Should We Sue the School? I Don’t Know What Else to Do!

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We are having a dispute with the school about placement in the least restrictive environment.  The school keeps denying our requests.  Should we threaten to sue them?

First – NO threats.

I never say anything in an IEP meeting that I am not prepared to do. You should never say anything that you cannot “back up” with data, statistics or documentation.

Use this same principal for requests. I never asked for things unless I have the data to show that  the request is “appropriate.”

Second – It sounds like you are having an LRE (least restrictive environment) issue.

Get the data.  Research LRE and make yourself an expert!

Ask yourself these questions.

  • Did the IEP team consider the LRE, the placement your child would be in if not exceptional? (When I say, “consider,” I mean did you and team actually talk about LRE?)
  • Did the team consider /discuss the supports/modifications necessary for your child to participate in this LRE?
  • Did you make your request to the team in writing?
  • Has the school issued prior written notice, explaining why they denied your request?
  • Where is the data that demonstrates that the placement your child is currently in is the LRE and is the appropriate placement? Ask for it, if you don’t have it.

Third – An option for resolving the dispute.

Check to see if your state offers Facilitated IEP Meetings. Facilitation occurs before a complaint is filed. In my state, the parent or the school district can request facilitation (in several “pilot” counties).

An IEP facilitator:

  • Should be an unbiased person who is not a member of the IEP team,
  • Has no decision making authority,
  • And is not there to judge who is right or wrong.

The facilitator is the “guardian” of the process who creates a “safe zone” and ensures that everyone has a chance to speak.  The facilitator keeps the focus on the child.

In my state, both parents and the schools have been satisfied with the outcomes.

The one thing I have learned is that everyone “plays nice” and is on his or her best behavior when a facilitator is present.

CADRE has information on their site regarding Facilitated IEP Meetings. Enter “facilitated IEP meetings” in the search box.

You’ll find more here:

Informal Approaches to Resolving Disputes from the Center for Parent Information and Resources (formerly NICHCY). Five Options, 1-2-3

To help special education planning teams reach agreements, the Minnesota Department of Education and the Minnesota Special Education Mediation Service (MNSEMS) provide the option of facilitated IEP meetings. Facilitated IEP Meetings from the PACER Center.

  1. 5 years ago, in 1st grade, a child was unfairly placed in the Life Skills Class. This student had been evaluated by the school district and still, was placed in Life Skills, even though he
    did NOT meet the criteria for such placement, with a composite cognitive scale of 78.
    Now being promoted to Middle School, mom reached out for help, knowing in her heart that he was not receiving the supports he needed, but not knowing exactly what to do.
    After 5 years of being erroneously placed, he is finally going to be mainstreamed into General Education, but the new school is completely against it.
    Mom wants to place him in a private school, but they don’t have the money to pay for it and be reimbursed. What can be done?

  2. My son has A IEP since pre school he is now 10 and in IL they finally have to give him a diagnosis other then delayed learning . We went to his IEP last week and they want to move him to a new school for 5 the grade next yr cause our 5 the grade is a jr high setting. Which we are ok with…. But they want to do it in 10 days time which through us for a loop!!! We want him to finish the yr at his current school!! They are trying to force us into this!! We have another meeting Feb 20 th… Trying to find out our rights!!

  3. Our son who has Autism is in Kindergarten. Very Unsocial. Finally in December got them to agree to one hour a day of one-on-one with a para for his social skills and she walked out on him after 20 minutes on a Tuesday and never returned. The teacher actually wrote me a note telling me this. We pulled him out last week because he was showing signs of what his doctor calls “selective muteness” and we feel there is no one in this rural district who’s qualified to work with him. His teacher actually told us at his October Parent teacher conference that he’s the smartest “academically” In the class by far. We aren’t sure we have any choices left.

  4. We have a new IEP for next school year for my son, who will be entering 7th grade. We haven’t accepted it. He has regressed and he didn’t meet the goals from the last years IEP. We would like him outsourced because of this and the toxic environment he is in at school. How should we proceed? Do we need an advocate or lawyer? We are so frustrated over this entire process or lack of progress. It appears it benefits the school district and not the child. This IEP team doesn’t do what they say they will do. We spend hours meeting with them trying to get them to do what is right for my son. Any suggestions. Help!!

  5. This is an excellent example Pete. Teachers should put into the IEP “only” what the test and observational data support. Having an advocate and legal representation present in IEP meetings is also recommended, so nobody gets bullied. Parents rely on the competency of their child’s teacher, so she/he must be well prepared and represent the parent, the child and the school. As for the law suit strategy, ten years ago I would have said yes, it is an effective strategy. Things have changed however with our new President. He is anti special education and should a case get to the court system, it may not win and the school may not be held accountable to honor the IEP as a legal document. However, it is a legal document and if a lawsuit is the last resort to getting the services a child needs then it should be considered.

  6. Many times I have seen a school respond to a parent’s request for a written notice and explanation for why a certain placement is being denied with the simple phrase “requested placement is inappropriate”. How can a parent respond to that when the school continues to insist that they already have provided an explanation, when they actually haven’t.

  7. To Paula-
    In my state, if the school expels him, they still must provide his education. I know the idea of medication sounds scary, but there are situations in which medication has made a postive and powerful difference in a child’s school year.

  8. what do I do when my six year old is the bully – He is on an IEP for social and emotional disability. Has been suspended for a day and half since he hit two lunch aides. He’ s not on Meds , he has hit in the past. The school has been really great and helping us overcome these difficulties. My concern is they are going to expel him from school and where would I send him then? He is very smart and his nuero pys said he has Pervasive Development Disorder Not Otherwise Specified. I really don’t want to medicate him.

  9. Thanks for mentioning FIEP – great process; South Carolina has been most successful using this alt. dispute option.

  10. I am a facilitator and mediator for parents of children with special educational needs, and I cannot recommend strongly enough the idea of mediated IEP meetings. Even school districts without a formal program for mediated IEP meetings will sometimes agree to the process when the alternative is litigation. In my experience, lawsuits very often cost more – in money, but in also in terms of harm to the working relationships between education professionals and parents – than they attain in terms of benefit to the students.

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