Category Archives: Resolving disputes
In many IEP meetings one of the school system staff members is introduced as “the LEA” without further explanation. If there is a lot of discussion and debate around an issue, it will often appear that this LEA has more influence than most other members of the IEP team. This may not seem fair to parents, who usually are outnumbered in the first place. However, it is important to understand that the LEA Representative does have a unique role in the IEP process.
First, let’s clear up some education jargon. LEA is short for Local Education Agency. Each individual school system that has a central administrator, usually known as the Superintendent, and School Board is actually a distinct LEA. Some LEAs are county-wide, some just cover a particular city, and some are public charter schools. Charter schools will typically have a Board of Directors rather than an elected School Board, and their central administrators have a variety of job titles, such as Headmaster, Dean or Principal.
IEP teams are required to include someone who can represent the LEA. The person who serves in the role of LEA Representative must meet certain criteria:
- Be qualified to provide, or supervise the provision of special education instruction;
- Be knowledgeable about the general education curriculum; and
- Have knowledge of the resources available to that LEA.
Every student with a disability who qualifies for special education services must be provided with a free appropriate public education (FAPE). It is the LEA (school system) that has the responsibility for delivering FAPE to its students. It is also the LEA that is held accountable when that does not happen.
To a large extent, the contents of an IEP define what FAPE looks like for that particular student. This makes the decisions of the IEP team extremely important and legally binding. IEP team decisions are expected to be based on data and the input of every member of the team. Most of the time IEP teams are eventually able to reach decisions that everyone can live with. That’s called reaching a consensus. If the team fails to reach consensus about a relatively minor issue, the matter may be put on hold until more information can be gathered.
When the IEP team cannot come to agreement about a really important proposal, the LEA Representative has the authority to make the decision. This allows the team to move forward with finalizing the IEP so that the student can be served. Having a clear decision also gives the parent the right to formally challenge that decision through one of the options available for resolving special education disputes. Those options are detailed in the Procedural Safeguards Notice* that is often referred to as the “Parent Rights Handbook.” Parents should be given a copy of the handbook at least once each year, but they can ask for a copy at any time.
In rare cases, individuals who serve as the LEA Representative over-use their decision making authority and the IEP team is not able to function properly. If this happens, a higher-level special education administrator should be notified so that corrective action can be taken.
Heather Ouzts, Parent Liaison
NCDPI Exceptional Children Division
“The only way to do great work is to love what you do.” (Jobs, 2005)
Several years ago, I was lucky enough to find my passion —helping families of students with disabilities. I have spent most of my life caring for children whether it was at work, church, or in my own home. As a mother of four children and as an employee in the schools, I learned that ALL children have special needs; some needs are just more easily seen. As a mother of a child with a disability, I learned that ALL parents have needs as well. In my work as a parent liaison, I have the great opportunity of trying to help schools meet the unique needs of both their students and their parents.
I first discovered my love for working with families as the parent liaison for the Exceptional Children Department of Alamance-Burlington School System in 2012. For three years, I worked with families, schools, and community partners to provide educational opportunities and resources for parents and build partnerships in our community. In August of 2015, I began a new position as the parent liaison within the Exceptional Children Division at the NC Department of Public Instruction (NCDPI). As a member of the Policy, Monitoring and Audit Section, I was specifically hired to support families of students with disabilities in North Carolina’s public schools.
Along with our Dispute Resolution Consultants, I do take questions from parents regarding special education services and policies. They may be looking for resources or want to know who to talk to about a certain issue. Parents may have concerns or questions regarding how the school is implementing the IEP or what the parent can do if they have a disagreement with the school regarding their child’s special education services. Sometimes the parent wants to know what their rights are as a parent of a student with a disability. As a liaison, I work with both the parents and the schools to make sure the parents’ questions and/or concerns are addressed.
