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By Candace Cortiella, The Advocacy Institute
IDEA 2004 makes several significant changes to how and when IEP team members must participate. While designed to offer new flexibility and prevent undue loss of instructional time, several of these changes need to be viewed with great caution.
The IEP team is composed of:
IDEA 2004 retains the IEP team composition. Participation by the regular education teacher continues to be an important aspect of the IEP development process, especially for students with learning disabilities, most of whom spend the majority of their instructional time in general education classrooms. The regular education teacher who serves on the IEP team should be teaching the student a core academic subject and should be the student's teacher of record, i.e., the teacher who assigns the grades for the subject.
The regular education teacher, as a member of the IEP team, is required to participate in the development of the IEP, including determining appropriate behavioral interventions, supports, strategies, program modifications, and supplementary aids and services, as well as support for school personnel.
It is essential that the district representative be someone with the authority to commit the resources of the district so that parents are ensured that whatever services are stated in the IEP will actually be provided. In updating the IDEA, Congress noted that too often IEP meetings are conducted without a school representative, as called for, and that many disagreements between parents and schools that arise during IEP meetings could be resolved if such a member was present.
PARENT TIP: You should receive advance notice of the school personnel scheduled to attend your child's IEP meeting. Use this information to be sure that the required members are going to be on hand. Express an expectation that members will be available for the entire meeting and communicate any concerns you have regarding those who are scheduled to attend prior to the meeting.
IDEA 2004 provides two ways that team members can be excused from attending the IEP meeting, in whole or in part. They are:
The parent must agree to either of these exceptions in writing.
Should parents elect to make use of these new "excusal" provisions, that decision should be made in advance of the meeting, with complete understanding and agreement. When utilizing the provision that allows a member to provide written input, parents should receive and review the input prior to consenting to excuse the member.
PARENT TIP: While both of these new "excusal" provisions are designed to reduce the burden posed by meeting attendance, it must be emphasized that IEP meetings involve the development of an appropriate education program for the student. Since schools should not develop the IEP in advance of the meeting, it would seem difficult to predetermine if a member's area won't be modified or discussed. And, since the process includes the exchange of new information and the sharing of members'expertise about the appropriate program for the student, it would seem equally difficult to know what input to provide in advance. Given the important roles played by everyone on the team, use of these new exceptions should be both cautious and infrequent. This is particularly important with regard to attendance by the student's regular education teacher, who has both a breadth of responsibilities and a critical role as the team member most knowledgeable about the general education curriculum and environment.
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