Obtaining an IEP Meeting

Last week, I received this question from a fellow autism mom:

“Is there any legal precedent for expediting our IEP meeting?”

Their situation was as follows – The family was “waiting and waiting and waiting” to receive a new IEP meeting date ever since their meeting in September had to be postponed. During this time, their child’s teacher got a promotion and the classroom had been run by substitutes ever since. The family was dealing with being put off by the school district (not getting a new IEP date) and their child was having difficulty with the constant change in teachers. The family had received very little communication since the initial IEP postponement. Finally, the school district offered a make-up date on a parent/teacher conference day in December. That date was their only offer in two and a half months.

I have fielded these types of questions/concerns from other parents in the past. This mom knows me as an advocate-type of parent and occasionally seeks my advice.

Here’s how I answered:

September to December. That’s over two months this family has waited for a new date, and they still didn’t have one at the time the mom wrote to me! The parent/teacher conference date was not a firm date, it was only a “suggested” date. I immediately saw how frustrating this situation is for this family.

The first thing I told this mom is to talk directly to the person in charge of special needs for the school district. Early on, when our child was much younger, I had done just that. I had noticed a “run around” by the teachers and administrators and felt equally frustrated. Yet, being me, I was not about to let that go on forever. I am a “may I talk to your supervisor” type of person and this time the problem(s) involved my child. What did I do? I went straight to the top.

Since then, I am proud to admit that the head of special needs for my child’s school district and I are on a first name basis. We have peacefully resolved past conflicts. I have found this person to be very patient and easy to deal with. Additionally, I not only have gone directly to this person more than once, I believe I have created an open door policy to go back to this person when/if  we ever need to in the future.

I encouraged this mom to do the same. I also encouraged her to call or even make a personal visit to the school district office. She had told me that everything was being done via the very impersonal email approach. I suggested that has to stop before she’ll get anything accomplished.

The second thing I told her was it seemed very convenient – for the school – to offer a parent/teacher conference day as the only available day for their child’s IEP. Are you kidding me? Not only is it two and half months later that they’re getting their make-up IEP meeting but it can ONLY be done at the school’s convenience? How neat and orderly for the school.

And how terrible for the family. School officials are going to be paid whether they schedule the make-up day two months or weeks or two days later. Why such a convenient time for them and not the family? Why not find a time much closer to the missed date. Instead, they have dragged their feet for so long that almost half of the school year has been lost for this child. And, he has struggled in an unorganized class with substitute teachers. And they want to take their time?

I told the mom that this is inappropriate. Call and demand an IEP meeting within the next two weeks. Tell them you discussed this with an advocate and you insist this happens.

I added that, during this first phone call, there was no reason to say, “We are going to discuss this with a lawyer.” Yet, I encouraged this mom to keep that in the back of her mind. She can not only threaten discussing this with a lawyer but I volunteered the name of an excellent lawyer who specializes in special needs cases. I offered to pass on that name and phone number in a heartbeat. If she wanted to threaten with a lawyer, give them a name and phone number. They may just decide that you are forcing the issue and you are not someone to be pushed around!

One more thing I told this mom was not to let them tell you that the promoted teacher was the reason for holding up their child’s IEP. An IEP can happen without a teacher and just because this teacher was promoted doesn’t mean they still not on the team. The child was having classroom issues with this teacher and then later on without the teacher. The IEP team needs to sit down and discuss strategies for helping this child.

My general message to this mom was my encouragement to understand her need to push them. It is sad but true that us autism parents have to make the phone call, then call the next day, then call again and again until we get what our child needs. We have to push, more often than not. If you give a school district a mile, they will take it!

I did understand, however, that this mom is not me. I am vocal and I can get in someone’s face when I need to. Especially when it concerns my child. Still, I told her she’s going to have to channel a more forceful personality in this situation (and possibly future autism-related situations). This situation is unacceptable. And it is hurting only one person, their child.

Too many parents let school districts get away with things like this because they’re too passive. They wait for the email that tells them when is the best time/day for the school district to schedule an IEP for their child. They act like the school district is doing them a favor! They should never be allowed to drag their feet and come up with times that are only convenient for them.

I encouraged this mom to consider empowerment as the way to resolve this problem. Talk to the head person, call until you get your new meeting on a reasonable date, proceed with the IEP until  the IEP team has thoroughly discussed your child, and do not leave the IEP until you agree on new strategies to help your child.

That was my advice to this mom. Bottom line, this situation was hurting their child.

Next week: You do not have to sign your IEP immediately at the end of the meeting!

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