The Individualized Education Program: Parental Participation
One of the most important of the IDEA mandates is that parents be equal partners in the IEP process. Parental participation is so crucial to the IEP process that the IDEA contains specific guidelines that schools must follow to ensure equal parental participation (IDEA Regulations, 34 C.F.R. § 300.345(a)–(f)). In fact, Congress considered strengthening the role of parents in the special education process one of the most important goals of the IDEA Amendments of 1997 (Senate Report, 1997).
The school must take steps to ensure that one or both parents are present at the IEP meeting or are afforded an opportunity to participate. The school must give parents or guardians sufficient notice of the IEP development meeting so that they have an opportunity to attend. The notice provided by the school must explain the purpose of the meeting, its time and location, and the persons to be in attendance. Participants in the meeting do not have to be identified by name; however, they must be identified by position (Gorn, 1997).
The meeting may be conducted without the parents in attendance if the school is unable to convince the parents to attend. The school must have a record of its attempts to arrange a meeting. Examples of the documentation of these attempts include items such as: (a) detailed records of telephone calls made or attempted, and the results of those calls; (b) copies of correspondence and any responses received; and (c) detailed records of visits made to the parents’ home or place of employment, and the results of those visits (IDEA Regulations, 34 C.F.R. § 300.345(2)(d)).
The IDEA does not specify how far in advance the school district must notify parents, but it does state that notification must be early enough to ensure that parents have the opportunity to attend the IEP meeting (IDEA Regulations, 34 C.F.R. § 300.345(a)). Furthermore, school personnel have to work with parents to hold a meeting at a mutually agreeable time and place. The school does not have to honor every parental request to schedule the meeting, but the district must make good faith efforts to mutually agree on scheduling. In determining the meeting time and place, however, school personnel are allowed to consider their own scheduling needs (OSEP Policy Letter, 1992). An IEP meeting can be held without parents in attendance if the school is unable to convince them that they should attend. In such cases, the school personnel must keep a record of their attempts to arrange the meeting. If parents refuse to participate, the school district still has a responsibility to provide a FAPE to eligible students (Gorn, 1997).
The school must also make efforts to ensure that parents understand the proceedings, including arranging for an interpreter for parents who are deaf or whose native language is not English. If requested, the school must give the parents a copy of the IEP. The IEP meeting may be videotaped or audiotaped at the discretion of either the parents or the school (Letter to Breecher, 1990; IDEA Regulations, 34 C.F.R. § 300 Appendix C:12). The party taping the proceedings may obtain the consent of the other party, but consent is not required. Recordings must be kept confidential.
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