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Feds To School: Retaliation In IEP Process Not OK


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The San Carlos School District in San Carlos, Calif. retaliated against the parents of a child with special needs by making allegations that resulted in a sheriff’s deputy visiting their house, a letter sent to the family by the U.S. Department of Education concludes.

The March 6 letter was sent in response to a complaint the parents submitted last year after a district official contacted the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office in October 2012 and claimed the child’s father secretly taped a meeting with district educators. The name of the family was blacked out from a copy of the letter obtained by The Daily News.

Although the parents weren’t charged with any crimes, the allegation of criminal behavior, the deputy’s visit and the veiled possibility of arrest and prosecution “are all sufficiently adverse since one or all of them would be reasonably likely to deter a parent from advocating on behalf of their child,” the federal agency’s letter states.

According to facts outlined in the letter following an investigation by the agency’s Office for Civil Rights, the student was in the second grade during the 2012-2013 school year and received special education services because of a health impairment and a speech or language impairment. The parents were “proactive” in seeking special services for their child, sometimes “questioning determinations made by the district.”

On Sept. 27, 2012, after an individualized education program meeting between the district and family to discuss the student’s needs, a teacher informed the school principal — who had not attended — that she believed the student’s father had recorded the meeting. The father wanted to record a meeting before that one and was told the district did not allow recordings without 24 hours notice. He had recorded an earlier meeting but was not told then about the district’s policy.

The principal informed the district’s director of student services about the suspected recording, according to the federal agency’s letter. On Oct. 3, the student displayed “significant behavioral issues” at school and the parents sent an email to the principal seeking a consultation with the school psychologist. Later that same day, the director of student services, who is not named, made a report to the Sheriff’s Office, according to the letter.

On Oct. 13, a deputy went to the family’s home, was told that no one recorded the meeting and closed the investigation, stating in a report that there was “no proof a crime was committed.”

The timing of the district’s actions, relative to the parents’ advocacy, “warrants an inference that the adverse action was caused by the protected activity,” the federal agency’s letter states.

During the Office for Civil Rights probe, the director of student services told investigators that she spoke to the district’s lawyer, schools Superintendent Craig Baker and the school board about her intention to call the Sheriff’s Office to report the alleged illegal recording. But “she never met or spoke with the complainants about the allegation or attempted to obtain their version of events,” the letter states.

Calling law enforcement “undoubtedly has a deterrent and chilling effect on parents and their willingness to actively participate in their own children’s education and advocate on their behalf,” the letter adds. For that reason, a call should be made only when the harm is sufficient enough to warrant such involvement.

The student services director told investigators that the school district’s attorney advised her state law says it’s illegal to record conversations without the prior knowledge and consent of everyone. But state law does not apply to IEP meetings, the federal agency’s letter notes.

To resolve the matter, the district signed off on an agreement that, among other things, requires it to distribute a memo to staff warning against illegal retaliation against families of students in special education and offering to provide training. The agreement, signed by Baker, states that the district does not admit any violation of the law.

In a written statement to The Daily News, school board President Adam Rak said the district is “committed to fair, non-retaliatory treatment of all students and families and it respectfully disagrees with the characterization of facts and conclusions” in the Office for Civil Rights report.

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Comments (13 Responses)

  1. Thomas says:

    Hmmm, the school district’s attorney advised her state law says it’s illegal to record conversations without the prior knowledge and consent of everyone. But state law does not apply to IEP meetings, the federal agency’s letter notes.”

    What is this part ” But state law does not apply to IEP meetings, the federal agency’s letter notes.””

  2. Jim Halpin says:

    The real issue here is why so many parents of students with disabilities feel the need to record (secretly or not) meetings with the people who are supposed to help them – and who are paid by tax dollars

  3. advocat says:

    Well that’s not so bad compared to the unwarented calls to child protective services that we have experienced here in my state. The timing is always suspect in these instances. Perhaps it occurs after a due process filing or a complaint to the state”s education department. The lousy thing is that CPS knows nothing of IDEA, school obligations and disability so they go for it every time. Too many parents have suffered child abuse investigations as retaliation for parental advocacy. It is reallt freightening for the parents. If the parents don’t get the point there might be another call and investigation and then, even though the investigation found nothing, the school records remain full of unproven assertions about parent abuse. Who says school districts don’t care about kids and families?

