About a month ago I posted a blog about my son’s upcoming transition IEP meeting. He will be graduating from elementary school this year and moving to middle school in the fall. My husband and I had concerns about our neighborhood middle school but we were told by our IEP Team, they did not have the authority to discuss alternative school options only alternative classroom types. We disagreed and sent a letter to the School District. You can find a sanitized copy of that letter here. Many of you commented how this is an invalid IEP if there is no one at the IEP meeting that has the authority to bind the District. You are correct but how do you prove that.
At the same time we sent the letter, we also opened a complaint with the School District’s Parent Complaint Unit. We really didn’t expect anything to come from it but we wanted to cover all of our bases prior to filing for due process. Over the last month both the Parent Complaint Unit and my Son’s current school started communicating and emailing with the District about my Son’s upcoming IEP. I know this because they both told me. The Parent Complaint Unit would call me every few days and ask me if I had heard from the School District yet. Every time I said no, they were surprised because they had communication from the School District acknowledging our concerns and that the School District would call us.
This went on for about a month and the day of my son’s IEP was fast approaching. The day prior to his meeting I received another call from the Parent Complaint Unit asking again if the School District had called me. When I said no, they casually mentioned that they had been documenting all of their communication with the School District and that they were as frustrated as me. That same day the School told me they tried their best and had been communicating with the School District but were told they could not offer anything other than the neighborhood school. This was about 2:30 the day before my son’s IEP.
Then I had an epiphany, I remembered an article I had read by Special Education Attorney Jennifer Laviano’s called Ask for the Emails in it she says:
Over the years in my special education law practice in Connecticut, I have modified my FERPA request to account for situations I’ve encountered in litigation. So, a few years ago, I added the words “including ALL EMAILS” to my FERPA request.
I went home and drafted a letter requesting all emails that identified my son between the School District, the School and the Parent Complaint Unit. I knew they had been emailing and documenting their responses. I figured if nothing else it would be good to have these documents for our due process complaint. I set up a meeting with a Special Education Attorney for immediately after the IEP meeting knowing that the School District had already predetermined my son’s placement prior to the IEP. It’s important to note; the State Department of Education in California holds the position that emails are only considered educational records if those emails are printed and placed in the Student’s file or maintained somewhere. You need to check your own State Law on when and how emails will be considered educational records.
About 2 hours after I sent the letter requesting the emails, I received a call from a very senior person in the School District. She explained that I would be receiving all of the notes and logs from the Parent Complaint Unit but that all other emails had been deleted immediately after sending, so those emails were not considered part of my son’s educational records. We went on to have a 30 minute conversation regarding my concerns. She agreed that other School options could be part of the discussion at the IEP the next morning and that she would personally call the School to let them know. She went on to explain that in order for the IEP team to move my son from his neighborhood school to an alternative school, the entire IEP team would need to agree with the decision. In addition, the rationale for the alternative placement would need to be documented in the IEP. I assured her that as long as it was allowed to be part of the discussion, I would be happy.
The next morning when we arrived at the IEP the School District had sent a representative to help facilitate the discussion and document the rationale if that was the team’s decision. We ended up having a wonderful, collaborative IEP Team meeting. The School District representative even added value and suggested a couple of new goals. Ultimately, the entire team decided his neighborhood school was not the appropriate educational placement and we came up with an appropriate alternative.
I obviously canceled my meeting with the Special Education Attorney to file for due process. I still have not seen exactly what is contained in the notes and logs by the Parent Complaint Unit. They have 5 days to get it to me, but whatever is in there it was enough to free the IEP Team up to do the appropriate thing. I do wonder what was in the emails that were immediately deleted after being sent and not part of my son’s educational records but I guess I will never know that. So next time you request your child’s educational records make sure to ask for the emails, you never know what you are going to find.