Pete Wright, the Godfather of Special Education law, has often been quoted saying, “Unless you are prepared to remove your child from public school forever, you need to view your relationship with the school as a marriage without the possibility of divorce.” While this may be true regarding the School relationship, this isn’t the case for individual members of the IEP Team. IEP Team members change frequently and it’s amazing how adding or removing one person from the IEP Team can make a huge difference in the quality and implementation of an IEP. While the Parents are not normally in control of the IEP team members from the School, there are methods the Parents can use to add or remove members.
When my son was in the first grade his IEP eligibility was Speech and Language Impairment due to his Apraxia of Speech. At his annual review the Speech Language Pathologist (SLP) from the School recommended exiting him from his IEP saying his deficits no longer qualified him for services. My wife and I respectfully disagreed and requested an Independent Education Evaluation (IEE) at public expense. The IEE results showed he qualified for speech and needed 2 hours a week of one on one therapy. We used the results of the IEE to negotiate a settlement agreement at mediation. In the settlement agreement, we included a clause which removed the current School SLP from working with him. Why did we do this? Two reasons, 1) she often didn’t show up and complained of having too many students to service and, 2) we didn’t want an SLP to work with our child if she didn’t think he had a need. Forcing a therapist or teacher to service a child they don’t think has a need is useless. The IEP is only as good as the people that implement it.
In June, I attended an IEP for a child with a learning disability in a general education classroom. Her Mom felt she needed an Aide to access the curriculum because she wasn’t finishing her class work and was often off-task. The Teacher at the IEP meeting disagreed even though she had sent home a stack of unfinished class work. Due to the disagreement, we requested a Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA) to be performed by a District Behavior Intervention Case Manager (BICM). While the IEP team members argued against the FBA they ultimately agreed. Since it was the end of the School year the FBA was performed at the beginning of the subsequent school year. When the IEP was held to review the FBA we now had two new IEP Team members, 1) The BICM, and 2) a new General Education Teacher. The FBA validated all of Mom’s concerns regarding off-task behavior and recommended a one-on-one Aide to implement a Behavior Support Plan (BSP). Not only did adding the BICM change the whole dynamic of the IEP Team, the new General Education Teacher also confirmed the off task behavior as well. This IEP was a wonderful collaborative effort.
In June, I also attended a transition IEP for a child turning three and moving into a public pre-school program. The child had high functioning autism but the school district only had one pre-school class that incorporated all levels of disabilities. This was not the appropriate placement for this child. Since it was a small school district we were able to invite the Special Education Director into the IEP and he agreed to split the pre-school class into a high functioning class and a separate moderate to severe class. This could not have happened without adding the Special Education Director to the team.
Some of the parental rights under IDEA include inviting members to join the IEP team, to request assessments, to disagree with a School offer and to file for Due Process. As you can see from the above examples, exercising these rights can have a profound effect on the dynamics of an IEP Team and ultimately the success of that underlying IEP. The key is understanding how and when to exercise your rights. If done properly, the relationship with the School can remain intact while simultaneously writing an appropriate IEP.