Know your virtual meeting platform, ensure parent participation

A Q&A with a school attorney about virtual IEP and 504 team meeting tools, including legal considerations and conversation facilitation
By: | November 19, 2020
Getty Images, dowellGetty Images, dowell

When it comes to virtual meetings in special education, school teams need to know the platform they’re using inside and out—or at least have one person on the team who does, says Jeremy J. Neff, a school attorney at Ennis Britton Co. LPA in Cincinnati, Ohio. Doing so enhances security and sends a message of professionalism to all meeting attendees.

This designated host should be able to use the platform’s tools as needed and be able to show other members of the team how to participate in the meeting, Neff says. “It’s worth having that person you can talk to.” Then you can tell parents, for example, “Hey, here are the tools, here’s how you can use it, here’s a person you can contact if you have concerns,” he says.

Neff addressed this and other topics related to virtual meetings in the LRP webinar Real-World Strategies for Virtual IEP and 504 Team Meetings. His answers to questions below have been edited for length and clarity.

Q: The IDEA states that parent training can be a related service. Under this provision, are we required to train all parents to effectively use our videoconferencing platform?

Neff: The answer is, “No, but …” I think that requirement is primarily aimed at parents to the extent that them being trained in something is delivering FAPE. I can’t think of any decisions that interpreted that differently.

This [is really] about the meaningful parental participation requirement. Not just that [parents are] on the call, but that they’re able to meaningfully participate. That’s where your requirement to provide some level of training or accommodation is going to come into play.

Q: Would we be in legal trouble if the parent expresses dissatisfaction with a specific videoconference platform we use to hold the virtual IEP meeting?

Neff: It depends. Let’s ask some questions. Let’s find out why. It could be if a family has a Chromebook, for example, that has a different operating system than a traditional desktop or laptop computer. Sometimes that operating system doesn’t jibe with certain platforms. So, you want to know that and figure out a way to accommodate that. Accommodations could be things like, “We’ll set up a room at the school [so] that you can participate in the meeting,” or “We’ll ensure you have a hot spot that will allow you to participate in the meetings, and we’ll drop it off [and] we’ll pick it back up.” It’s not that you need to leave it there forever, but you can find ways to facilitate that participation. But as far as a parent dictating what platform you use, I don’t see that going anywhere as long as you’ve investigated the concern and figured out a workaround. It doesn’t have to be their chosen workaround, but you’ve figured out a way to facilitate their participation.

Q: Would it be a best practice to designate a specific school staff member of the IEP team as a host or moderator during a virtual IEP meeting, and who would be the best candidate to do this?

Neff: The last part of that probably depends on personality. It’s a little bit personality and also just thinking of the [needs] of the child. Let’s say you have a child who receives extensive speech services, you probably don’t want to tag the [speech-language pathologist] with also [is] facilitating or moderating the meeting, even if they’re really good at it, because their hands are full. There’s a little bit of a balance there. I would say that in the real world, often it seems that if there’s a school psychologist that’s participating, they’re also the one that kind of controls the flow of the meeting. If not them, maybe a central office administrator. I could see that continuing to be the case.

Speaking from personal experience as I’m participating in virtual coffee chats and seminars, it can be helpful to have another person that’s only in charge of that piece—making sure people are muted, people are on, they’re being admitted from the waiting room—and a different person who’s actually running the meeting. But the law obviously doesn’t address this, so it really is a practical decision. Because this is sensitive information, I’d be cautious about reaching far beyond the normal IEP or 504 team. I’d like it to be someone who would normally be a part of the meeting, not just a random … someone that we’ve brought in.

Q: Any suggestions for a virtual 504 meeting for a student who has anxiety?

Neff: In some ways, perhaps, it could be a little simpler. The law wants you to show that you’re really taking into account the individual child’s needs. [Doing that] in good faith gets you so far in avoiding litigation to begin with, and prevailing if you can’t avoid it. Is there a person at the school that’s a check-in person for that child that you [can] chat with and learn from that person some ideas? Maybe we do need to go ahead and not have screens. Maybe it needs it be a phone call. Maybe we need to figure out a way to meet in person. If we can chat with that person and then document that in a prior written notice after the meeting all the steps you took, that’s going to go a long way toward showing the steps you took.

And think again: You’ve been meeting in the real world — what’s the analog? What’s the virtual analog for what you’ve done in the real world? So, if it’s been something where you get input in advance from the child and somebody reports that out to the team, do the same thing in the virtual world.

Florence Simmons covers Section 504, paraprofessionals, and transportation for Special Ed Connection, a DA sister publication.