Parent Participation Trumps Deadlines! (Doug C. Vs Hawaii)

5 07 2013

Monumental!!

Doug C. Vs. Hawaii rules (in essence) that the right of the parents to participate in IEP meetings/development is more important than the school’s need to meet the deadline for IEP annual reviews. (Happy Dance!!)

Well worth reading this Wightslaw analysis even if you’re not a geek: http://www.wrightslaw.com/law/art/dougc.hawaii.pwanalysis.htm

The Court explained that procedural violations that “infringe the parents’ opportunity to participate in the IEP formulation process, clearly result in the denial of FAPE” (*FAPE is Free and Appropriate Public Education)

While the case centers around the scheduling of IEP meetings so that parents can participate in the meeting– the ruling is clear that parents have a right to participate in the “formulation process”– which in my interpretation (am not a lawyer– just a geeky mom) also includes the right to help write the document.

Last year my work was taking me out-of-town every week, my son’s intervention specialist (IS) was going through chemo therapy so our schedules just didn’t allow us to work on his IEP together… not malicious, not that either of us was playing games; our schedules just didn’t match up. We got to a week before the IEP annual review was due and we believed we were meeting with his IS to work on the IEP and the school ambushed us– they tried to push through the rough draft we had been working on by email. It was really rough… and we refused to sign it. They threatened to implement without our agreement and we basically dared them to do it. To make a long story short– we found a work-around and bought some time to finish working on the IEP so it all turned out fine. But, thanks to Doug C. Vs. Hawaii this won’t happen again!

Too many people– parents and school staff alike– are under the impression that an IEP “expires”. Let me be clear– Individual Education Programs do NOT expire. Seriously– read the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (http://idea.ed.gov/).  They do NOT expire!

The law requires that IEPs be reviewed at least once a year and be changed as needed. That’s all. The law doesn’t require a re-write… the program does not expire. So– the annual review is a procedural issue and Doug C. Vs Hawaii says clearly that the rights given by IDEA get priority over proceedural timelines.  

From Wrightslaw analysis:

“The Court discussed the balancing of two options, i.e., including the parent versus meeting the procedural timeline. There are two primary purposes of IDEA. The first is to prepare the child for “further education, employment and independent living.” [See 20 USC § 1400(d)(1)(A)]The second purpose of the law is “to ensure that the rights of children with disabilities and parents of such children are protected.” [See 20 USC § 1400(d)(1)(B)]”

 “When confronted with the situation of complying with one procedural requirement of the IDEA or another, we hold that the agency must make a reasonable determination of which course of action promotes the purposes of the IDEA and is least likely to result in the denial of a FAPE.”

“Under the circumstances of this case, the Department’s decision to prioritize strict deadline compliance over parental participation was clearly not reasonable.”

I am SO excited about this ruling– not only because I feel vindicated– but also because this gives families legal grounds for our objections to being excluded from the IEP process. Granted that generally speaking, parents aren’t the experts in education, in education law or in procedure– but, we are the foremost experts in our own children and have the legal right to have a say in our children’s educational plan.

Thanks Doug C.!

* Pete Wright is a Special Education Attorney. I am not. I encourage you to read this ruling for yourself and visit www.wrightslaw.com — go to one of their trainings… And don’t assume that everything you read on the internet is true! My post is to the best of my knowlege… but, I’m not a lawyer so do your own reading/research.

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