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Steven A. Greenburg, Education Law
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Common School Mistakes

10 Most Common Mistakes: What Schools Can Do to Avoid Parent Requests for Due Process Hearings

1. Procedural Safeguards & Parents' Rights: A lost opportunity if merely distributed.

The district has carefully drafted IDEA/§ 504 Procedural Safeguards & Parent's Rights and distributes them to parents at IEP meetings.

Make sure that the IEP Team does the following:

  • Explain local Rules and Procedures (if any);
  • Clear up misperceptions caused by what parents heard through the grapevine;
  • Includes parents as full members of the IEP team.

Well-drafted Procedural Safeguards & Parents' Rights are a valuable resource that can help school districts defeat prior written notice claims and "the school lulled me to complacency" claims. Indicate on the IEP form that the parents received the parents' rights form, not that they understand them. Parents must read the entire Parents' Rights manual after the meeting, when they have sufficient time.

Caveat: Don't give legal advice. Refer complicated legal questions to the parents' advocate or attorney. If you don't know the answer - say so.

2. Unintentionally Excluding Parents As Full Members of the IEP team.

Teachers, school psychologists and other team members dislike parent challenges to their opinions and conclusions. Parents have the right to ask questions so they understand the significance of complex testing protocols, eligibility criteria, services and accommodations. If they don't understand or feel patronized, they should ask questions during the meeting. Questions to the advocate or attorney should be in private, out of the IEP Meeting room.

Parents are unfamiliar with the acronyms that schools use every day. Law requires explaining and discussing issues in language that is understandable to the parents.

See IDEA § 1414; IDEA Regulations (Part 300) 300.501.

3. Be familiar with the IEP documents. Prepare questions in advance and know what result you want to achieve, if possible. Parents should not agree to anything they don't understand. The IEP forms can be reviewed later and discussed privately with the advocate or attorney before deciding whether to agree to the District's offer.

4. Know the district's legal obligations and parent rights.

Read the District's Parent Handbook and Notice documents. Understand the IDEA & § 504, particularly:

  • IDEA §§ 1414-1415;
  • IDEA Regulations, Appendix "A";
  • Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.

5. During eligibility IEPs, leave sufficient time to discuss the Assessment Report, Present Levels of Performance, etc. Ask the school psychologist to explain what areas were tested, the scoring (GE, PR, SS, etc.) and eligibility criteria - especially if the District denies eligibility for special education services and accommodations. Encourage, don't discourage, parent questions.

6. Rushing through IEPs.

Always tape record IEP meetings. Prior written notice of intent to record meeting must be given at least 24 hours in advance. To be safe, give written notice at least three days before the meeting. Keep a copy of the notice letter.

Parents know when they're being rushed through an IEP meeting. Their child is the most important and as far as they're concerned, this is the only IEP you have scheduled that day.

Pay attention to body language and non-verbal cues. Do the parents seem frustrated? Seem to understand what is discussed? Fathers and mothers - appreciate the difference.

Discourage the team from digressing and spend too much time on relatively unimportant issues. When this happens, there will be insufficient time for important issues. Critical issues and parent inquiries get short shrift if they're left to the end of the meeting, when everyone starts looking at their watch. Someone must keep the meeting moving. Team members should not be offended when asked to move on.

7. If denied eligibility, it may be due to insufficient funding, even though funding does not determine eligibility (with exceptions) or the services and accommodations required.

IDEA Congressional intent: Since PL 94-142, needs not being met, half of special education students not receiving necessary services and accommodations, child-find violations continue, parents forced to pay for private services.

8. Inadequate Transition Planning.

The IDEA and Regulation do not adequately define criteria for compliance. This should assist districts because HO decisions and cases usually find that if it's close, it complies. However, many Transition Plans contain little or no practical, useful information.

Ask: Is the Plan a template that assists the parents in planning their child's future, based on the student's skills, interests and goals? Are other agencies identified, invited to attend, and services identified? Are the responsibilities clearly identified - who does what? Conflicts, including who pays the cost, must be resolved between the district and other agencies.

9-10. Most parent requests for DP hearing are avoidable:

  • Consider early mediation to resolve disputed issues.
  • Parental intuition that something is wrong at school. If you see the signs and ask what parents observe at home, they may not call an attorney.
  • Inconsistent professional development within schools.
  • Critical factual information and legal requirements that hasn't "trickled down" to all involved. There may be just one weak link in the chain.