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

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