You Have an Equal Voice in All IEP Meetings

Dr. Susan Burnett, Paralegal and Advocate 

Have you ever gone to your child’s IEP meeting with the uncomfortable premonition right from the start that it is going to be an adversarial meeting?

You walk in and everyone is friendly enough, but then someone proceeds with a conversation laden with inaccuracies and diversions. When challenged, the friendliness dissipates and the tension begins to grow. You request that the note taker record a detailed and accurate description of what is discussed. This is met with opposition as the person taking the notes is also the one who is running the meeting.

What do you do when the odds of a fair, honest and balanced discussion that could result in appropriate assessments and interventions seem unattainable?

What are your options?

Did you know that you can call an end to the meeting? As an equal IEP team member, you do not have to stay in a meeting where you are being minimized and sometimes bullied. You can simply state that you don’t feel as though the district is allowing you to be an equal participant and therefore the meeting will have to be rescheduled. You can take this even further if needed and send a letter to the director of special education requesting that a particular IEP team member not participate in your child’s meeting.

If needed invite the district education special to meet with you personally and listen to your concerns from the meeting.

Hopefully, you will never have this type of experience and your team already works collaboratively with you. But if difficulties in these meetings occur, it is important to know that as an equal IEP team member you have a vital role in the meeting and can advocate for your child as needed

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Special Education Teacher, Parent and Advocate, Adrienne Oliviera, Shares Her Stories From Both Sides of the Table

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Why Are We Still Fighting For A Little Girl’s Voice?

I am currently in the process of preparing for a due process hearing and still shaking my head at how we got here.

First, though, I need to tell you about Sara. Sara is a beautiful 11-year-old girl who is deaf. She also suffers from multiple medical issues which require her to have a feeding tube and a broviac central line connected to her heart. She currently attends a special day class where she enjoys learning and being part of the school community.

Her sole mode of communication, in essence her voice, is American Sign Language (ASL).

The two main issues the school district is fighting us on go to the core of Sara’s communication:

  • Does the sign language interpreter for student have to be qualified?
  • Allowing the parents to communicate with the interpreter. Yes, you read that right.

How are these even issues? Of course the sign language interpreter has to be qualified. Her sole purpose is to translate the spoken word to sign language so this beautiful little girl, who happens to be deaf, can access her education.  And of course her parents want to chat with the interpreter from time to time to ask those basic questions like “How was Sara’s day?”

Although the IEP clearly states, a full-time American Sign Language interpreter, the district is providing two unqualified aides, calling them signing assistants.

Can you imagine if this was a Spanish or English Interpreter? In any world outside of education would an interpreter be provided who was not fluent in the languages they were interpreting?  Of course not. Also, sign language is the only mode of communication this little girl will ever have. Unlike our English language learners who slowly develop the appropriate language skills, Sara will never hear. She will always use sign language. For her schooling, she will always require an interpreter.

Of further concern is the district’s unwillingness to allow parents to talk with the “signing assistants” so they can learn the new signs Sara is working on. There are many different ways to sign the same word or action and it is important for the school staff and parents at home to use the same signs.

Apparently, her parents’ requests are a little too much for the school district, so we have ended up here… three weeks from going to trial.

Every couple of years I get a random case that ends up at trial for no reason. The last time I was in a trial it involved an eligibility issue. All we wanted was for the school to provide an IEP to address the student’s attention and sensory deficits. This included a reasonable request for sensory breaks. It would have cost the district no additional money but would have allowed us to monitor the student’s progress and make sure he was accessing his education. The district decided to go to hearing instead, where it tried, unsuccessfully, to show the student did not require an IEP.

So here I am again, facing another school district who has chosen to fight a family instead of providing what the law requires: an education to a young girl.

I understand there are many cases where there is a legitimate dispute over what a student needs to access their education. I rarely end up in trial on these cases. Instead, we work things out.

After several failed attempts to reach a settlement, I am now preparing my witness list and getting our evidence together for hearing.

I will spend around 100 hours preparing for and attending the hearing. The district will pay its legal counsel to do the same.  And, as you can imagine, lawyers are a lot more expensive than hiring a qualified sign language interpreter.

And all for what? So they can explain to a judge that this little girl does not require an interpreter who knows sign language?  What do you think the judge will think? I think I know.

These types of cases frustrate me and leave me shaking my head. This is not the battle we should be fighting. This is not the disagreement we should be having. Regardless, I will do everything I can to protect Sara’s civil and educational rights.

There is no way we are going to stop until Sara has a qualified interpreter and her parents are able to freely communicate with them.