Blog by California student attorney Michelle Ball about education law and student rights in public and private school settings, from preschool through college. As a student lawyer, Michelle helps with school expulsion, special education, suspension, discipline, bullying, 504, sports, discrimination, student records, injury, and many other California school issues.
How To Consent To Some, But Not All, Of An IEP Document
Michelle Ball, California Education Attorney for Students since 1995
With special education, the magic document is the Individualized Education Program document, simply called the "IEP." [The IEP document is different from the IEP meeting, which is also often called the "IEP."] This is a multi-page document which outlines many important items for the child, including his or her placement and services. As such, this is a very key item! Often parents and schools disagree on some services and agree on others, but the IEP is presented as an all or nothing document. How do parents partially consent to an IEP?
So many interesting things happen at IEP meetings to parents. One of these is the far-too-common situation where the IEP coordinator tells the parents that they must sign the IEP that day, period. The parents, despite disagreement with some services in the IEP, sign under duress, agreeing to things they don't want for their child. Why should parents have to do this? What is a parent to do?
First, as a general rule, the IEP document should never be signed at or right after the IEP meeting unless there is absolute certainty that the document is perfect through and through. As parents are not involved in writing the actual IEP document and don't see it until the meeting is over, how can they know the document's contents? Often the IEP does not contain all items discussed and something important may be missing. Regardless, once the document is signed, altering it can be difficult. Another IEP meeting may even have to be convened (in 30 days) before a school will add items, even items clearly discussed and agreed to at the meeting.
What should parents do instead of signing at the IEP? Ask for a copy for review. They can then take it home and ensure the document is accurate. They may also find errors and omissions, even whole misstatements which need to be addressed. Sometimes parents find that only the school staff statements are in the notes, but no parental comments. Any significant omissions should be corrected, via the school special education coordinator, prior to signing.
It seems a simple matter to take the IEP home, but I have actually met parents whose schools refused them a copy to take home. This is a big no-no and is completely inappropriate. This is a strong arm tactic which breaches the parents' rights. However, it happens. Schools may also state that parents cannot have a copy until they sign, to try to get a signature. Don't fall for it! A copy should be provided to the parents with or without signature. There is no harm in not signing the IEP for a few days, or even never signing it. If the IEP remains unsigned, the old IEP stays in place.
When they bring the IEP home, parents should make a list of what they agree with and what they won't consent to. They can turn this into an attachment (labelled as such ) to the IEP. Then, when they review the signature page, parents may check the box near their signature which states something like: "I agree to this IEP except for ____________." The blank space should include words referencing the attachment, such as "see attached."
If parents provide a specific attachment with what they don't consent to, the school should not implement those items/changes.
Parents should understand their rights, know how they will proceed, and plan how to handle any anticipated objections. This preparation should ensure that parents don't have to consent to items they don't like simply to get the ones they do.
Education Law Attorney
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