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IDEA Complaint Decision 16-015

On March 7, 2016, the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) received a complaint under state and federal special education law from XXXXX against the River Valley School District. This is the department’s decision regarding that complaint. The issue is whether the district properly provided the parent of a student with a disability meaningful opportunity to participate in an individualized education program (IEP) team meeting held on February 26, 2016.

An IEP team meeting was scheduled on February 19, 2016, to develop an annual IEP and determine placement. On February 10, the parent notified the district he would be unable to attend the meeting. The parent had previously indicated he would not attend any meeting in which the district included attorneys and certain district staff members, including the director of special education. The parent directed the district to refrain from holding IEP team meetings without him present. This meeting was cancelled and the parent was contacted the next day to reschedule the meeting at a mutually agreeable time and place. On February 15, the district was informed the parent was available to meet on February 26, to discuss whether the student required extended school year services (ESY), provided the previously specified district staff members and attorneys were not present.

On February 22, 2016, the district sent to the parents an invitation to the February 26 IEP team meeting. The purpose of the meeting was limited to considering whether the student required ESY services. In response to the parent’s prior request, the district did not include any attorneys on the IEP team for this meeting, but did include the director of special education as the assigned local education agency (LEA) representative. On February 23, the parent contacted the district, indicating he would not attend the meeting if the director of special education would be there. The next day, the district responded that the director would attend the IEP team meeting as assigned. On February 25, the district indicated the meeting would be held and offered for the parents to participate in other ways. Neither parent attended the meeting, nor did they participate by other means. All other invited IEP team participants, except the student, attended the meeting. The district documented multiple efforts to involve the parents on the finalized IEP.

Immediately following the meeting, the district contacted the parent to share the IEP team decision to provide ESY services and to ask about the parent’s preferences regarding the ESY schedule. There was some delay in reaching the parent and getting a response. The finalized IEP sent to the parent on March 17, 2016, reflected the parent’s input regarding the ESY schedule.

A school district must take steps to ensure one or both parents of a student with a disability are present at each IEP team meeting or are afforded the opportunity to participate by other means. The district must notify the parents of the meeting early enough to ensure they have an opportunity to attend and must schedule the meeting at a mutually agreeable time and place. If the student’s parents are not able to attend, the district must use other methods to ensure parent participation. An IEP team meeting may be held without a parent in attendance if the district is unable to convince the parents they should attend.

A properly constituted IEP team must include a number of required participants, including an LEA representative qualified to provide or supervise the provision of special education, and who is knowledgeable about and has the authority to commit district resources. The school district has the responsibility and discretion to assign required IEP team participants. While a parent can request the district include or exclude specific individuals from a student’s IEP team, a parent does not have a right to exclude an assigned IEP team member appointed by the district. While the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs, strongly discourages attorneys representing either parents or districts from attending IEP team meetings, nothing in state or federal special education law prohibits this practice if a district or parent determines the attorney has knowledge or special expertise about the student.

In this specific case, the district accommodated the parent’s request to not include attorneys and some district staff members at the IEP team meeting held on February 26, 2016. However, in its proper discretion the district determined the LEA representative would be the director of special education. The district informed the parent of this decision and offered other methods of participation if the parent did not choose to attend the meeting; however, the district was unable to convince the parent to attend or participate by other means. The parent’s refusal to participate was a result of a disagreement with the composition of the IEP team, rather than a disagreement regarding the meeting time and place. The district properly provided the parent with a meaningful opportunity to participate in the IEP team meeting held on February 26, 2016.

This concludes our review of this complaint.

//signed CST 5/2/2016
Carolyn Stanford Taylor
Assistant State Superintendent
Division for Learning Support