  4. Debra says:

    When I saw this headline, I expected a more shocking story. This kind of stuff happens all the time in our local school district. They have a significant history of filing false complaints with DCFS. Not only that, they have tried to use very foolish police officers on our local force to harass parents, but the city nipped that one in the bud. These school districts act like this is a gang warfare. I made sure to give every Board member, the Supeintendent and the Director of Special Ed Services documentation about the illegality of retaliation. I’m waiting for them to perjure themselves in court by claiming that they don’t know.

  5. Jorge Teixeira says:

    Is there any chance of posting the letter online?
    Thank you in advance,
    Jorge Teixeira

  6. Mary Somoza says:

    I always recorded IEP meetings, because quite honestly, the things parents are told at these meetings are so outrageous, that unless you can prove it was said, no one could possibly believe what we are told.
    I often gave notice of my recording a meeting, which meant, that the district could also record the meeting.
    Parents are often intimidated at IEP meetings, not knowing the terminology used to describe their child, talking to the “professionals” who supposedly know the child better then the parents, and completely overwhelming the parents with alleged district policy – a lot of it hot air – which could later be discovered through a recording -hence the adversion to recording these meetings.

  7. Jakki says:

    As a past advocate for parents with special needs children AND the mother of special needs daughter, it sounds like there have been some underneath-the-surface rumblings with this family and administrators and it also sounds like this family never received a copy of federal protocol for IEP meetings. I would suggest a mediation is in order. I coached/accompanied/took notes for parents as they mediated with administrators. For the district to call the sheriff is beyond arrogant and stupid really and another subject all together.

  8. Cyndi says:

    We have recorded meetings, with their knowledge and permission. Anyone who has these meeting understands the reasons why. A lot is said and it is a lot to process. It is good to be able to play it back. Also it keeps everything on the up and up. If you are not involved in the IEP process you would not understand.

  9. patm says:

    Feds can’t have it both ways. They train us in the field that we are mandated reporters and don’t have to investigate just report. It is up to the state to investigate after that. Then they turn around and do this nonsense. Such dysfunction.

  10. Cassandra says:

    I do not understand why the school would not want meeting recorded as well. My special needs child is enrolled in an online charter school for homeschool. All meetings are recorded and sent to parents and all staff involved. This makes sure everyone is doing their required part. Also, no miscommunication and documented responses and records. Seems like wasted time and effort from school that could of been focused on child and being thankful that the parents want to be involved in helping their child. Reasons like this is why I homeschool. I went through my own ordeal with my son’s public school and they falsified a document. So, did not enroll him back for following year. He is now getting help he needs and has been more social since being homeschooled because he is not stressed/ overloaded.

  11. Jane Doherty says:


    The problem is that some school administrators are not acting as “mandated reporters” but are instead deliberating retaliating against “difficult” parents by siccing CPS or police on the parents. “Good” and “all-knowing” educators who play this game feign concern that a “bad” and “ignorant” parent who fails to do as the school wishes is somehow neglecting or abusing their child. Poppcock! Advocating for a disabled child is a legally protected activity under federal law, which means retaliation, intimidation, coercion, etc. are illegal.

  12. AdvocateMom says:

    Tape-recording the meetings as a means to help you understand the proceedings is allowed under IDEA. A school district may also choose to tape-record the meeting. If the school district tape-records the meeting, the tape-recording becomes a part of your child’s education record. If either the school district or the
    parent records the meeting, all participants in the meeting must be informed that they are being
    taped. That school absolutely retaliated illegally. They may respectfully disagree with that classification but that doesn’t change the facts of their actions.

    When I go into my child’s PPT meetings, I go in prepared every time with what I want and expect for my daughter and I double check with IDEA before I go in so that I have the language ready. Every year, the new team is surprised by what I know and how I’m able to maintain my daughter’s services and if they cut something, I make sure it’s made up for in another area. None of her services are ever actually reduced. It does help maintaining a friendly, daily communication with the teachers involved and meeting them halfway on certain things and making efforts to support them in the classroom in between the PPTs and then I have allies in those meetings.

