Parents have a legal right to a seat at the IEP table. Parents know their children best, and bring invaluable perspective and knowledge about the child into the IEP process. Courts affirm that “parents surely know the student the best, regardless of any expertise.” L.H. v. Hamilton, see resources below.
Despite common knowledge, Parents have every right to be an informed and meaningful participant in all meetings on the identification, evaluation, and placement of their child. In fact, by law, parents play an equal role to District team members.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education (IDEA) states:
(b) Parent participation in meetings. (1) The parents of a child with a disability must be afforded an opportunity to participate in meetings with respect to— (i) The identification, evaluation, and educational placement of the child; and (ii) The provision of FAPE to the child. [§300.501(b)(1)] Immediately after this statement, IDEA focuses on the corresponding responsibility of the school system: (2) Each public agency must provide notice consistent with §300.322(a)(1) and (b)(1) to ensure that parents of children with disabilities have the opportunity to participate in meetings described in paragraph (b)(1) of this section. [§300.501(b)(2)]
Parental participation “must be more than a mere form; it must be meaningful,” courts continue to reaffirm. "Procedural violations that interfere with parental participation in the IEP formulation process undermine the very essence of the IDEA," as in Amanda J. v. Clark County Sch. Dist., 267 F.3d 877 (9th Cir. 2001). Indeed, as evidence of how important parental participation is to the core of IDEA and FAPE, Congress even attached its emphasis on “full participation of concerned parties throughout the development of the IEP” to the IDEA's procedural safeguards!
There are several leading cases that help narrow exactly what “meaningful participation” even further and give context to the legal jargon. For instance, in a Ninth Circuit case, the court found the school district violated the IDEA, depriving Parents of a meaningful participation, where the school district independently developed a proposed IEP and failed to consider alternatives at the IEP meeting outside of their pre-existing, predetermined program. W.G. v. Board of Trustees of Target Range School District No. 23, 960 F.2d 1479 (9th Cir. 1992). A word of caution—since case law is diverse, ever evolving, and jurisdiction specific, it’s important to know what cases are controlling versus persuasive.
Note to Parents: From start to finish, your voice matters. You have a legal and ethical right to share your opinions, desired priorities, and parental concerns. As a parent involved in IEP planning, you can contribute in the following ways:
- Requesting “anything that will be presented at the IEP meeting” at least 2 weeks before the meeting, and reviewing content provided thoroughly
- Prioritizing concerns & staying on target
- Providing ‘Parental Input’ in writing, attached to the IEP
- Assessing your child’s skills across environments & being brutally honest with the team (bring examples if you can!)
- Monitoring IEP success, or “progress monitor” your child’s growth regularly
While it may be intimidating to establish your voice in IEP meetings, your child’s success depends on it. You have unique insights that no other IEP team member can provide.
So what do you do when you don’t know what to do?! (Ha, say that three times fast.) Without question, navigating the world of special education and special needs is complex. At times it’s obscure and sometimes downright subjective. We can find ourselves binging on the internet, scouring for answers across parent blogs, boards, research, and the like.
Take heed, research and preparation before an IEP is critical.
Maybe leave the venturing out to additional sources when faced with a particularly important issue—this will limit wasting valuable cycles.
A few things to consider preparing and bringing to your next IEP:
1) Progress mapping, done by yourself or private team. The process of mapping progress has the tendency to reveal what information is missing and ideally if there’s progress. For how-to’s and more on this, check the resources below.
2) Bring an agenda of all the items you wish to discuss, broken down in outline form with supporting/key information. A little pro tip: Take your notes on the agenda itself, either typing in a different color or handwriting; this will keep you organized on each issue. If you want to take it one step further, circle or highlight items that open & confirm everyone knows their action items before leaving the meeting.
3) Have ‘Parental Input & Concerns’ printed out and ready to read at the meeting. These should be carefully prioritized because it will in large part help shape the IEP. There’s only so much time in the day, so working through priorities before the IEP allows time to consider how you can overlap target skills and overall form a more thorough IEP.
Most importantly, when you run into questions or need to consult on strategy, ASK! It’s better to spend 15-30 minutes consulting with an expert than walking in unprepared.
Wrights Law: Can the IEP Team Prepare a "Draft IEP" Before an IEP Meeting?
Parent Information & Resources: Parental Right to Participate in Meetings (answers some great questions)
Facebook: Parents Win Due Process Case, 2019 (Defining Illinois’ scope of “meaningful participation”)
UCLA School of Law: Legal Research: An Overview: Mandatory v. Persuasive Authority
Wrights Law: Mainstreaming (LRE) and FAPE in 2018: Analysis of L.H. v. Hamilton County Dept. of Ed