Don’t forget IDEA requirements when conducting virtual IEP meetings

Frequently seeking parents' input in virtual IEP meetings helps ensure school district teams are fulfilling their obligations under the IDEA.

Districts must keep IDEA obligations in mind when planning for and conducting virtual IEP team meetings, which come with challenges but also benefits.

Crane (Texas) Independent School District teams have engaged in virtual IEP team meetings using the Zoom app since March 19. “It’s almost more deliberate and more focused being online,” says Shelley Garcia, the district’s special education director. “A lot of times, in person, there is sidebar talking. It’s not disorganized, but it has a tendency to go on longer than it has to go on. The Zoom meeting is more deliberate. Everybody takes their turns.”

Just remember that you must ensure meaningful parental participation regardless of the way you conduct an IEP meeting.

“Call the parents before the remote meeting to lay the groundwork and step up the level of trust a notch,” suggests Garcia.

Also take these steps:

  • Send prior written notice. It doesn’t matter how you are conducting the meeting; you still have to send PWN in “a reasonable time” before the meeting. [Source: 34 CFR 300.503(a)]. Scan the notice and email it to the parents in addition to sending it to them via traditional mail, Garcia said. Also email and mail the draft IEP and other documentation. “We still send them all the paper documents in the mail, but we are scanning and emailing the documents as well,” she said. Just be sure you are meeting your confidentiality obligations under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act when you send the documents, Garcia said.
  • Address language needs. Arrange for an interpreter to be a part of the virtual meeting if you know the parents speak a language other than English, Garcia says. Don’t forget to send translated materials via email and mail if the parents also prefer reading in another language.
  • Show the working IEP as you go. Allow the parents to see each part of the document on the screen as you discuss the IEP, Garcia says. If parents can only call into the online meeting, rather than use video and audio, record the meeting and share it with the parents afterward. Remind parents that you’re recording at the start of the meeting.
  • Afford parents a constant voice. Make sure parents are not muted at any point during the meeting, Garcia advises. Check in regularly to ensure they have not been dropped from the meeting or are having technical difficulty on their end. “Constantly ask them if they have any questions or concerns,” she says. “We want them to give their input as freely as anybody else in the [online] meeting. They should be just as integrated into the [online] meeting as they would be into our traditional meetings in person.”
  • Review the meeting minutes. Go over the minutes of the virtual meeting with everyone at the end and ensure everyone is in agreement and the administrator reads the assurances as she would in a traditional IEP meeting, Garcia says. Then, when possible, have parents submit remote signatures. If not possible, seek their verbal agreement and write down that they participated by phone and what they said. Then email and mail everything to the parents. Garcia says, “There has to be a level of trust that the school is inputting what the parents say.”

Cara Nissman covers autism, school psychology, and IEP team issues for Special Ed Connection, a DA sister publication.

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