Parent participation in the educational decision-making process for a child with LD is a fundamental principle of The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The law is specific about this point, and includes a number of safeguards to ensure that school systems involve parents at every stage of the process, including placement, transition planning, and, if necessary, dispute resolution.
Parents are entitled to a copy of the Procedural Safeguards outlining their rights under the IDEA at least once per year, or immediately following a child’s referral for evaluation, the filing of a complaint by a parent, or a parental request for information regarding dispute resolution. At 18 years of age, these rights transfer to the student, unless the parent gains Power of Attorney for Educational Matters or other Guardianship rights.
The law also guarantees a role for parents in examining educational records pertaining to their child’s placement and the provision of a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) . In fact, schools are prohibited from making decisions regarding placement or FAPE without involving the child’s IEP team, which includes the parents.
The IDEA guarantees that parents be “equal members” of their child’s IEP team, including all aspects of IEP development, review, and revision. The school district must provide parents with advance notice of a planned IEP meeting, and must inform them of both the purpose of the meeting and a list of those individuals who will be attending.
It is not acceptable for a school district to convene an IEP meeting without the parents present if they have made it clear they want to attend, or if they have not been properly notified.
The right of parents to be involved in all meetings about their child’s education extends to student evaluations, including determining whether a child has a disability or meets the eligibility criteria for special education services. Furthermore, parents have a right to all education files and evaluation materials concerning their child, including email correspondence among members of the school staff.
When a school seeks to evaluate a student, the parents have a right to informed consent for an initial evaluation and any subsequent evaluations. Informed consent means that the school district must inform parents about specifics regarding the evaluation to be conducted. This includes information about the purpose of the evaluation, who will be conducting it, and what their training is. If there is no data to support an evaluation in a specific area, then parents do not have to consent. Parental consent can be withdrawn at any time prior to an evaluation, which is traditionally conducted every three years.
In addition, parents have the right to obtain an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE) for their child, and the right to refuse further evaluation of their child. If the parents disagree with an evaluation conducted by the school district, they do not need to give a reason for their disagreement or for their pursuit of an IEE. If the parents request an IEE, the school district must either perform the evaluation with the evaluator of the parent’s choice (provided they conform with the district’s requirement for evaluators), or file for due process to defend their prior evaluation.
During the IEP meeting, any requests that are made by the parents must be documented on the Prior Written Notice (PWN) page of the IEP. The school district must state what was requested, and they must accept or decline the request. They are also required to document their reason for declining the parent’s request, for example, by noting data or evaluations that support the refusal.
The PWN requirement has legal significance because it documents the fact that the parents have put the school district on notice of their request, as well as the date that the request was made. This documentation can become an issue should the matter go to due process at a later date.
Sometimes, an issue arises where a school has “predetermined” a child’s placement prior to engaging in the IEP process. In line with the IDEA’s provisions for parent involvement, decisions about a child’s placement should be made only after the child’s IEP is developed. Parental involvement is a crucial component of this requirement, because as guaranteed equal members of the IEP team, parents play a central role in preventing schools from predetermining their child’s placement.
If, after the IEP process is completed, a parent disagrees with their child’s proposed placement, that parent is entitled to written notice of their right to dispute resolution through mediation, administrative complaints, or due process hearings.
It is important for parents to understand that when they advocate for their child’s rights and involve themselves in the educational decision-making process, they are doing so within a legal framework that supports their efforts to advocate for their child. Efforts by school systems to curb the parent’s role run counter to the purpose of the IDEA. A parent advocate should always assume that their involvement is not only permissible, but preferable.
Matt Saleh, JD, PhD, is a Research Faculty member at Cornell University’s Yang-Tan Institute on Employment and Disability and a 2015-16 Fulbright Scholar through the U.S. Department of State.