Category Archives: special education law

What Gives Parents the Right to Request a Team Meeting?

It is an article of faith in the special education community that parents have the legal right to request a Team meeting at any time, for any reason, and the school must comply. A search of the Internet reveals multiple trusted websites and state parent guides making this claim. The problem is that a careful examination of IDEA’s statutes and regulations doesn’t turn up anything that explicitly grants parents this right.

This is a concern, as parents have written us about schools ignoring their requests for Team meetings to discuss important issues. When this happens, what authority can parents cite to request a Team meeting and have the school comply? It is an unfortunate reality that parents need a firm legal footing to convince a reluctant school district of their child’s rights.

Some States Give Parents the Right in Certain Circumstances

Some states, such as Arizona and California, have laws that allow parents to request a meeting, but with certain restrictions.

In Arizona, a “parent or public education agency may request in writing a review of the IEP, and shall identify the basis for requesting review,” and the review has to take place within 45 school days of the receipt of the request (Arizona Administrative Code R7-2-401(G)(7)). Since most reasons to request a Team meeting probably have to do with an issue that is in, or should be added to, the IEP, this is a pretty broad mandate.

California tells parents: “you can request an IEP meeting whenever you think one is needed in order to review or change the program.” Once the parent makes a written request, the school has 30 school days to hold the meeting according to California Education Code Sections 56343(c) & 56343.5. This wording is even broader than Arizona’s, though it is likely that “program” is intended to refer to the IEP.

The Right is Not Mentioned in IDEA

However, searching the text of The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 2004 (IDEA), statutes 20 USC §1400 through 20 USC §1482, and regulations 34 CFR §300.1 through 34 CFR §300.818, reveals nothing that grants parents the right to request a Team meeting at any time and for any reason. While 20 USC §1414(d)(4)(A) “Review and Revision of IEP” goes over the reasons for calling a Team meeting, it doesn’t mention who can request the meeting. Section (III) comes the closest by stating that the Team should meet when the parents present “information about the child provided to, or by, the parents.” This hints at the right of parents to request a Team meeting but still doesn’t address it directly.

So, What Gives Parents the Right?

The answer to this question appears in The Federal Register, the official journal of the federal government. This document compiles government agency rules, proposed rules, and public notices. Rules initially published in The Federal Register are ultimately organized and codified into the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), which are authorized by the statute law found in the United States Code (USC).

The Federal Register provides a place to query points of law and expand on the law’s meaning. This is typically done through sections of comments followed by discussion. It is in one of these sections that a parent’s right to request Team meetings is finally mentioned, specifically on page 46676, in volume 71, number 156, dated Monday, August 14, 2006, on the topic “Rules and Regulations.”

The comment and discussion halfway down the left-hand column is about parents having the the right to change their mind when excusing an IEP Team member from attending a meeting. The concern is that it might become apparent during a Team meeting that the absence of an excused member could inhibit the development of the IEP. This would make the IEP developed at the meeting incomplete at best and possibly even inadequate. The question being addressed is: would it be worthwhile to modify the regulations to expand a parent’s rights regarding excused Team members?

The discussion in answer to this question focuses on the fact that there is nothing in IDEA that prevents a Team from reconvening to continue developing or modifying the IEP, as long as it is done “in a timely manner.” Then comes the pertinent sentence: The parent can request an additional IEP Team meeting at any time and does not have to agree to excuse an IEP Team member. The discussion concludes with the statement that no changes are needed to the regulations, which means that the discussion is considered to be settled law.

Bingo!

In other words, government regulators believe IDEA, as it is currently written, gives parents the right to request a Team meeting “at any time,” and that the meeting must be convened “in a timely manner.” The discussion does not mention any restriction to this right. So, when a school tries to tell you that you can’t have more than one Team meeting a year, this gives you the legal authority to request additional meetings and the school must convene the meeting without undue delay.

