Dear Dawg: At an ARD meeting can we just jump right into talking about the student’s placement?  That’s what the parent wants to do, so why not?

Jumping right into placement at the ARD meeting can be dangerous, even if the parent is impatient and wants the meeting to move along.  That’s the lesson of P.C. v. Milford Exempted Village Schools, 60 IDELR 129 (S.D. Ohio 2013).  This is one of the many cases in which parents allege that the school improperly “predetermined” the placement by entering into the IEP Team meeting with a closed mind. The hearing officer did not see if that way. Nor did the state review officer. The school district prevailed in the litigation until the case went to federal court. There, however, the parent won.

The court held that the district denied FAPE by engaging in predetermination, thus depriving the parents of meaningful participation in the process.  The court held that the district predetermined placement in its reading program and failed to involve the parents in the discussion of what reading methodology would be used.  The court acknowledged that methodology need not always be included in IEP Team discussions, but in this case, it should have been.  But the most interesting and illuminating part of the court’s decision involves the order in which things are to be decided.  The court held that the Team had decided placement “and then began to decide on what goals to pursue and which methodologies to try.”

The court noted that placement must be based on the IEP, and therefore, the content of the IEP should be decided before the placement discussion takes place.  This is an affirmation of the idea that IEP Team decisions should be made in the correct order: 1) evaluation review; 2) eligibility; 3) IEP; 4) placement.  This decision supports the notion that schools should have an agenda and follow the agenda so as to take things up in correct order. If you decide placement prior to deciding what the IEP will contain, how can you be sure that the placement is in the least restrictive environment?

So we think ARD Committees should come to closure on the content of the IEP—the present levels, the annual goals, and the specific services needed to achieve those goals, including related services. Then, the chair of the meeting can move the group on to the next issue: “Now that we have agreed on what the child needs, let’s talk about the least restrictive environment in which those services can be provided.”