School Law Advisor Blog

Special Education Update - Avoiding Predetermination Claims

          While the IDEA and courts show deference to educators as the experts in educational strategies, methodology, and program development, the IDEA requires districts to ensure that the parents of each child with a disability are members of any groups that makes decisions about their child's educational placement.  Smart IEP Teams are always actively avoiding predetermination, and know that predetermination occurs when district members of the IEP team unilaterally decide a student's placement in advance of an IEP meeting.  Common traps for Teams are when they believe that their district only utilizes a single program or only offers a single "one size always fits all" solution to any particular student with a disability's need.  Usually, listening to a parent's ideas and being willing to incorporate those ideas or explain how their concerns are already being addressed in the district's proposed program will educate and satisfy all parties.  However, in difficult situations, balancing the effort to come into a Team meeting with an opinion on the best program for a student and with a mind open to consider the opinions of the parents is no easy task.  Two recent court decisions rewarded the efforts made by district Team members to avoid predetermination and to, frankly, tirelessly work though a very difficult and contentious situation.
           In J.E. and C.F. v. Chappequa Central School District, a New York school district had to defend a claim for tuition reimbursement for a family that unilaterally placed their autistic son in a private program.  In the child's time at the school district, he had multiple BIPs and a 1-on-1 aide.  The Team already had quarterly meetings to discuss the child's needs, and when parents became increasingly frustrated they planned monthly meetings to discuss the student's academic and behavioral progress.  The court looked to the fact that both parents were actively engaged in the IEP meetings, and that the district addressed a majority of their concerns.  It says "the mere fact that the IEP may not have incorporated every request from the parents does not render the parents 'passive observers' or evidence any predetermination."  According to the IEP meeting notes, the court also observed, the parents had originally agreed with the district's placement recommendation and only expressed their disagreement with proposed placement after the IEP was finalized.
          In another New York case, R.B. v. New York City Dept. of Ed., a court again highlighted the efforts by the school district, including the district's proposed options and the incorporation of the parents' comments and concerns.  There, the parents argued that the district should have provided a 6:1:1 setting for their 17-year-old child with autism and significant developmental delays.  The district decided against this request because it felt that student would have difficulty remaining focused.  In the court's opinion, rejecting this request did not mean that the district "categorically rejected the parents' preferred ratio without due consideration."  Instead, the court explained that the district considered several different classroom options, heard the parents' concerns about the 6:1:1 ratio, and approached the drafting of the IEP with an open mind.
          There are many strategies which can become effective tools for Teams to effectively listen and respond to parents' concerns and ideas in IEP meetings.  Avoiding predetermination claims is one successful result of developing these interpersonal skills.