What You Can Do If the School is Uncooperative

Of course, we parents know that schools don’t often understand their obligations under IDEA and that some have been known to try to prevent parents from exercising their rights. If the school tries to tell you you can’t request a Team meeting when you feel that one is necessary, we have these suggestions:

  • First, show your liaison or special education director the discussion in The Federal Register. Politely explain that the school has an obligation to hold a Team meeting at your request and without undue delay. Also know that only you have the right to excuse a Team member from attending the meeting. If the school is simply unaware of its obligation, this should work.
  • Otherwise, you can request mediation from your state department of education. Every state has mediators who will arrange a meeting at no charge to the parent to resolve issues between parents and schools. In our experience, mediators are honest brokers who do their best to observe the letter of the law. In fact, it is possible that once you explain the issue, it is likely that a simple phone call from the mediator to the school will resolve the issue.

Of course, nothing is ever certain, but we have found that the more informed you are, the better the chance you have to convince your child’s school to provide the appropriate education your child deserves and by right should have.

Judith Canty Graves and Carson Graves

Follow us on Facebook
Please visit our Amazon page

Athletics and IDEA

Recently, our local newspaper carried a front page story about a high school student on an IEP who was being told by the state’s high school athletic association that he couldn’t play in his school’s football games. According to the article, their rules said he had used up his eligibility to play because he was taking an additional year to graduate.

Extra Time to Graduate is Typical in Special Education

Needing additional time to complete school is typical for students in special education. In our book, we write about how our son’s school in Massachusetts tried to force him to graduate before he had earned enough credits to apply to a four-year college, and how we had to file for a hearing to prevent this from happening.

IDEA is very clear that schools must allow students on IEPs to participate in extracurricular activities “to the maximum extent appropriate to the child.” The student in question, Noah Britton, had been on the varsity football team the previous year and had played in scheduled games with other schools. There is no question that Noah has the right to continue to play football to the maximum extent appropriate for him.

Athletic Association Rules or IDEA?

The state athletic association, however, cited a rule that a student can’t continue to play varsity sports after eight semesters of high school enrollment. By taking an extra year to graduate, Noah would be in his ninth semester during the fall football season.

So, does the athletic association rule supersede federal law? We don’t think so, and the confusion is just one more example of why parents with children in special education need to be aware of their child’s rights or run the risk of their child losing out on an appropriate education.

Below, we have attached the letter we wrote to the Asheville Citizen-Times regarding the athletic association rules verses the legal requirements of IDEA.

Our Letter:

Dear Editor:

In reading your story about Noah Britton’s dispute with the North Carolina High School Athletic Association, it appears that the association is unaware of the provisions of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), a federal law that protects the rights of students with identified disabilities to receive an appropriate public education up to age 21 or high school graduation, whichever comes first.

In particular, the association seems to be out of compliance with regulation 34 C.F.R. § 300.117, which states in part that “each public agency must ensure that each child with a disability participates with nondisabled children in the extracurricular services and activities to the maximum extent appropriate to the child.” A related regulation, 34 C.F.R. § 300.107(b) makes it clear that “extracurricular services” includes athletics. So yes, the IEP extends to sports, and always has. It is Noah’s right to continue to participate in the football program to the maximum extent appropriate for him.

It is also worth noting that IDEA requires schools to address the social and emotional development of students with disabilities, not just academics. Reading about how happy Noah was to play in an actual game is the definition of what this means. Too many students in special education are made to feel like second class citizens, and we applaud Asheville High School and coach David Burdette for what they have done for Noah.

From our lay reading of the law, it seems clear that Asheville High School is required to allow Noah full participation in the football team’s activities, including games, and that the North Carolina High School Athletic Association is attempting to violate federal law by preventing Noah’s participation.

We hope that the NCHSAA will reconsider its opposition without further delay. If not, we would like to point to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which was explicitly written to protect individuals with disabilities from discrimination. 29 U.S.C. § 794a(b) allows the “prevailing party” in a lawsuit over a violation of the statute to collect “a reasonable attorney’s fee” as part of the cost of remediation.

Judith and Carson Graves
co-authors Parents Have the Power to Make Special Education Work

A Postscript

We heard back from the newspaper a few days ago. Our letter was not printed because it contained too many words.

Follow us on Facebook
Please visit our Amazon page