Refusing to Attend IEP Meetings
I shake my head when I hear “non-attorney special education advocates” advise parents not to attend IEP meetings when litigation is pending. Some of these advocates argue that no IEP meetings should take place while a petition for a due process hearing is pending.
There is rarely a good excuse for refusing to attend an IEP meeting.
The point of a parent attending the IEP meetings is two-fold:
1. To resolve the issues in good faith; and
2. To show the hearing officer that the parent attended the meetings in good faith in attempts to resolve the issues amicably.
If a parent doesn’t go to the IEP meetings, we’ll never know if anything could have been resolved amicably. In my experience practicing before the Office of Administrative Law in New Jersey, the Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) want special education issues amicably resolved as quickly as possible for the child’s benefit.
In some cases, refusal to attend IEP meetings and/or refusal to engage in discussion about the issues in good faith can be fatal to their case.
By way of example, I discussed a NJ case a few months ago that involved a parent who attended IEP meetings, but refused to engage in open dialogue about the issues that concerned the parent. When the parent unilaterally placed the child in a private school, the parent filed a petition for a due process hearing to seek reimbursement. The parent lost at the state level. On appeal in federal court, the parent lost again for the same reasons that the state hearing officer gave.
The above case serves as a warning of sorts to parents who refuse to attend IEP meetings and/or refuse to engage in open discussion with the IEP team in good faith about the issues affecting the child.
There is rarely a good reason for refusing to attend an IEP meeting. If you are a parent, and a non-attorney is telling you not to attend an IEP meeting, consult with an attorney knowledgeable in special education matters for a second opinion.