Sometimes a sense of urgency is called for…

It’s pretty important to have an IEP in place before the next school year starts. Here’s a story that illustrates this point.

What Happened: It’s January, and the student has an IEP that runs to the end of the school year.  You send notice to the parent that you’d like to schedule an ARD to plan for the next school year.  The dad says he’s not available until May.  You shrug your shoulders and set up the meeting for May 14. 

So far so good.  On May 14, you have the meeting but don’t come to consensus.  You agree to reconvene on June 17.  We’re still good.

On June 16 the dad files a complaint with the state agency, and informs the school that he did not want to have another IEP Team meeting until that complaint is resolved.  The school cancels the meeting that was scheduled for the next day. 

On August 12th, the state agency resolves the complaint in favor of the school, finding no errors. The school promptly proposes an IEP Team meeting offering four possible dates in September. The dad says he’s not available until October 30. 

Did you notice that with all this wrangling over dates and the content of the IEP that there was no IEP in place when the 2019-2020 school year began?  This case is from Hawaii and I don’t know when school starts over there, but I’m sure it’s before October 30th

The court held that not having an IEP in place at the start of the school year was a denial of FAPE. The school tried to blame the parent for this, pointing out that it tried to set up a meeting in January and the parent would not meet until May.  But the court noted that the school “acceded” to the long delay from January to May.   There did not appear to be any urgency on the part of the school.

What to make of this?  I have two suggestions.  First, in a situation like this some communication about the importance of having an IEP in place would be helpful.  Documentation along the lines of “we want to be sure to have an IEP in place before next school year” would do the job.  That kind of documentation requires that you go beyond checking boxes on printed forms, and going with a narrative that tells the story of what is happening.

Second, you don’t have to indefinitely postpone an ARD meeting on parent request.  When the parent filed the state complaint he also informed the school that he would not attend an IEP Team meeting until the complaint was resolved.  The school does not have to agree with that, and should make it clear that it does not agree with that under these circumstances: where a new school year is about to begin and no IEP is in place.  Again, the school lacks the power to force the parent to the meeting, but the law requires the school to encourage and persuade. 

The court dealt with several other issues in Clarfield v. DOE State of Hawaii, but that’s enough for today’s Daily Dawg. The case was decided by the 9th Circuit on March 17, 2022, affirming a decision by the federal district court on January 15, 2021.  Both are published in  Special Ed Connection.  The lower court case is at 78 IDELR 42 and the 9th Circuit’s decision is at 80 IDELR 210.


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Tomorrow:  climbing around in the ceiling tiles above the bathroom: good idea?