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Expert Q&A

How can I successfully advocate for my child during an IEP meeting when the school is not considering my ideas?

Our son has ADHD and other emotional issues. He has a personal paraprofessional with him all day to keep him on task and for his safety issues (i.e., wandering off, no fear). The school sent us a notice of action to take his paraprofessional away. All the reason they gave us was that his teachers and paraprofessionals say that he could succeed in school most of the time. It is a safety issue for us most of all, so we brought letters from doctors, therapists, and social workers to back up our reasoning. Our letters were ignored, and at the IEP meeting our concerns were tossed aside like we didn’t have a say. We had an advocate at the meeting who was surprised by their decision; they had a consultant at the meeting who works for a special ed law firm. We were out-gunned and are wondering: how do parents stand a chance against this kind of presence?

Your question addresses the school’s decision to remove the 1-1 aide for your son with ADHD. Your question raises a number of important issues.

First, schools are required to consider input from parents and their outside experts or consultants. This does not mean the school is bound to follow their decision but must give it serious consideration and provide reasons for why they are disagreeing or not following the outside advice.

Second, it appears that the school gave you notice of the decision prior to the IEP meeting and did not give serious consideration to your input at the meeting. This may indicate two separate legal problems. One is that schools are not supposed to pre-determine the decisions that are supposed to be discussed at the IEP meeting. If they informed you of the decision prior to the meeting, it would appear that the IEP discussion was a sham. In addition, parents are supposed to be given a “meaningful opportunity” for participation in the IEP process. While you did not provide details, if you can show that the school was unwilling to even seriously discuss your concerns and those of your clinicians, there is an argument that you did not have a meaningful opportunity to participate.

Finally, you have the right to request a due process hearing to challenge the school’s decision. Your question didn’t say when the meeting took place; and by the time this answer is published, it will surely have been many weeks ago. Under the special education law, if you request a due process hearing within the time specified by state law after the decision to change placement or services (typically 10-14 days), the school is required to keep the program or service in place while the due process dispute is being resolved, including any time the due process decision is being appealed to court (in other words, at least months, and possibly longer). This is called the “stay put placement” rule. It is likely that you are beyond the legal period for filing a hearing in time to automatically trigger the “stay put” rule. However, you still have the right to file a request for hearing and challenge the decision. In addition, there are some circumstances where hearing officers may decide that if the request for hearing is filed before the change is implemented, the “stay put” rule applies, even if the request for a hearing wasn’t filed within the initial Notice of Change of Placement period. You should seek consultation from a knowledgeable special education attorney to seek assistance with this issue.

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