Supreme Court Ruling Alters IEP Landscape
As parents begin discussing individualized education programs for their children this spring, disability legal experts say a U.S. Supreme Court ruling will set the stage for stronger goals and higher expectations.
But even with the backing of the highest court in the land, parents should still educate themselves and come prepared for a successful meeting, attorneys said.
“Parents should not hesitate to go for a more robust, challenging IEP goal and objective,” said Gary Mayerson, a New York City civil rights attorney who specializes in representing people with autism. “They shouldn’t be intimidated by the school districts that have been used to repeating goals and objectives over and over again, year after year. That’s a classic no-no now.”
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The U.S. Supreme Court’s unanimous March 2017 decision in Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District is holding school districts to a higher standard by requiring “appropriately ambitious” programs. In December, the U.S. Department of Education issued guidelines on implementation of the ruling that are now being used as IEP season swings into full gear.
“While many states and school districts are already meeting the standard established in Endrew F., this is an opportunity to work together to ensure that we are holding all children with disabilities to high standards and providing access to challenging academic content and achievement standards,” the document says.
Selene Almazan, legal director for the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates and a practicing special education attorney in Maryland, recommends that parents prepare by reviewing their child’s progress reports, test scores and homework.
For related services, such as occupational or speech therapy, parents should study handwriting or articulation for indicators of progress. If a child has behavioral issues, such as calling out in class, parents should know how often that happens and under what circumstances.
“When you get to the goals, what I always tell families is you need to see where the baseline is,” Almazan said. “You can’t measure where the kid is going to be at the end of a year if you don’t know where they start from.”
Assessments play an important role, though they will vary depending on the child’s disability.
“A savvy parent will do their due diligence and make sure they have good assessments and evaluations either by the school district if they’re acceptable and satisfactory or asking the school district to fund an independent evaluation,” Mayerson said. “In general, parents who are armed with recent and comprehensive assessments will have a better shot at getting their children’s needs met than those who don’t come in prepared like that.”
Almazan said families may decide to bring in an advocate or an attorney if they feel they aren’t being heard, are seeking a different placement than the district recommends or are dealing with recurring disciplinary issues.
“Obviously now school systems have to have a cogent response for the reason they make decisions,” she said.
Mayerson said school district attorneys are advising educators of the greater accountability.
“I think the smart family today will say, ‘There’s no need to get into a big fight. We should want the same things and the Supreme Court told us what those standards are. Let’s just fulfill those standards,'” he said.