What to do when parent requests a specific reading program.

Parents are entitled to “meaningful participation” in the ARDC process, and have a voice in every component of a student’s IEP.  So when a parent is enthused about a specific reading program, and wants the district to use it, the other members of the ARDC should listen, and ask some good questions.  What about this program sounds good?  Why does the parent believe that it will be beneficial? Does the parent have personal experience with this program?  What has the parent read about it?

Members of the Committee should ask other questions as well: What does the research tell us about this program?  Have we used it before? Is it similar to programs we already use?

Notice that when you are discussing what reading program to use, you are not talking about the child’s present levels of performance, the annual goal, short term objectives, performance criteria or measuring stick.  In other words, you are not talking about the things that the law requires in an IEP. You are talking about a teaching methodology, and the general rule is that the educators decide on methodology.

However, when it comes to legal issues and choice of methodology, there are two mistakes that schools sometimes make. The first mistake is to not listen, not take the parent’s preference into account.  That might be viewed as denying meaningful participation. The second mistake is to specifically include in the IEP the method that the parent requested, and then not use it.  That might be viewed as a material failure to implement the IEP.

That’s what happened in a recent case from Maine.  The court held that the district unilaterally decided not to provide the specific reading program that was called for in the IEP. The court held that this was a material failure to implement the IEP, even though the student made progress with the method that the district used. The district argued that this was a methodology dispute and the parent does not get to dictate the method. The court agreed with that general proposition, but noted that in this case the specific reading program was incorporated into the IEP. The program was SPIRE: Specialized Program Individualizing Reading Excellence.

The case is Ms. M. v. Falmouth School Department, decided by the federal district court for the State of Maine on May 31, 2016.  We found it at 67 IDELR 265.


File this one under: SPECIAL EDUCATION

Tomorrow: The Bus Driver Blues