A new tactic being used by schools against parents of children with disabilities is to require / funnel all communications with the school through one person, usually the case manager. We’ve seen numerous questions by parents if this is illegal or whether parents can request two-way communication be listed as an accommodation in the IEP.
Yes it is, yes it can and it should be.
But you won’t find the requirement in IDEA. You’ll find it in ESSA. Read on.
Not in IDEA
IDEA does not have a requirement or regulation that says that there should be ongoing communication between teachers and parents of children with disabilities. Probably because Congress felt that such communication was basic common sense and they wouldn’t need to actually write it into a law.
What IS in IDEA is the following:
IDEA guarantees parents and their child with a disability numerous legal rights identified as “Procedural Safeguards”. See 20 U.S.C. §1415; 34 C.F.R. §§300.500-520. The U.S. Supreme Court has held that it is not only the child with the disability that has legal rights under IDEA, but the parents are also entitled to assert legal rights on their own behalf under IDEA. Winkelman v. Parma City School Dist., 550 U.S. 516, 127 S.Ct. 1994, 1996 (2007).
One of the key Procedural Safeguards is “an opportunity for the parents of a child with a disability . . . to participate in meetings with respect to the identification, evaluation, and educational placement of the child.” 20 U.S.C. §1415(b)(1); 34 C.F.R. §300.501(b)(1) (emphasis added.) The parents of a child with a disability are mandatory members of the IEP Team. 20 U.S.C. §1414(d)(1)(B)(i); 34 C.F.R. §300.321(a)(1). Indeed, “the concerns of the parents for enhancing the education of their child” is critical in developing the child’s IEP. 20 U.S.C. §1414(d)(3)(A)(ii); 34 C.F.R. §300.324(a)(1)(ii); see also Honig v. Doe, 484 U.S. 305 (1988); Schaffer v. Weast, 546 U.S. 49, 53, 126 S.Ct. 528, 163 L.Ed.2d 387 (2005) (Parents play “a significant role” in the development of each child’s IEP.)
But that is all concerning parental participation in the development of an IEP. These provisions don’t discuss the daily, ongoing communication with the school.
Now, we look at ESSA . . .
In 2017, Congress passed and President Trump signed the Every Student Succeeds Act, 20 U.S.C. §6301 et seq. (2017) (“ESSA”). This was an amendment of the prior No Child Left Behind Act (“NCLB”).
The ESSA guarantees parents of a child with a disability to participate “in regular, two-way, and meaningful communication involving student academic learning and other school activities” and “play an integral role in assisting their child’s learning.” To accomplish that goal, parents are “encouraged to be actively involved in their child’s education at school . . . [and carry] out of other activities, such as those described in section 1116.” 20 U.S.C. §7801(39) (emphasis added.)
The activities referenced in “section 1116” state that parents may engage in to participate in their child’s education include, inter alia, ongoing communications between teachers and parents and classroom observation. 20 U.S.C. §6318(d) (emphasis added.)
Put Two-Way Ongoing Communication in Your Child’s IEP
Thus, since Congress deemed this so important that they wrote it into law, it is important enough to make it part of your child’s IEP. Show them the law quoted above. (Maybe even print out this article and bring it to the IEP meeting.) Tell them that you want this accommodation written into the IEP, especially if the school is trying to deny this right of access.
I’m quite sure that even teachers would welcome such ongoing dialogue. The key is not to abuse this right – don’t contact the teachers several times every day. Be reasonable as teachers have other students and their parents to meet this obligation. But, if you do so reasonably, there is no legal basis for a school to block such regular and common sense communication.
It’s no longer just common sense – it’s now the law.