By Hyman Darling, Esq., Massachusetts
With special ed spending down 11 percent since 2010, parents may find meetings with the local Committee on Special Education (CSE) increasingly tense. When negotiating with educational experts, families often feel intimidated and outgunned, so it’s important to arrive prepared.
Prior to your first meeting with the CSE, talk to your child’s teachers in order to understand what approaches have already been tried, then build a record of events and evaluations to support your request. The school is required to reimburse you for any evaluations that you arrange.
If you belong to a local support group, ask other parents about their experiences with the special ed system. Consider engaging an advocate—possibly a special ed professional—early in the process. They can provide you with a realistic expectation of what the school district is likely to provide and will signal to the committee that you are serious about pursuing the best possible IEP for your child.
Envision beforehand the IEP (Individualized Education Plan) you believe would best meet your child’s requirements. In order to do so:
- evaluate your child’s strengths and weaknesses;
- assess their effect on his/her ability to learn;
- establish educational goals;
- identify services that could improve your child’s ability to learn;
- determine if the current school environment can support your child’s needs.
At the Meetings
Ask if you may record the CSE meeting, since some states grant you that right. Being on record in this manner is likely to ensure that CSE members follow guidelines. You’ll be more effective if you avoid emotion, so try to stay calm. If you’re unable to agree on the IEP, ask that the meeting be suspended so that you can bring in legal counsel. In order to avoid legal fees, CSEs frequently become more flexible when a special needs attorney becomes involved.
If you and the CSE continue to be at odds, you’re entitled to an impartial hearing. At this point, it becomes important to follow procedures that will protect your right -if necessary – to appeal the hearing officer’s decision to the appropriate state agency. Since your appeal will be based on what’s “on record,” you’ll need to submit as much evidence as possible to support your position. This could include doctors’ and social workers’ reports, as well as your proposals for a more acceptable IEP. On appeal, the process becomes a mini-trial, where both testimony and evidence are submitted, and the school district bears the burden of proof.
Parents usually call my office once discussions with the CSE have become contentious, and they naturally want to know their chances of winning their case. I often advise them that, while they’re likely to be successful in obtaining specific services, they need to be realistic about how many hours of one-to-one service are likely to be mandated. The discussion can become very emotional. The key is to have as waterproof a case as possible.