Did You See Your Regular Ed Teacher at Your IEP Meeting?

By: Reed Martin

Reed Martin

Was a regular education teacher who has worked with your child at your Spring IEP meeting? If not, then one of the most important changes in the 1997 IDEA Amendments and 1999 IDEA Regulations, and one of your most important rights, has been violated.

We keep hearing around the country that no regular ed teacher attended my Spring IEP, or a "representative" of regular ed was in attendance, or that the IEP was circulated and some regular ed teacher who did not attend the meeting "signed off" on the IEP several days after the meeting was over, or that the regular ed teachers do not expect to look at the IEP next Fall because IEPs are for special ed personnel. That is not what the new Amendments and Regulations allow.

The emphasis of the recent changes in the law on participation of our students in the general educational environment, and in the general curriculum to the maximum extent that is appropriate, is an overwhelming and unmistakable theme of the new law. Every element of the student's education must be considered in the regular education environment first -- access to everything that the typical student enjoys: regular assessment, regular curriculum, regular volume and rate of introduction of that curriculum, sufficient education to attain grade level equivalency in each subject, access to non-curricular activities and access to extra-curricular activities.

To make these changes work, Congress required that a regular education teacher of your child be at your IEP meeting.

There are three important reasons. First, requiring a regular education teacher who is "a teacher of the child" to be at the meeting is a symbol that the meeting must focus first on the regular environment and on what is needed to keep the child there and make it work. The law no longer allows administrators and special education personnel to plan the program alone.

This emphasis on considering the regular education setting first should not be seen as allowing "dumping" a student unaided in a regular class, with a sink or swim philosophy, and then calling for an IEP if they have problems. According to the U.S. Supreme Court in Board of Education v. Rowley, 458 U.S. 191 (1992) it would be a violation of a free appropriate public education if students with disabilities "were left to fend for themselves in classrooms designed for education of their nonhandicapped peers." So the participation of the regular education teacher is necessary for the IEP team to determine what kinds of modifications are needed to "re-design" the regular education classrooms to include the education of your student with your student's disabilities.

Second, the regular education teacher is to assist at the IEP meeting in the development of the "statement of the special education and related services and supplementary aids and services to be provided to the child, or on behalf of the child, and a statement of the program modifications or supports for school personnel that will be provided for the child." [see 20 U.S.C. 1414(d)(1)(A)(iii)]. That regular education teacher will be someone who has actually worked with the child and can therefore add some real common sense to whether our current knowledge of the child's functioning is sufficient and whether the program which is being designed for that child makes sense.

In addition to modifications in the regular curriculum and non-academic and extracurricular activities, there might be a need to discuss a positive behavior improvement plan, which would be carried out in a regular classroom. The IEP would specify what the regular education teacher(s) would do differently. There would also be a reporting out of progress on that plan and the regular education teacher would have to join in determining how the reporting requirements would be met.

Third, the IEP document must inform the regular education teacher(s) who will carry it out "of his or her specific responsibilities related to implementing the child's IEP and the specific accommodations, modifications, and supports that must be provided for the child." [34 C.F.R. 300.342(b)(3)]. Having a regular education teacher who has worked with the child this year assist in this plan that will direct next year's regular education personnel will assure that the statement of what regular education teachers must do differently for this child will have credibility with the other regular education teachers who were not directly involved in the IEP. The regular education teacher who participates in drafting this very important new section of the IEP can assure that next year's teachers will understand and respect the changes they are to make.

There will be real practical problems to deal with. Scheduling that regular teacher for an IEP meeting will involve dollars for substitute teachers. Do we get a substitute teacher for one class, and insist that the regular education teacher will leave the IEP meeting only after a certain number of minutes in order to return to their next class? Or do we free up unlimited time for that regular education teacher, without regard to the cost of substitutes? Will teachers fear that they will be required by an IEP committee to do something that they feel their bargaining agreement does not allow? Should teachers fear that they may be put at peril by a requirement to carry out some "health" procedure in their regular classroom? Those are all honest concerns that are meant to be addressed by good advocacy on the part of the regular education teacher(s) at the IEP meeting.

The Congress recognized that the regular education teacher need not be at the entire IEP meeting. They are there to explain the functioning of the student in regular education, and what modifications might be needed to enable the child to function successfully in the upcoming program. Once the IEP meeting is no longer considering modifications in a regular setting, or in gaining access to what other regular students have access to, then the regulations make clear the regular education teacher is not required to stay.

This opportunity for our students to have access to what all typical students enjoy in our educational system is the theme of these recent changes to our statute and our regulations. If a regular education teacher of your child, who has received inservice training of their new responsibilities, was not at your IEP meeting, then everyone has lost.

This information is educational and not intended to be legal advice.

About the author

Reed Martin is an attorney who has concentrated on special education rights for over 28 years. Reed can be reach through E-mail at connie@westco.net or www.reedmartin.com.

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Reed Martin (1999)