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Roger N. Meyer "...of a different mind "
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SIGNATURES,  CONSENT, AND HOW TO MAKE YOUR DISAGREEMENT COUNT

Copyright 1999 Roger N. Meyer

 

This article appears at http://oregonparentsunited.org/howto3.htm

 

 

     There is nothing in IDEA that requires parent signature on IEP documents. Signatures are mandated on other documents, but not the IEP. Congressional comment contained within PL 105-17 (IDEA 1997 does, however, suggest that parents sign as an indication of their agreement, if they do agree. The new regulations for IDEA 1997 are replete with similar remarks.

 

     There are many ways to go about doing this. Most importantly, for all of the information below, make sure you leave an IEP Team meeting with a copy of absolutely everything you have signed or initialed. If the copier is unavailable, offer to go to the nearest photocopy store and duplicate it, at school expense of course. As one of the TV ads used to advise the viewer: "Don't leave home without it."

 

     If they refuse you copies, put them on notice by saying that despite good progress being made at that meeting, that their refusal to allow you to copy the documents has put a different light on the entire meeting. You need not confront them with the fact that their refusal to allow you to copy is illegal. You should, however, inform them that if they attempt to implement anything in the documents you just signed or initialed, you are now notifying them that the documents are invalid. Don't use legalisms such as the term "null and void" but that is exactly what their refusal has just done. If it appears necessary at that point to be firm AND forceful with your remarks, you might inform them they will hear from your attorney and the state about their action the following day (make sure that is a credible threat!). With one careless and thoughtless act, the school officials have converted a love feast into gladiators' contest.

 

     They have also tipped their hand. Now you know what you are likely to deal with from this point forward. Much as we remind our kids, we often fail to remind ourselves: Actions have consequences. A refusal to act, a failure to act, is action.

 

**********

 

     Let's assume that everything has gone very well, and there is no trouble like that mentioned above. One thing catches your eye. The document has no place for your signature. There are IEP forms that don't have room for a signature indicating agreement. They only have lines to indicate who has attended.

 

     As children, we were told to color inside the lines. We were taught to behave and fill out forms exactly as they appear. Everything we were told about forms reinforced the concept that we are without choice. As parents, we are no longer children, and the rules of coloring books and "fill in the form exactly as I say" don't necessarily apply. We have choices.

 

     If there is no "room" for you to sign, just prominently write your signature anywhere on the document. You are proud of this work. If the IEP process was successful, you have a right to feel ownership of the decisions made for and on behalf of your child. Most IEP's have some kind of a cover sheet, so maybe it's best to do it there. Many states have developed "forms" for the plan, or for each part of the plan, and are identified as Transition Plan, Behavioral Intervention Plan, etc. You can sign or initial these sheets as well, and write in "Parent(s) agree," or words to that effect.

 

     Now let's look at a situation which is more likely to happen.

 

     Let's assume things never get to a point of perfect agreement. You feel uncomfortable with what has gone on in the meeting. It lacks an air of civility and it is about to end with your feeling pushed, rushed, disrespected, or ignored. Yet, there are the IEP documents. Some may be OK. Some are truly horrid. Some are partly OK. What do you do?

 

     If you disagree or reject the IEP and everyone else just assumes you will sign anyway, grab the document at the end of the meeting, and in BIG LETTERS write something to the effect: "Parent does not agree." Then sign it and date it. Try to do this nonchalantly as you can as the meeting wraps up, but do it.

 

     Other statements you might make could be the following:

 

Parent(s) agrees to only those items marked with parent(s) initials.  Sign your full name(s) and the date, and next to each item to which you agree, sign your initials and the date.

 

This document was presented to the parent for signature as a blank document. Same thing, signature and date. This practice is more common than you might think. Would you think of signing a blank check and handing it to your teenager?

 

Parent presented with an incomplete document for those items as identified with parent(s) initials and date.  Sign and date. Then sign your initials and date next to those items that are not complete at time of your signature.

 

Parent presented with incomplete IEP. The following items are missing: Then identify them as best you can. These things may be pages, evaluations with educational or placement recommendations, or similar essential documents, including documents you yourself have submitted to be a part of the IEP as indicated by your statement to that effect on those documents. Sign and date at the bottom of your list.

 

Parent intimidated [harassed, threatened] at meeting. Signature represents attendance, not agreement. Sign and date. After you leave the meeting, compose a memorandum of record. In simple words, depict facts, not feelings that led to your statement. Hand-carry your memorandum to the person who has your child's IEP records. Before you ask them to do anything with it, present them with a carbonless receipt. The receipt should have on its face the date, time, the full signature and title of the person receiving your materials, and a two or three word description of what is being given to them. Have them sign and hand them the second, pressure copy of the receipt. Then request that the receipt be attached. to the memorandum, and ask to witness its physical attachment to the document that you previously signed in the meeting. Assuming you took a copy of the original document home with you after the meeting attach the receipt to your memorandum and the document copy at home.

 

A WORD ABOUT RECEIPTS

 

Review the paragraph above and note how the parent not only documents an event, but also makes a permanent record of materials they convey to record-holders at the school. While this may seem overly formal and involve a lot of paperwork, special education does involve a lot of paperwork. Every time you repeat the process suggested above, you protect yourself by preserving a record of your child's special education, and the paper trail useful in determining how complete the official records actually are for him.

