Ought to dad and mom of disabled youngsters document Individualized Schooling Plans?
Sarasota County’s School Board will discuss Tuesday whether parents of children with disabilities can record meetings discussing their child’s education plan.
Two policy proposals will be on the table during Tuesday’s workshop: one that will allow recording during sessions of the individualized curriculum and one that will not.
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Federal law requires school officials to review the provisions within an IEP annually, but does not say whether or not parents can record the procedure.
The debate can pit parents against the district, with procedural school officials asking why parents want to record the meeting and parents asking why the district does not want them to record.
“When a family feels the need to record the IEP meeting, it is the perfect opportunity to partner, develop a working relationship,” said former special education teacher and current school director Karen Rose, who added that all her years in the District only reminded once that a meeting was recorded.
Ammunition for lawsuits
IEP meetings are usually scheduled during a busy school day and only attended by a small group of teachers, special education teachers, and parents.
Most meetings are uneventful, with parents and school agreeing on the accommodation a student will get – be it extended time for a test, a personal helper, or someone to help them take notes.
But a handful of these meetings can become very contentious.
In 2019, a judge ruled that Sarasota school officials mistakenly admitted a student with an average IQ to a special education program for students with the most severe disabilities.
The “DJ case” cost the district incalculable sums of money in legal fees, government sanctions and a loss of confidence – and a major debate in the case was whether school officials would accommodate DJ’s mother during several IEP meetings.
The issue of admission has become more pressing as special education has become more contentious, said Dan DeLeo, a partner of Shumaker, Loop and Kendrick LLP in Sarasota, which represents the Sarasota County School District.
DeLeo said some advocates of special education want to take advantage of this personally by filing lawsuits.
“You have an incentive to litigate,” he said.
Erika Franz, a special education teacher at Tatum Ridge Elementary School, has been in the district for 17 years. She said the general practice was not to allow recordings.
Franz could understand why the district wanted to make a guideline that parents cannot record – one parent could pick up a wrong sentence or poor choice of words and sue with it.
“People are looking for lawsuits,” said Franz. “I think the parents are looking for more – they come with lawyers, they come with lawyers … 95% of the meetings are a breeze, but you have some that can go off.”
Sarasota School Board Chair Shirley Brown said the records could violate the confidentiality of the meetings, and Sarasota Classified / Teachers Association President Pat Gardner said such a change would require negotiations with the union.
“If that’s what you want, you would have to come to the negotiating table,” Gardner said. “I guess (teachers) wouldn’t be happy about that. People took pictures and changed and edited them without their knowledge. “
Instead of allowing recordings, the district can provide parents with notes from the meetings. However, the DJ case has shown that these notes can sometimes become contentious in their own right.
Sue Memminger, one of DJ’s attorneys, said if they had a recording they might not have had to go to court and sometimes argued over what was being said in IEP meetings.
“The recording of the meeting improves the ability of the parents to cooperate with the school,” said Memminger. “Why would anyone want to make it difficult for parents to help their children?”
Nicole Shinall, an ESE kindergarten and first grader at Gulf Gate Elementary, said that during her 10 years at the school, no parents asked to record an IEP meeting, but she would have no problem if they did.
“I have no secrets, so I think (to allow inclusion) sends good news that we are not hiding anything,” Shinall said.
School council member Bridget Ziegler brought up the issue after hearing that some families were allowed to take pictures and some were not.
“There is a lot of jargon in these meetings, it’s very bureaucratic,” said Ziegler. “But at the end of the day (recording) the families can feel that there is a balance on the scales.”
The board will discuss the issue during the workshop on Tuesday. You could solicit more input or vote on a policy that will be made public before a final decision is made.
Ryan McKinnon covers schools for the Herald-Tribune. Connect with him at email@example.com or on Twitter: @JRMcKinnon. Support the Sarasota Herald-Tribune by registering today.