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In Letter to Andel, 116 LRP 8548, the Office of Special Education Programs (“OSEP”) was asked to address what a school district’s options are when a parent brings an attorney to a student’s individualized education plan (“IEP”) meeting without giving the district prior notice.  Specifically, the questions were (1) whether the school district can prevent the IEP meeting from proceeding and, (2) whether the IEP meeting could be postponed until the school district had the opportunity to bring its own attorney.

As OSEP points out, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”) and its implementing regulations do not require parents to give prior notice to the district of the parent’s attorney attending the IEP meeting.  Only school districts are obligated to give notice before bringing an attorney to an IEP meeting. Further, either the parent or a school district may bring any individual that has knowledge or expertise regarding the child to the IEP meeting. A school district that tries to prevent an IEP meeting from occurring because a parent brought an advocate would be interfering with the parent’s rights under these regulations.  The letter notes, however, that although it is not required, the parent should provide the school district with advance notice if an attorney will be present.

In regard to the second question, OSEP determined that a school district may reschedule the IEP meeting as long as the parent agrees and the student’s right to free appropriate public education (“FAPE”) is not delayed or denied.  If, however, a parent insists on the IEP meeting occurring as scheduled, the school district would have to proceed and cannot prevent the parent’s attorney from being present and participating.

Finally, the letter reiterated OSEP’s longstanding position that attorneys present at IEP meetings may cause an adversarial atmosphere and, therefore, OSEP recommends that attorneys not be invited by either party.

As we move into annual review season, school districts may face situations where attorneys unexpectedly show up at an IEP meeting without notice.  Contact Michelle Todd or Stephanie Jones with your inquiries.