By Heather Edwards, Attorney At Law
Process in special education matters is of critical importance. In fact, in 1982, the U.S. Supreme Court stated in its landmark decision in Bd. of Educ. of the Hendrick Hudson Cent. Sch. Dist. v. Rowley, 553 IDELR 656 (U.S. 1982) that “it seems to us no exaggeration to say the Congress placed every bit as much emphasis upon compliance with procedures giving parents and guardians a large measure of participation at every state of the administrative process… as it did upon the measurement of the resulting IEP against a substantive standard.” Central to those procedures are federal and state laws requiring that parents of a child with a disability be afforded an opportunity to participate in meetings with respect to the identification, evaluation, and educational placement of the child and the provision of FAPE to the child. (34 C.F.R. § 300.501(b)(1), Ed. Code §§ 56304, 56342.5.)
In a recent U.S. District Court case, a school district’s efforts to contact parents and their advocate who apparently “disconnected” from telephone participation in an IEP meeting were crucial. (Guevara v. Chaffey Joint Union High School District, 122 LRP 39219 (C.D. Cal. 2022) (“Chaffey”).) In Chaffey, the parent alleged, among other things, that the district denied the parent meaningful participation because the IEP team continued to meet after the parent’s advocate, who participated by phone, was disconnected from the call. The parent had elected to join the meeting telephonically through an advocate, who connected the parent via his telephone. After the meeting began, the advocate was “very hostile” and hung up when asked to hold questions until the end of the school psychologist’s assessment findings presentation, effectively disconnecting the parent from the meeting. The district attempted to call back the advocate and parent by phone several times, left a message on the advocate’s voicemail, and checked with the front office to determine that the phone system was functioning properly and confirmed that the neither the advocate nor the parent had called back. The IEP team waited a reasonable time after the advocate and parent hung up to rejoin the meeting. When the advocate and parent did not call back, the IEP team reasonably concluded that the advocate and parent chose not to participate and proceeded with the IEP team meeting.
The court found that the district did all it could do to elicit parent’s input and participation at the IEP team meeting. The parent’s decision to hang up and not reconnect to participate did not change the fact that the district met its obligations to include parents and advocate in the IEP team meeting. As a result, the court held that the district afforded the parents and their representative an opportunity to participate in the IEP team meeting.
Parents are mandatory members of the IEP team, and LEAs are required to make substantial efforts to secure parent attendance at and participation in an IEP team meeting. For example, LEAs are required to:
- Provide notice of IEP meetings early enough so parents are able to attend;
- Offer participation through alternative means such as videoconferencing or telephone conference calls;
- Keep a detailed record of attempts to arrange a mutually convenient meeting and attempts to convince parents to attend; and
- Provide parents an adequate opportunity to participate in the development of the IEP, including consideration of parents’ input with an open mind.
Generally, LEAs that make repeated, documented efforts to include parents in the IEP process are found to have fulfilled their obligations for parent participation in the development of the IEP. As shown in Chaffey, in some cases, courts and hearing officers may even deem it appropriate for an LEA to finalize an IEP in the parent’s absence if the parent intentionally leaves a meeting.
For further assistance, please contact Heather Edwards at firstname.lastname@example.org