Why Parents Need a Legal Advocate Side by Side: 5 Questions Every Parent Should Ask at their Next PPT Meeting
By: Attorney Lawrence W. Berliner, Law Office of Lawrence W. Berliner, LLC, Westport and Guilford, CT Special Education and Disability Law
Parents want the best for their children, after all, why should parents settle for anything less. This statement is especially true for parents of children with special needs when they are dealing with their local school districts at formal and informal meetings. Unfortunately, what the special education law provides and what parents want for their children are often not in harmony.
Having an experienced special education attorney available to review your child’s education records and then advise you whether your child is receiving an appropriate array of special education and related services, can help level the playing field when you are dealing with the local school district at informal meetings, PPT meetings, and formal administrative and legal proceedings through legal advocacy on the family’s behalf.
1. Have you ever attended a PPT Meeting and felt the school members of the meeting were discussing a different child? School members of the PPT will often report that your child is making progress. The question is whether that progress is meaningful educational benefit instead of trivial benefit. Parents see their child in a variety of settings and often the concern of a parent is whether skills supposedly learned in school are being generalized to other settings such as the home and community. Parents are experts on their child and are in the best position to know whether their child’s needs are being met by the school district and whether the progress reported is in fact meaningful. An attorney can represent your interests and advocate for your position at the PPT Meeting.
2. Have you ever attended a PPT Meeting and felt that members of the PPT were speaking in a foreign language? Do the school members of the PPT use acronyms so they know what they are discussing but you feel that you do not. Ever hear the PPT members use acronyms such as DRA, RTI, FAPE, OT, PT, LRE, LD, OHI, ESY, and you feel that you are being left out of that discussion. It is important that you completely understand the terminology in order to ensure a parent’s meaningful participation. An attorney can assist you in demystifying the PPT process.
3. Have you ever received a set of school district evaluations and the test results that were never explained to you? School districts are obligated to complete standardized and other testing at periodic intervals in order to establish and maintain eligibility for special education, to establish progress, and to review and revise a student’s IEP. Often parents receive the school’s evaluation at the PPT Meeting. Unless you had a chance to review the evaluation report in advance of the PPT Meeting and/or completely understand the evaluation report and the recommendations, if any, parents may end up being silent during the meeting since they do not know what to ask the evaluator. An attorney and/or other qualified professional can review the school’s report and advise you of the report’s implications for your child’s education.
4. Did you receive the record from the PPT Meeting and that record is either incomplete or inaccurate? An IEP is supposed to list the concerns of the parents to enhance their child’s education. Parents need to review the record from the PPT meeting and ensure that their concerns were recorded in the Parents’ Concern and Input section, the PPT Summary section, and/or the Written Prior Notice page. If the record from the PPT meeting is inaccurate or incomplete, parents can submit an letter or e-mail requesting an amendment to the PPT record to ensure that the parents’ concerns, input, requests, agreement and/or disagreements are part of the PPT record. Since PPT documents may be utilized in later legal proceedings, it is important that the record from the PPT meeting is reasonably accurate. An attorney can advise you of your rights regarding amendments to the PPT record.
5. Do you know what your rights are and how to access your rights if you do not agree with the results from the PPT Meeting? The school district is obligated to provide you with a copy of your Procedural Safeguards. This information whether in print or electronic format outlines your child’s rights to special education and your rights to dispute the outcome of the PPT Meeting. For example, if you disagree with the school district’s evaluation, you have the right to request an Independent Educational Evaluation. If you made a request for a specific service or program and that request was denied, you have a right to request a Due Process hearing or the parties have agreed to proceed to Mediation with an impartial Mediator. If the IEP as written is not being followed, you have the right to file an informal request for an investigation with the State Department of Education. If you believe that your child is being discriminated on the basis of his disability, then you can file an administrative complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights and request an investigation. Since administrative and judicial complaints often have time limitations on pursing such legal remedies, it is important that you not delay and consult an attorney about your rights and legal options. An attorney can assess the legal merits of your child’s case and then advise you of any available administrative and judicial options.