It is rather amazing how much schools get wrong about IEPs and special education requirements, which are governed by federal and state law. To spread awareness, here is a top 10 list of the completely wrong things I have heard schools tell parents…
- “IEPs are just for supports for students. IEPs do not list training for teachers or school staff.” Nope! Supports for school personnel, which have been widely recognized to include training for teachers and school staff, absolutely can be added to a student’s IEP. The person who made this statement needs some additional training herself!
- “We don’t put goals to address ADHD in an IEP because you can’t teach attention.” Wrong! A student with attention-related challenges certainly can have IEP goals to address their needs in this area. While schools may not be able to explicitly “teach attention,” students can be taught strategies to overcome and manage their attention or executive function deficits.
- “An IEP cannot be changed” after parents in Virginia (a consent state) have refused to consent to terminate their child’s eligibility for special education. Not correct! A school division has the ongoing responsibility to provide a free appropriate public education (FAPE) to a disabled student through an IEP. This obligation does not change when a student’s special education eligibility continues because the parents did not consent to terminate it. The school division must still provide the student with special education and related services, and consider changes to the IEP to meet the student’s evolving needs.
- “Parents cannot provide partial consent to an IEP.” Oh yes, they can (in Virginia, at least).
- “Executive functioning deficits cannot be considered for special education eligibility under the Other Health Impairment (OHI) category. A student with executive functioning deficits can only qualify under the Specific Learning Disability (SLD) category.” The school staff member who made this incorrect statement asserted that, because Virginia Department of Education guidance lists executive functioning as a possible factor under SLD, it cannot be considered under OHI. She is wrong. VDOE guidance does not limit the characteristics that can be considered for OHI. It is very common and correct for teams to consider executive functioning deficits under OHI, as challenges in this area often go hand-in-hand with attention dysregulation, a common reason for identifying students under OHI.
- “You (the parents) must come to the IEP meeting at the time we (the school) set because that is the only time available. If you can’t make it, we will meet without you.” No, this is not how it works. Schools must schedule IEP meetings at a time that is mutually agreeable to parents. School staff cannot meet without the parents (unless the parents do not respond or do not want to meet). Parental participation is enshrined in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), so it is surprising how often this one comes up.
- “We have 45 days to respond to your request for student records.” Well, sometimes, but not always. Two different federal laws apply to student records requests. Schools do have 45 days to respond to requests made under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). However, when an IEP meeting has been scheduled, the school must provide requested records in advance of the meeting, under the IDEA.
- “We don’t provide IEP support in advanced classes. Students need to choose between their IEP support or advanced classes.” Absolutely not! This is not an either-or situation. Students can have a disability and be gifted or academically advanced at the same time. Schools must provide disabled students with the IEP services and accommodations they need in classes that are at their academic level.
- “We can’t give students’ IEP or medical information to bus drivers because of confidentiality.” Confidentiality is widely misunderstood by school divisions and is all too often cited incorrectly as a reason that schools “can’t” do something. In fact, bus drivers are related service providers and school divisions can and must provide drivers with student-specific information to ensure students’ needs are handled appropriately on buses. This includes providing students’ medical information to bus drivers, for instance, to alert drivers that students under their supervision have conditions such as diabetes, epilepsy, allergies, asthma, or heart conditions, and to provide direction on how to respond in a medical emergency.
- “Autism is not an eligibility category for special education in Virginia.” This statement was actually made by a medical provider, not a school official, but it was just so wrong that I had to include it. I wonder how many parents this provider has led astray? Autism is absolutely one of the eligibility categories under which students can qualify for special education.
What Can Parents Do?
So, what is a parent to do when they are not sure if they are being told the right thing by their child’s school division? First, parents should not assume that the school division is correct. Parents should never be afraid to ask questions. If something doesn’t sound right, parents can ask to see the written policy or guidance. Parents can also get information from their state’s parent training and resource center or their state’s department of education ombudsman, or they can seek assistance from a special education attorney.