The development of an Individualized Education Program (“IEP”) is a decision-making process that depends on information from the school and a parent. Present levels of Performance (“PLOP”) are the starting point for determining a student’s educational needs. PLOPs create a snapshot of a child’s academic and educationally related non-academic needs, such as behavior or speech and language. The information can come from a variety of school-based sources, such as formal and informal assessment, progress reports, standardized testing, grades, and the impressions of the staff that work with the student. Parents may also have important relevant information or can provide insight to potential educational or health concerns, such as private assessments, therapy progress reports, and doctor’s letters.
The decision-making process is limited to the information available to the IEP team at the time the decisions are being made. Information from private and independent assessors, therapists, or medical professionals may help to support a parent’s concerns, point to specific needs, or provide useful clues for further assessment. Schools are responsible for addressing needs that they should have been aware of. However, concerns that are nuanced may go undetected, be difficult to identify, or appear unrelated to a student’s educational needs. Providing outside information may put the school on notice of new or changed circumstances.
Make sure the IEP team has all of the information that may help in the decision-making process. It is good practice for a parent not to withhold information that may help the school understand the student’s disability or educational needs. It is ideal to provide any new information to the IEP team when it is received. However, a parent may want to get all of the newest information together, or obtain written input from outside providers, before the school conducts assessments or an upcoming IEP meeting. Sending new information by email can help ensure there is a record of what was shared and that it is considered by any relevant IEP team members.
A parent may provide an updated list of current outside providers, doctors, and other professionals that can help answer questions the IEP team may have. Providing an updated list to the school, at least once a year or at a time of any significant change, ensures that everyone knows who is actively supporting the student. It is a good practice for a parent to let the school know that if they will facilitate communication with the providers by consenting to communication. The school may require an exchange of information or similar permission form before sharing school information with an outside professional. Outside professionals may also require a form for their own before speaking with the school.
The types of outside provider information that may help an IEP team plan for a student’s educational needs may vary. Educational needs are defined broadly in the law. These areas include academic, communication, social emotional, behavioral, and more. An outside provider may have information that fits into multiple areas. For example, a private psychological evaluation may provide information relevant to academic or mental health needs. An outside behavioral specialist may have knowledge about which strategies are effective or do not work. Academic tutors may have up to date information on the student’s PLOPs in reading or the types of accommodations or modifications that are effective. A doctor may have important information about the severity of a condition or the standard of care necessary to address a specific health concern.
Withholding information from the school can create unexpected problems in the event of a disagreement. While schools are ultimately responsible for assessing in all areas of suspected disability and need, concerns that are not readily apparent may not trigger the school’s obligation. Additionally, the school may be aware of the need but disagree about the impact. Outside information can help bridge the gap between the parent’s understanding and the school’s. Even if the IEP team disagrees, the information becomes part of the discussion that forms the basis of the school’s offer of a Free Appropriate Public Education (“FAPE”) in the Least Restrictive Environment (“LRE”). The information may be critical if a parent disagrees and decides to file a due process complaint.
Withholding outside provider information can have unintended consequences in the event of a dispute. The IEP is considered a cooperative process and parental participation is held in high regard. If outside information does not support a desired outcome it still may be helpful in confirming the direction of the IEP team’s decision-making. Outside information that was withheld may find its way back into the conversation and be seen as unreasonable if a parent is advocating for a contrary outcome. Additionally, a parent should not withhold information simply because they believe the school should obtain it on their own. The additional information could help set the IEP team up for success in developing the student’s IEP.
Privacy rights are a common concern for parents who may have information to share with an IEP team. Information provided by health care providers, organizations, and their business associates, that is protected by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (“HIPAA”) may be relevant and important for an IEP team to consider. However, providing sensitive or personal information to the IEP team or assessors may raise reasonable concerns about confidentiality. School records are confidential and protected by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (“FERPA”) but that does not offer the same level of protection as records protected by HIPAA. When information that is protected by HIPAA is written into a school record, the school document is protected by FERPA and not accorded the same level of accountability for violations of confidentiality.
If a parent is uncomfortable providing access to sensitive or personal information, they should speak with the IEP team. Although the information may be very personal it may reflect on the needs of the student and inform the IEP team about types and level of support necessary. Information about a student’s trauma may be deeply personal, but relevant to considering the type of therapy or whether the student needs a more restrictive placement. Talking to the assessors or IEP team about limiting the information they put in educational documents is a good first step to potentially avoid unnecessary conflicts. If unable to find common ground, a parent should ask for Prior Written Notice (“PWN”).
Parents can set the IEP team up for success by sharing outside information! Staying focused on developing the student’s IEP can be challenging. A parent can stay ahead of the curve and make the most of parental participation by providing outside information to the IEP team. Information can help everyone better understand the child’s unique needs, previous interventions, and successful strategies. Providing the information to the IEP team up front means it will be considered in the development of the IEP or in conducting further assessments. In the event of a disagreement, the information and outside professional could potentially serve as a valuable resource to support the parent’s position.