The Individualized Education Program: Parental Participation (page 2)
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.
When the parents cannot be located, surrogate parents must be appointed to represent the interests of the student. Surrogate parents have all the rights and responsibilities of the parent; they are entitled to participate in the IEP meeting, view the student’s educational records, receive notice, provide consent, and invoke a due process hearing (IDEA Regulations, 34 C.F.R. § 300.514). (For elaborations on appointing surrogate parents, see Chapter 13.) If the parents can be located but are unwilling to attend, the educational agency is not empowered to appoint a surrogate parent (Letter to Perryman, 1987). In such situations, the school should hold the meeting and document attempts to involve the parents.
Although parental participation is extremely important in the development of the IEP, parents do not have an absolute veto over the final results (Buser v. Corpus Christi ISD, 1994). When the parents and school personnel cannot reach agreement on an IEP, they should, when possible, agree to an interim special plan for serving the student until the disagreement is resolved (Letter to Boney, 1991; IDEA Regulations, 34 C.F.R. § 300 Appendix C:35). If no agreement is reached, the last IEP (if one exists) remains in effect until a final resolution. When the school and parents agree about basic IEP services but disagree about a related service, the IEP should be implemented in the areas of agreement. Additionally, the IEP should document the points of disagreement, and attempts to resolve the disagreement should be undertaken (IDEA Regulations, 34 C.F.R. § 300 Appendix C:35). If the disagreement concerns a fundamental issue, such as placement, the school should remind the parents of their right to call a due process hearing and attempt to develop an interim educational program. If agreements cannot be reached, the use of mediation or some informal means for resolving the disagreements prior to going to due process should be recommended (IDEA Regulations, 34 C.F.R. § 300 Appendix C:35). If a due process hearing is initiated, the school may not change the current educational placement unless the parents and school agree otherwise. For example, if the student is in a general education classroom and the parents cannot agree on a special education placement, even if they agree on the need for special education, the student must remain in the general education classroom unless the school and parents can agree on an interim placement. The same is true if the student is currently in a special education placement (IDEA Regulations, 34 C.F.R. § 300.513).
A completed IEP may not be presented to the parents in the IEP meeting. According to OSEP, presenting a completed document to the parents for review would minimize the parents’ contributions, even if the document was to be used only as a basis for discussion (Letter to Helmuth, 1990). Schools may prepare a draft of an IEP, however, to present to the parents at the IEP meeting for discussion purposes. This draft may consist of evaluation findings, statements of present levels of performance, recommendations regarding goals and objectives, and the kinds of special education and related services recommended. This document may not be represented as the final IEP (Letter to Helmuth, 1990; IDEA Regulations, 34 C.F.R. § 300 Appendix C:55). At the beginning of a meeting in which the draft document is presented, it must be clarified that the document is only a working draft for review and discussion.
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