Whew! You made it through the IEP meeting and are still standing. Now that the meeting is over, you are being asked to sign the IEP so the District may implement the proposed services, accommodations and goals. Should you sign or not? And, why does it matter?
The District must obtain your consent before providing the services indicated in the IEP. However, parents are under no obligation to sign the IEP, particularly if they disagree with its terms. Parents may sign, refuse to sign or authorize certain services without agreeing that the IEP provides your child a free appropriate public education.
The Ideal Scenario
In the ideal IEP meeting, each of the following occurs:
* The designation makes sense and is back up by appropriate assessments
* Each of the professionals has given a report and there are offers of services that address all of your child’s areas of need
* There are measurable, understandable goals for each of your child’s areas of need
* If necessary, there are modifications and accommodations to the curriculum (homework, class work, testing) that will allow your child access
* The District has presented you with a written document reflecting all of these items, plus a narrative that contains the main points of discussion during the meeting.
When this kind of a meeting has occurred and you feel good about the outcome, by all means, give your consent. It is when one or more of these items is missing or has gone awry that you should consider not signing and instead developing a strategy to address the unresolved issues with the IEP team.
Option 1: Sign the IEP. See you next year for the annual review!
Option 2: Authorize the implementation of goals and services, but do not agree that the IEP provides a free appropriate public education.
This is a very helpful middle option that can serve to move the process forward and extend protections to parents and student without compromising any potential legal claims in the future. It also serves to keep the conversation alive if there are items pending resolution. This response can be made with a simple sentence written on the signature page, or can be written up in a “Parents’ Addendum to the IEP,” which lays out your concerns in greater detail while still providing authorization to implement what the District has proposed.
Option 3: Do not sign at all.
Some parents opt to take the IEP home and review it carefully before signing it. This is a great idea if you would like some time to digest the information presented at the meeting and make sure you understand everything before signing. If you are satisfied with the document, make sure to sign and get it back to the District as soon as possible.
In other situations, parents fully disagree with some aspect of the IEP and do not want to provide their consent or authorization. If you find yourself in this situation, you will want to consider your next steps. Would you like to have another meeting to discuss specific aspects of your child’s program? Would you like to see revisions to the goals, more goals or perhaps fewer goals? Are there assessments necessary to determine what your child needs? Let the District know, preferably in writing, what you would like to see happen next and emphasize the importance of collaboration in getting an appropriate document with a plan to address your child’s needs.
Some Pitfalls of Not Signing
While not signing your child’s IEP is a right you have and one that can be exercised in the face of an inappropriate plan, there are some potential pitfalls you’ll want to be aware of as you are making your decision.
First, if this is an initial IEP finding your child eligible for special education, refusing to sign or authorize implementation means that your child is not yet considered eligible for special education. This may be important if your child is experiencing significant behavioral difficulties. As I will describe in greater detail when we talk about discipline, the IDEA provides special protections for children with IEPs when they have committed disciplinary infractions. If your child is racking up multiple suspensions, the safest course of action is to authorize the implementation of the IEP and agree in writing that your child is eligible while you continue to hammer out the details of the plan.
Second, if you decline to provide consent or authorization (no signature at all), the District is not legally able or required to implement the services offered in the IEP. For example, if the District is offering speech therapy for 30 minutes per week and you believe your child should get 60 minutes per week, it might be better to authorize the District’s offer of service while you continue to negotiate, instead of rejecting all services by not signing. If you refuse to agree to your child’s annual IEP, the District is required to provide the placement and services offered in the last IEP that you signed and that was implemented. If this is an initial IEP, there is fallback IEP to implement.
Finally, refusing to sign an IEP can create an atmosphere of tension among the members of the IEP team. The District wants and needs your signature in order to move forward and some of the team members may feel insulted or offended that you have refused to sign. This should not deter you from advocating for your child, but it’s good to understand how your actions could be perceived by the District. The most important thing you can do once you decide not to sign your child’s IEP is to keep the lines of communication open with the District and indicate clearly what you would like to see happen to resolve the conflict.
This column reflects the views of Diana B. Glick in her individual capacity. It does not necessarily represent the views of her law firm or her clients, and is not sponsored or endorsed by them. The purpose of this column is to assist in dissemination of information about federal special education law, but no representation is made about the accuracy of the information. The information contained in this column is provided only as general information for education purposes, and topics may or may not be updated subsequent to their initial posting.
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