I Get All Kinds of Special Ed Questions from my Patients…

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As a pediatrician, I get all kinds of questions from my patients.  Can you help me answer these two special education questions?

1.  A teacher in a school system wants to sit in on the IEP meetings as the student (family’s) advocate (not as a county employee). Can the school system refuse, saying it is a conflict of interest?

There is a legal answer and a practical answer…

Legal answer: The parents and school system can invite individuals who have knowledge or expertise about the child to be members of the IEP team. The decision about who has knowledge or expertise is made by the parents or school system. There is no provision in the law that allows the other side to veto this decision, including conflict of interest.

However, it should be clear that this decision is made by the parents, not the teacher. If the teacher says she wants to sit in on the meeting and the parent does not notify the school that they intend to invite her to the meeting, this is likely to create a bad situation.

Practical answer: School systems are intolerant of employees who are viewed as disobedient or free-thinking. This teacher is putting herself at risk for losing a job by taking this stand. I assume she is aware of this. Unfortunately, the teacher is in the position of a whistle-blower who is fired from a job, but years later maybe honored for taking a stand and doing the right.

The teacher can act as an advocate but should expect fallout and perhaps the loss of a job. The teacher needs to document everything that is conveyed to her in letters and/or a log.

A similar situation happened in Oregon a few years ago in the Pamella Settlegoode case. A teacher was fired for advocating for her students. Ultimately, she received a 1 million dollar verdict because the school violated her rights under Section 504. Most people don’t have the stomach for litigation, nor a husband who is a federal court litigator.

2.  Do Charter or Choice schools have to obey all of the accommodations set forth in an IEP or 504 if they are public schools?

Charter schools are so new in Virginia, I can’t give you a great response. Logically, I would think that Charter schools, because they are publicly funded entities, have to comply with accommodations in the IEP. To do otherwise would be discrimination by an entity that is funded by tax money.

Check your state Department of Education regulations regarding Charter School requirements in your state.

  1. Concerning IEP’s and 504’s, If the charter school is getting any federal funds they are bound by that agreement to provide the 504 or IEP accommodations. For VA this is the listing for the your area:
    North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, Washington, D.C.
    Office for Civil Rights,
    District of Columbia Office
    U.S. Department of Education
    400 Maryland Avenue, S.W.
    Washington, DC 20202-1475
    Telephone: (202) 453-6020
    Facsimile: (202) 453-6021
    Email: OCR.DC@ed.gov

  2. Mel I would like to know more about your advocacy business. Do you have a website? If so, can you share the link?

  3. A teacher sitting in on an IEP meeting as an advocate is risky. I find it hard to believe that a school district would tolerate such actions. As a Special Education teacher who raised the bar for all her students and acted as an advocate, I know first hand that school districts do not like employees who go against their ways of thinking. Hence why, I opened my own business to be an advocate because I can do more good educating parents and their children outside of the school district politics.

  4. My son has had IEP, aide in lower grades but in middle school this did not happen. 7th grade he had a psychiatric admission produced by school stressors, and medication. 8th grade he was to be in regular classes with aides, but high school decided & convinced us a secluded class with aides would be better for him. It has not worked out, behavioral problems and disruptive children in the same classes. Difficult for my son to stay on track. He does not get assistance from aides. The teachers state they have other students take on the roll of helper. Is this acceptable? IEP team revealed they did not have his diagnosis and information from the middle school. Teachers don’t agree he isn’t getting assistance from aides. He is stressed, breaking down and obessing. He was hospitalized again. I want my son educated not stressed and put over the edge. I have told them if he has diagnosis and drs. order they need to comply. Am I wrong?

    • Your kid was hospitalized like an involuntary hold? If yes, that’s what I’m going through. I’m trying to file a complaint against the school for hospitalizing my son.

  5. Even parent advocates who attend IEP meetings in their own district risk fallout in regards to their own children. How much more so would teachers who are paid to tow the party line, so to speak. Wrightslaw is spot on with the Practical Answer. Teachers get in trouble when they advocate behind the scenes – we would expect even more trouble for them if they were to attend an IEP meeting as the student’s advocate. At our IEP meetings, the teachers were generally mum unless they were asked a direct question. Since I have a script of one of our last meetings, prepared by the school in advance, I know that teachers who did speak at the meeting were reciting their lines, as in a play.

  6. I wondered the same thing. Most school districts do not like charter schools in their district and look for a reason to jerk funding. Use this, document, document and document some more. When they see you doing this, they have the tendancy to back up a bit. In my state a charter school must file an application with the school district, their application for charter, public info, READ IT. Mine says they must comply with all laws a regular school must comply with. I have twin boys in a charter school, I have experienced a few issues. I advocate there just like I did at the “regular school.” Go to your state DOE website, read your state’s requirements for charter schools. We actually have a charter school law in my state. You will need to read that as well. Good Luck!

  7. The Settlegoode case does not seem similar to this issue. In the case an adaptive PE teacher was advocating for better services for her students due to equipment and facilities needs. Her issues eventually lead to lengthy written concerns sent to her administrators, which lead to the litigation.

    Simply having a teacher attend an IEP meeting for parent support is far less dangerous. The school should receive adequate notice that the parents would like the teacher to attend and in what capacity. I would say there is a conflict of interest, depending on that teacher’s contact with the student. Any school employee’s interest should be what is best for the student.

    Schools are not intolerant of free thinkers… with proper notice and operating with in a school’s policy teachers can raise complaints safely and securely.

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