My work at NCDPI also allows me the opportunity to provide professional development and technical assistance to school districts and charter schools on parent engagement. We are currently working to increase the number of parent liaisons and parent advisory councils available in local school districts and charters across the state. I participate on committees working on issues related to transition, surrogate parent guidance, and the School Mental Health Initiative. I also support the Council on Educational Services for Exceptional Children, the advisory council to the State Board of Education.
One of the best things about this position is that I do get to collaborate across the Division and work with so many families and schools across the state. I am always learning something new. Honestly, I have been amazed and encouraged by the efforts of so many here at NCDPI to continue to improve outcomes for all students. There is a lot of “heart” behind the hard work that I witness each day and, as a parent of a child with a disability, it fills me with hope for the future as we strive to meet the needs of students and families.
We must continue our efforts to educate families. I am a firm believer that when everyone can come to the IEP table with knowledge about the strengths and needs of the student, along with an understanding of the special education process, we will have better outcomes for students. It is critical for schools and families to improve communication and build relationships in order to meet the needs of both the student and the parents. It can make all the difference.
It really is great work… and I love it!
Parents can reach me at:
Visit us on the web at www.ncpublicschools.org
References: Jobs, S. (2005, June 15). Stanford Commencement Address. Retrieved from Apple Matters:
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) gives parents of children with disabilities several rights and protections. One of these is the right to request an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE) at the school system’s expense if they disagree with an evaluation that was conducted by their public school system. The IEE is intended to provide a “second opinion”, and would be limited to the same areas of focus that were included in the school evaluation. For example, if the school evaluation included psychological, educational and speech/language assessments, the IEE would only include psychological, educational and/or speech/language evaluations. The parent would not be able to add an occupational therapy evaluation and have the school system cover that cost as part of the IEE.
Most of the time, there is no need for an IEE. A properly planned and conducted school evaluation will typically give the IEP team the information that is needed to make decisions regarding a child’s eligibility for special education services, and to develop an appropriate individualized educational program (IEP) to meet that child’s specific needs. However, there are other times when a parent may want to consider the option of requesting an IEE.
If a child is found to be not eligible for special education services based on a school system evaluation, an IEE may provide additional information for the team to consider and perhaps change the eligibility decision. Sometimes the test scores will be higher or lower, or they may show a larger gap between the child’s general ability and his functioning in an area where there are concerns. The independent evaluator may use different tests or assessment methods that provide additional insight into the nature of the child’s difficulties and the pattern of strengths and weaknesses. This new information may tip the balance, and convince the team that the child does meet the eligibility requirements for special education services.
In some cases the school’s evaluation has resulted in scores that meet the eligibility criteria, but the team feels that there is not enough evidence that the student requires “specially designed instruction.” Team members may cite an acceptable level of performance, or a belief that factors other than a disability (e.g. excessive absences or a lack of appropriate instruction), may be responsible for the child’s weaknesses. In this situation, a second round of testing is not likely to change the eligibility decision.
For a child who gets, or already has, an IEP, there may be other decisions that are influenced by initial or re-evaluation results. The need for related services, certain accommodations or supports may be based, in part, on information gathered during a school evaluation. Inaccurate evaluation results may result in low expectations, disability issues that go unrecognized (and unaddressed) or even placements in more restrictive settings. The IEE could provide data that could prove to be a “game changer.”
The school system may provide a list of local clinicians who are qualified to conduct the requested evaluations, in an effort to assist parents in obtaining the IEE. However, parents are not limited to the persons on the list. They can select any professionals who are qualified to conduct the evaluation(s). The school system cannot establish an arbitrary dollar limit on the cost of the evaluation. The school system also cannot require the independent evaluators to only use certain assessment tools. Typically, billing arrangements are set up before the actual evaluation is scheduled, and the school system will receive a copy of the evaluation report. Note: When parents pay the cost of a private evaluation themselves, they can control whether or not that information is shared with the school.
If you feel that the school’s evaluation does not paint an accurate picture of your child and his or her needs, then an IEE may offer one of the best chances of obtaining the information needed to possibly change the outcome when the IEP team reconsiders important decisions.