 

Parent not present at all of the IEP Meeting.  Sign and date. Once you get home, compose a memorandum indicating what part(s) of the meeting you missed, and why that happened. If there was something that the school authorities did that caused you to miss part(s) of the meeting, describe these matters with clear, factual statements. and even though some may reflect "badly" on you, life happens, doesn't it? The one thing you will appreciate with good record keeping is that is can bring out the best in people, and one of the best traits in a person is honesty. Treat this memorandum as the one in the example above.

 

Parent excluded from participation during [X] phase of this IEP Team Meeting. Sign and date. This may mean physical exclusion, or when you find the meeting already in progress when you arrive, or have knowledge that it continued following your departure. Compose a memorandum as per the above, and handle it the same way.

 

Parent not permitted to actively participate as an equal member of the IEP Meeting. Again, sign and date. As with the above instances, compose a memorandum of record at home outlining, calmly and factually, how your active participation was forbidden or denied. Handle the submission of your memorandum to the official school IEP and to your own home records as described above.

 

Parent does not agree with or consent to [child's name] placement.  Sign and date. You may also want to repeat the same phrase with signature and date at the exact place on the IEP document that identifies placement.

 

Parent's advocate [or any other significant party who came with you] not permitted to participate.  Here, get the signature(s) of your expert, advocate, spouse, CHILD, or any other person prevented from attending and participating on behalf of your child.

 

Parent documents from [identify person, title, date of document] were not accepted by [evaluation team or IEP Team]. Sign and date. Unlike the other memoranda you composed at home, with this item you want to keep a record AT the meeting of what was not permitted, whether it is testimony, appearance, or documentation. Take your notes home with you along with those documents, and compose your memorandum of record. In your memorandum, reference each document and briefly describe what was said or done by school officials including any attorney or school counsel regarding them. Take copies of your originals and physically attach them to your memorandum. Take the materials down to the IEP document holder at the school, and this time obtain a receipt from the person identifying them by name, title, place and time of your transfer to that person. Attach a COPY of that receipt to the material, and enclose or attach it to the IEP. Take the original receipt home with you, affix it to your memorandum and the original documents, and store them with your files.

 

School Attorney present during the [evaluation or IEP Team] meeting. Parent did not have counsel.  Sign and date secure the identification of the attorney by name and his/her title. This is a blatant violation of the spirit of IDEA even if you were informed of the attorney's presence in any notice you receive about the meeting. Unfortunately, this happens, and parents are often completely overwhelmed by the experience. The school has guaranteed an adversary environment for the meeting. The school, having set this kind of a stage for an evaluation or an IEP meeting is in contravention of IDEA and the regulations directing collaboration and problem solving in a non-adversarial setting. The same statement applies to the presence of anyone whose interest is not that of your child and his/her education. This means union stewards or representatives, or other "surprise" attendees you don't know, recognize, or who have never met your child. Even if they don't sign the IEP, politely request their name, title, and where they are from. Directly inquire of them as to their reason for attendance.

 

Parent was not informed in advance of the meeting of additional agenda items in notice of meeting. Those items were [A, B, C, etc.].   Sign, date, AND describe them the best you can, but keep the description brief. Schools may inadvertently forget to mention an agenda item. Often, they add the REAL items they are interested in only at the meeting, items that you are not prepared to discuss. This is a typical "blindsiding" approach deliberately used to keep the parent off guard, wondering what will come next, and often unable to recover composure. There is no need to do a memorandum. Your description is sufficient.

 

If this happened, that fact alone, especially if you didn't get to discuss the agenda items as mailed or your own agenda items as you brought your concerns to the meeting, this is a serious due process procedural violation. It demonstrates bad faith by the school authorities.

 

Parent agrees with [X, Y, and Z--be specific!] All other items are not agreed to and are subject to further IEP discussion.  Sign and date. You should even initial and date those items, if they are separately identified (they should be). School authorities are known to implement a non-agreed-to item, delete or add new items following your departure from the meeting. This shows the reader that the document is an interim, or work-in-progress document. This perfectly OK. If this is a completely new IEP, it is especially important to get those items agreed to promptly implemented. Identifying those items provides the school authorities that "green light." to move forward and implement them. If there is later disagreement about those items, you need only show your signature or initials to them.

 

     The school authorities cannot hold the implementation of agreed to items in an IEP hostage to completion of the other items on that page or in the plan as a whole.

 


 

      Many of the proposed entries listed above are only common sense. As adults, we rarely think of making corrections to documents handed to us for our signature. We tend to follow the practice of obedience and deference to authority or overwhelming numbers in the same way we did as children. Even if we've shown no other outward signs of extreme displeasure with the way things have gone, we can remain controlled during the meeting, hoping things will change. If we don't, we often forget that evaluation and IEP Teams are supposed to be collaborative and based on a partnership model and we leave each meeting angrier than we did the last one. When parents use simple statements such as those above, we exert a degree of control over the process that assures that return to the table will be taken more seriously. Such statements above a parent's signature demonstrate that in future meetings, we expect to be treated with respect and as equal partners in deciding on our special needs child's education.

 

 

Copyright Issues

 

This article is copyright, all rights reserved by the author, Roger N. Meyer.  It may be reproduced in single copy once for personal use, and in no more than ten copies total for educational purposes.  Fair Use is authorized for all purposes and under conditions established by US Statute and the International Copyright Convention, to which the United States is a signatory nation.  No person shall publish, distribute, copy, or by other means make this material available to others for purposes of personal gain or professional self-aggrandizement.  Individuals wishing permission to exercise other than fair use or limited distribution as outlined above must contact the author, in writing, and receive explicit written permission from the author prior to engaging in further use of this material.

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