By Cindy Soo Hoo, TAP Consultant firstname.lastname@example.org
It’s Apparent: You Need to Include the Parent(s)!
Parents play a crucial role in their child’s/children’s education. They are essential partners in helping students become academically and socially successful in life. Their contributions, whether it is through volunteering in the classroom, baking goodies for a class party or participating in an Individualized Education Program (IEP) meeting, help to form a working relationship between them and school staff that may lead to a higher percentage of success for their children.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) recognizes the importance of parent participation and spells out the requirements school districts must follow in ensuring their opportunity to participate. Parents are invited to discuss their child’s strengths, needs and concerns for enhancing their education as well as future goals for their child. Providing invitations to parents with adequate time for the parent to prepare for a meeting will also increase participation. While there is no set timeline set forth in IDEA, it does state:
34 CFR §300.322(a) (Parent Participation):
Each public agency must take steps to ensure that one or both of the parents of a child with a disability are present at each IEP Team meeting or are afforded the opportunity to participate, including –
(1) Notifying parents of the meeting early enough to ensure that they will have an opportunity to attend; and
(2) Scheduling the meeting at a mutually agreed on time and place.
However, many parents may feel reluctant to participate fully in an IEP meeting. This may be due to many factors, including perhaps their own past history of schooling or the overwhelming number of participants at the table represented by the school district. Whatever the reason may be, there are many ways in which school personnel can help a parent feel welcome. Reaching out to parents at other times during the school year may be one way to involve parents. Letting parents know how their child is doing not just during designated progress reporting times or when their child may have violated a code of conduct can build relationships between home and school.
For those parents who may have difficulty expressing their thoughts and concerns during a meeting, the New Mexico Public Education Department (NM PED) has a parent questionnaire that may be given to a parent ahead of an IEP. This would allow the parent to gather their thoughts to later be considered and discussed during the meeting. (See Appendix A: Parent Report Questionnaire Preparing for the IEP, Developing Quality IEPs. Technical Assistance Manual, 2011).
The NM PED also provides a guidance document that can be shared with parents who are unfamiliar with or have difficulty navigating the IEP process. Parents’ Guide to an IEP (Appendix A, Developing Quality IEPs. Technical Assistance Manual, 2011) helps parents understand what an IEP is, who to expect to be involved in developing the IEP, what they can do to prepare for the IEP and what to expect both during and after the IEP. Sharing this document with each child’s parent(s) will not only provide parents with important information involving the IEP process but also helps reinforce your commitment to involving them as crucial members of the IEP Team and valuing their input.
There may be times, however, when school personnel are unable to convince a parent to attend an IEP. IDEA has provisions for what to do in such a situation. It is important to note there are no specified number of attempts to convince a parent to attend. School personnel must do their due diligence in working with parents to try to convince them to participate.
34 CFR §300.322(d) (Conducting an IEP Team meeting without a parent in attendance) states:
A meeting may be conducted without a parent in attendance if the public agency is unable to convince the parents that they should attend. In this case, the public agency must keep a record of its attempts to arrange a mutually agreed on time and place, such as –
(1) Detailed records of telephone calls made or attempted and the results of those calls;
(2) Copies of correspondence sent to the parents and any responses received; and
(3) Detailed records of visits made to the parent’s home or place of employment and the results of those visits.
(e) Use of interpreters or other action, as appropriate. The public agency must take whatever action is necessary to ensure that the parent understands the proceedings of the IEP Team meeting, including arranging for an interpreter for parents with deafness or whose native language is other than English.
(f) Parent copy of child’s IEP. The public agency must give the parent a copy of the child’s IEP at no cost to the parent.
Some parents may find it difficult to attend in person and may request an alternate means of participating. IDEA has that covered as well. School personnel saw this all too well during the throes of the pandemic. IEP meetings were held virtually. That and other ways of participating are viable means for conducting meetings.
34 CFR §300.328 (Alternative Means of Meeting Participation) states:
When conducting IEP Team meetings and placement meetings…the parent of a child with a disability and a public agency may agree to use alternative means of meeting participation, such as video conferences and conference calls.
For those parents who may be difficult to contact or who may have a history of canceling meetings, it is recommended school personnel start early based on the due date of the annual IEP or other meetings. This may help the school district remain in compliance with any due dates for meetings allowing for possible multiple attempts to reschedule.
Finally, it’s important that school personnel not only invite parents a reasonable time before an IEP meeting is scheduled, but they also include required information that informs parents as to the reason for the meeting, who to expect to be present and that transition needs will be addressed for students whose IEP will be in effect during the year in which the student turns fourteen.
34 CFR §300.322(b) (Information Provided to Parents) states:
(1) The notice required under paragraph (a)(1) of this section must –
(i) Indicate the purpose, time, and location of the meeting and who will be in attendance; and
(ii) Inform the parents of the provisions in § 300.321(a)(6) and (c) (relating to the participation of other individuals on the IEP Team who have knowledge or special expertise about the child), and § 300.321(f) (relating to the participation of the Part C service coordinator or other representatives of the Part C system at the initial IEP Team meeting for a child previously served under Part C of the Act).
(2) For a child with a disability beginning not later than the first IEP to be in effect when the child turns 16, or younger if determined appropriate by the IEP Team, the notice also must – (Important to note: In New Mexico, it’s the IEP to be in effect when the child turns 14)
(i) Indicate –
(A) That a purpose of the meeting will be the consideration of the postsecondary goals and transition services for the child, in accordance with § 300.320(b); and
(B) That the agency will invite the student; and
(ii) Identify any other agency that will be invited to send a representative.
While it may appear there are many regulations that are required when it pertains to involving parents in special education processes, their participation and partnership are very important. Being an essential partner in the educational process of their children results in better student outcomes. No doubt, that becomes a win-win situation for everyone involved.
The information included herein is not intended to provide legal advice. Should you need legal advice or guidance on any issue involving special education, please contact the appropriate person for your district.