Perhaps one of the most confusing parts of special education law for parents (and some schools) is who is on the IEP team. There are both “mandatory” members of the IEP team as well as “permissive” members. IDEA makes this very clear.
Mandatory Members of the IEP Team
There are five (5) mandatory members of the IEP team set forth in IDEA. They are (in order as the statute lists them):
- The parent(s);
- At least one regular education teacher who interacts with the child in a general education setting;
- At least one special education teacher or provider who interacts with the child;
- A representative of the school district (“local educational agency”) who meets certain requirements (see below); and
- “an individual who can interpret the instructional implications of evaluation results” (who may be also #2-4).
Before moving on to the permissive members, let me clarify some things about the mandatory members. The word “and” is underlined above, because that means ALL five are required. If Congress meant that only 3 or 4 of those persons were necessary, they would have used the term “or”. Remember Conjunction Junction from School Kids Rock?
At least one parent must be present at an IEP meeting. If there are two parents, both are not required to be there – one can act for both. But, notice the parent(s) are listed first.
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) . 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) (emphasis added.)
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.)
The LEA Representative
The representative of the school district can’t be just anyone. Often the school will send a case manager or principal or other administration staff member as the representative, but such person might not meet the requirements of IDEA.
The LEA representative must be:
- qualified to provide, or supervise the provision of, specially designed instruction to meet the unique needs of children with disabilities;
- knowledgeable about the general education curriculum; and
- knowledgeable about the availability of resources of the local educational agency (school district).
In other words, this person must have supervisory capabilities over special education curriculum and services, know the general education curriculum, and know the services available as well as placement options within the district. If the person the school district sends to the IEP meeting is constantly having to check with someone else about whether the school district can provide such services, the wrong person is in the meeting.
The Evaluation Interpreter
While the fifth mandatory member is only stated as “an individual who can interpret the instructional implications of evaluation results”, IDEA is no more specific and doesn’t define who this is.
Typically, this person is the school psychologist because that person’s role is to translate evaluation reports into special education and services to be provided to meet the needs of the child. Most parents don’t know how to interpret evaluation reports. Heck, even some highly skilled teachers don’t know how either.
Make sure someone is in the meeting who can put testing results into actions and services for your child.
Permissive Members of the IEP Team
IDEA allows other persons to be on the IEP Team. Specifically,
- “at the discretion of the parent or the agency, other individuals who have knowledge or special expertise regarding the child, including related services personnel as appropriate”
- “whenever appropriate, the child with a disability.”
These are “permissive” members because they are not required to be there and are only there if the other IEP team members think it is appropriate or necessary.
The first of these options has been interpreted to include “education advocates” for parents; social workers or therapists contracted by the school district; or, anyone else who might have valuable input into the formation of an IEP. There is no restriction on the number of these individuals so long as they have the requisite knowledge about the child or services and it doesn’t bog down development of the IEP.
The second option is at the discretion of the parent(s). Whether you bring your child to an IEP meeting is up to you and most agree that the child should only attend if (a) he/she is emotionally capable of hearing about areas where the boy or girl is struggling; and (b) he/she has valuable input to offer, such as when or where he/she is having difficulties (e.g. “I struggle in math class because of the classroom noise.”)
Is it a properly assembled IEP meeting?
The most important lesson of this article is for both parents and school districts to understand when an IEP meeting is properly constituted. As stated above, all of the mandatory members must be present [especially the parent(s)]. Without all of the mandatory members present, the proposed IEP may either be improperly designed (because not all of the necessary input was received) or not implemented (because the district does not have the necessary resources) or both. If there are no permissive members, the meeting can still go forward.
Parents have the motivation to make sure that an IEP meeting is properly assembled so their child receives a FAPE. School districts have the motivation to ensure that the IEP cannot be challenged on these grounds. All of this is intended to benefit the child with a disability.
So, if the law is followed on the IEP team, it is a win-win-win.