  13. Eva & Lee says:

    As parents of two children with medically diagnosed disabilities and educationally diagnosed special needs/learning disabilities, we know this retaliation tactic, all too well. CPS either “visits” our home before or after every “team” meeting. Needless to say, our first encounter with said tactic was terrifying, but once the CPS investigator made us privy to her copy of our children’s attendance records, our horror was replaced with adamant resolve. For we possessed something that the school, district and LEA did not foresee…complete, accurate and organized medical, educational and attendance records. Including, documented correspondence by phone, email and mail courier. Plus, all the receipts for prescriptions and insurance deductibles, evaluations and assessments. Along with original notes/letters from medical professionals to excuse/explain all late arrivals, early release and absences to/from school, all are signed/dated/timed in order to confirm that each was hand delivered by us and xeroxed by an authorized school staff member. Including, signed/dated/timed quoted statements from school/district/LEA staff during conferences and “team” meetings…All of which and much, much more was (& shall forever remain) immediately accessible. After providing all of this and much, much more to the CPS investigator, our information instantly became the evidence that exonerated our family and secured our children’s eligibility…

    One might think that any further thoughts or attempts to initiate comparable retaliatory tactics against us would be squashed. Sadly, bruised egos and scorned bureaucracies hold grudges. So much, in fact, that our children were actually bullied by some of their supposed mentors…Services, accommodations and educational plans were neglected, refused and/or flat-out ignored…Records and documents were fraudulently created, altered, nowhere to be found, etc…Improper recording of credit/grades for class work, homework, participation, tests, quizzes, and administering/scoring of Federal/State exams as mandated by policy and law…Seemingly, as if the mission was to completely exclude our children from the safe school environment/community for which they had/have a right to meaningfully access and attend…

    Ours, is not an isolated happenstance, it’s regular practice and “back-door policy” of a school district that receives annual accolades, grants, waivers and increased funding for their “strict adherence to Federal Compliance, Best Practices, Procedural Safeguards, child health/safety/welfare, academic excellence, ethics, community/social consciousness, advocacy, full-inclusion, etc…”
    Lest we forget, a school district that was also audited after accepting over $6-Million in IDEA funding of which it was not due to them and then had no account for any of said monies…it was all gone…

    What happened??? Nary a one lost their job. Nary a one was prosecuted. Nary a one was held publicly or privately accountable…In 2001, the district was ordered to repay the IDEA funds (without penalties or interest) in increments, over the 4 years that followed….
    13 years have passed and not a single red-cent has been repaid…Why should the district repay? What are the consequences?…Waivers, accolades, salary increases/promotions, tenure, continued/increased funding, grants and budgetary allowances…

    If a school district can pull off and continue to get away with literally stealing over $6-Million in IDEA funds and continue to do so, 13 years later…Who’s to say that other districts haven’t committed similar acts and succeeded, as well?
    So, what’s to deter them from being horrid to our children and families, their most vulnerable commodity?…Nothing…As long as the these bullies are inefficiently and as long as the rest choose complacency over duty, no meaningful change will ever take place…

    It’s no big secret that retaliation in the IEP process is not okay. Retaliation in education as a whole, is not okay. This is not a new revelation…

    “Feds To School”, thanks a lot for yet another “declaration, ruling and victory”…it’s not enough…Retaliation, fraud, abuse of resources and funds in education as they relate to students, families and community tax-payers, is a long-standing epidemic. The school district described in this comment continues to take “you” for a ride…
    Our excellent record-keeping, paper trail and irrefutable evidence had little-to-no effect at any level within the district, state or higher…whatsoever….

    Everyone knows “Retaliation in IEP Process” is “Not OK”…We, the people want to know, are you ever going to impose and enforce any REAL and LASTING consequences? Civil Rights are being violated, this is criminal and yet, they go unpunished.

    Action teams and Action Plans for school/district improvements is nothing more than a typical stall tactic.

    As parents, we are tired of either knowing more about the IEP/504 process, NCLB, ADAA, etc…than members of our children’s “team” who are supposed professionals. Equally, we are tired of these very same professionals lying directly to our faces about policy, law, “tabling issues”, interpretations of evaluations, the definition of “pertinent information and how it applies, medical/educational/familial history and how it’s documented/interpreted, etc…Mostly, we are disgusted that the civil rights of so many children and their families is still tolerated in such blatant proportions.

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