested for an IEP. Not knowing any better, Mom does not put the request in writing and now waits to hear back. After a few weeks the Assistant Principal calls Mom and without ever using the word IEP says that she heard that there was a concern over her daughter’s academics and the school has many wonderful intervention programs that might help. After a discussion, the Assistant Principal tells Mom that they will be putting her daughter into the District’s Response to Intervention (RTI) Program.
After a couple of Months of RTI, it’s almost Winter break, and Mom is frustrated that her daughter is not getting any better. She goes online and starts researching about Special Education and IEPs. She realizes that her daughter was never tested for special education and this time writes a letter to the Assistant Principal requesting her daughter be tested for an IEP. She receives a call from the Assistant Principal that explains that RTI must be performed prior to assessing a child for special education and that she was only following protocol. By the way, this delay tactic was being used so often by School Districts that the Office of Special Education Programs for the United States had to write a memo telling the Schools to cut it out. The Assistant Principal agrees to assess her daughter for Special Education but tells Mom that since they are so close to Winter Break they can’t get an assessment plan out to her until January when everyone comes back from vacation.
After Winter Break, a couple more weeks pass and an assessment plan is finally sent home. Mom signs the assessment plan and now has to wait 60 days for the School to administer the assessments and hold the IEP. The middle of March rolls around and Mom receives an IEP meeting notice on a date and time that doesn’t work for her. She calls the school to change the date and is told that this is the only available date this month and if she can’t make it they will need to push the meeting back to April. Although the IEP meeting needs to be held at a mutually agreeable time and place for the parents and still meet all of the timelines the School convinces the Mom that this is the only other date that works.
The IEP meeting is finally held 6 months after Mom put the original request in for an IEP assessment. This is double the 90 days it should have taken to generate the assessment plan, sign the assessment, perform the assessments and hold the meeting. At this meeting, her daughter is found eligible for Special Education under the category of Specific Learning Disability. Mom is relieved until they get to the amount of services offered. The School thinks all her daughter needs is a little extra help and offers one hour per week with the Resource Specialist in a small group setting. Although Mom doesn’t think this is enough, the Assistant Principal convinces her to give it a try. The Assistant Principal says, "We can always make changes later if it’s not working." Mom reluctantly agrees and her daughter starts her IEP. The school year ends with no improvement but Mom is assured by the Assistant Principal that she just needs to give it time.
Mom spends some more time over the summer doing additional research and is now beyond frustrated. When the new school year begins she requests a new IEP be held. A new IEP is now held 30 days after this request. A full year has now gone by with no improvement and things have actually become progressively worse. At this new IEP the staff agrees that something needs to be changed in the IEP but they think additional assessments need to be done first, so let’s adjourn the IEP. Between assessment plans, performing assessments, scheduling conflicts and winter break the new IEP is finally held in January. At this IEP, the Assistant Principal offers to increase the time with the resource specialist from one hour per week to two hours per week. Mom has finally had it and is livid. She tells the Assistant Principal that she disagrees with the IEP and the Assistant Principal explains that they have a wonderful Informal Dispute Resolution (IDR) process and that she has to go through this process before she files for Due Process. This is incorrect, and Mom actually had the right to file for Due Process at any point along the way.
The IDR process takes another month or so and nothing gets worked out. Mom finally hires a Special Education Attorney and files for Due Process a full 20 months after her initial request for her daughter to be assessed for Special Education. At this point, Due Process will take another 75 days and summer will be upon us once again bringing the grand total up to 2 full years. The disagreement with the School is worked out in mediation and a proper amount of services are offered just about the time this sweet little girl is starting the fourth grade.
Phew, that was a long example but I wanted to make sure I outlined many of the places along the way a School can delay an IEP if they are so inclined. This is why it is so crucial for parents to learn about IDEA and their rights so they can become familiar with these delay tactics and put a stop to them. The process is long enough already, without the delay tactics used by many School Districts. You must be vigilant and if you don’t think you can do it on your own, think about hiring an experienced Special Education Advocate or Attorney to help you on your way. Think about it as an investment in your child’s future.