May 24, 2011
Parents may sometimes feel it is pointless to continue meeting with the school to work out IEP issues. But my experience has been that it is usually better to meet to resolve issues than not to meet. For example, in Upper Freehold Regional Board of Education v T.W. 56 IDELR 215 (D. Ct N.J. 2011) the court believed that the parents of a kindergartener refused to cooperate with the school district in developing an IEP before placing their child in a private school. (for information on unilateral placements and private school tuition reimbursement please see Looking at the Trees in the Forest Grove Decision).
Thus, the court denied the parents tuition reimbursement for the private school placement. The court found that “the parents conduct in delaying, canceling, or refusing to set up additional meetings with the IEP team substantially precluded any possibility that the district could timely develop an appropriate IEP for [the child] and provide the necessary services to him, or that the parties could resolve the dispute without litigation.”
The District Court here relied on Hayes v. Cape Henlopen School District 606 F. 3d 59, 54 IDELR 212 (3rd Cir. 2010) where the court believed a parent did not cooperate in scheduling the continuation of an IEP meeting. Because of scheduling conflicts the student’s IEP was not finalized at the end of a particular IEP meeting in August 2006. The district offered to schedule a date to complete the IEP, but the student’s mother said her travel schedule prevented her from meeting until after the start of the 2006-2007 school year. She, however, agreed to schedule the meeting for September 11, 2006. In the mean time, the mother unilaterally enrolled her son in a private school. She did not notify the school she had enrolled him in the private school nor did she notify the school she intended to seek tuition reimbursement for the private placement. On September 7 the parents filed a request for a due process hearing. The next day the school district sent a letter inviting a representative of the private school to the IEP meeting. However, on the morning of September 11, one hour before the IEP meeting, the private school representative called the district saying he would not attend the meeting because the child’s mother had said she was not attending. The parents later told the district they would not attend any further IEP meetings and refused permission to conduct a speech language evaluation of the child. The 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals determined that the parents lack of cooperation was a reason to deny reimbursement for private school tuition.
Similarly, in the more recent district court case, despite the school district’s willingness to develop an IEP, the parents cancelled or postponed IEP meetings before unilaterally enrolling their child in a private program. Thus, the court determined that it was the parents and not the school district who delayed continuing the IEP meeting and ultimately terminated the process when they requested due process.
As I stated above, generally, my experience has been that parents and school districts are better off meeting to resolve issues than not. There may be times when parents are justified in not continuing to meet, but courts may consider the fact that parents appear uncooperative. In these two examples the result may have been different if the school districts had not appeared so cooperative and willing to continue the IEP process.