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Marion Walsh
BY Marion Walsh

Ten Comments You May Hear at IEP Meetings and How You Should Respond

With the start of the New Year, families and special educators start thinking about IEP Meetings.  While most school district personnel are caring individuals with knowledge of the law, some may misunderstand IDEIA obligations or simply be too overwhelmed to address your child’s needs and interpret the law to place the burden of a FAPE on you.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEIA) places an affirmative obligation on school districts to provide a free appropriate public education to students with disabilities.  The Dignity for All Students Act also places an obligation on school districts to address bullying and harassment in school.

Here are 10 comments that school district personnel will frequently say, in frustration or ignorance.  And here is how you can answer:

1.“We are not responsible for your child’s progress.”

Parent Response:   Of course, we are partners in helping our child make progress.  But a school district must provide a program for a student with a disability reasonably calculated to produce educational benefit and has an affirmative obligation to provide FAPE and to monitor progress.  If our child is not making educational progress, please suggest more support and changes to her program.

2. “Your child does well in school when she is here (when child is absent most of the time).”

Parent Response:  Our child is absent in school more than she is in school and is not making progress.   We have tried everything we can to get her to go to school but cannot.  She needs more support and help and perhaps a different placement.   We believe that the problems are caused by school anxiety.  Her doctor has confirmed this.   Please suggest some interventions and services and may we consider another placement and interventions.  Serious attendance issues represent a red flag that school district

3. “We have not witnessed any bullying of your child and he seems very happy.” 

Parent Response: I have reported specific instances of bullying and the school district has a duty to investigate.  My child may appear happy in school because he does not like to show that he is scared and upset, but he cries every night and has given us specific details about who is bullying him, where and when.

4. “Your son’s presence in school would scare the other children.”

Parent Response:  This statement is completely inappropriate and insulting.   The CSE has a duty to place students with disabilities in the least restrictive environment and to ensure maximum interaction with non-disabled peers.   A school district may not exclude a student from the mainstream or from interaction with non-disabled peers, based on the student’s physical appearance or severe disability.   .

5. “I received your request for records when I was on vacation and could not respond.”

 Parent Response:    We submitted the request and we need access to these records in order to meaningfully participate in the next IEP meeting.  The law provides a set timeline for school districts to respond to a request for records under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.  The district must respond within a reasonable time and, in any event, not more than 45 days after a request.   There must be other staff members in the office to respond.   School districts must, pursuant to IDEIA regulations, provide records before the next CSE meeting or Resolution Session.

6. “We restrained your child because she was a danger to others.”

Parent Response: This action represents an illegal intervention and has violated our daughter’s rights.  New York State law no longer permits restraint or aversive interventions.  You are violating the law and we need to find another placement if the placement does not have enough support for my daughter’s behavior.

7. “Your child has no diagnosis so is not eligible for classification.” 

Parent Response: A child does not need a specific diagnosis to be eligible for classification as a student with a disability.  In order to classify a child as a student with a disability, if a child is not making educational progress due to a disability in one of 13 categories, based on evaluations conducted pursuant to the IDEIA,  the school district must classify the child.  A specific diagnosis from a physician is not required.

8. “We cannot classify your child  at this time.  We do not know which category she fits into.”

Parent Response:  I referred my child to the Committee on Special Education and provided consent for evaluations.  The CSE has 60 days to make a decision on eligibility.   Courts have held that the most important inquiry under the IDIEA is whether a child requires special education services and whether the IEP meets areas of need.  The specific category of classification is less important than the provision of appropriate services.

9. “You need to speak to a doctor and consider medication.” 

Parent Response:  The IDEIA specifically prohibits school districts from making school attendance conditional on a child receiving medication.

 10. “In this school district, we do not provide speech services more than three times weekly.”

Parent response:  The IDEIA requires individualized services to meet each child’s needs.  A school district must not unilaterally make a policy decision, in advance, on the amount of speech services a child requires and must make an individualized determination.

This post was contributed by Marion Walsh of Littman Krooks LLP. Littman Krooks provides Special Needs Planning and Special Education Advocacy Attorneys to empower individuals with special needs. – See more at:

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Marion Walsh

Written on January 2, 2013 by:

Marion M. Walsh, Esq., is an attorney with Littman Krooks LLP who focuses her practice on special and general education advocacy.  Marion has worked in education law for almost 15 years and has been an advocate for children in many capacities.   Marion is a certified impartial hearing officer for children with disabilities by the New York State Education Department.  She frequently presents on special education and general education law.
  • Yva

    exellent! thank you!

  • Brenda Mann

    This is an excellent article. Parents are at such a disadvantage when entering an IEP uneducated. Sitting at that table can make, even a Master Educator, feel as though they are in another country. I find bringing an advocate to my child’s IEP worth every penny spent on the extra support.

  • I am a special educator and still feel un-armed, as it were, when I go to my son’s IEP’s. I do have a question related to item #10 – I have asked for a music therapy eval and service and the school districts response is that they don’t have any music therapy in their district. I know of 1 music therapist that lives in the area and would be willing to see students within the district, and there are other therapists nearby that could drive in. Is it okay for the district to tell me that they can’t/won’t provide a service because they don’t have someone to serve it?

    • J Mews

      I’m a music therapist in the field for over 8 years and not sure about the education system in US but in Canada it depends on the school administration itself whether they feel comfortable allowing an outside therapist in to provide services.
      I do believe each district should have a therapist of various specialties that they can call upon to help support our children in the best ways possible!
      If I were near I’d love to work with you and your family! I’m also a family therapist.
      Much luck and musical effective therapies!
      John Mews

    • Tamara Jacobson

      It is not common or likely that with FAPE a school district needs to allow for a music therapy evaluation.

      However, if your child isn’t receiving music and a typical child is then you could have a fighting chance to argue discriminatory unequal education. Music is an elective and although so important especially to those with special needs it usually is the first to be cut. You could argue if in the case of Special needs that music calms, sensory integrates, focuses, and tunes into your child as a student and therefore is vital as part of there OT or sensory program thus giving the student the right input for academic learning. It’s a stretch but you could try ..

    • Music Therapist

      As a music therapist myself, in a school district, I can tell you that music therapy is considered a related service, as the list of services under IDEA is not exhaustive. If the team determines that a child may require music therapy services, a school district may not deny the assessment, especially if the excuse is that the school district doesn’t have the employee. If they had a student who was blind, would they need to contract out to a vision services provider? Yes. If they had a deaf student who utilized sign language, would they have to provide an interpreter? Yes. If they have a student who may require music therapy services, must they allow an evaluation if it is agreed upon by the IEP team? Simply put, yes. If you continue to have difficulty, contact the American Music Therapy Association (, as well as your State Department of Education for more clarification. I hope this helps!

  • Molly

    Definitely, bring someone with you to the IEP. This is not an advisarial action: it is proactive. As a related service provider who has attended hundreds of IEP meetings, I know most educators have your child’s best interest at heart. I also know that administrators have threatened and intimidated school staff into offering what the school can provide rather than what your child needs. Take notes, ask questions, trust your instincts. And use your “buddy” to give you a reality check. Your child deserves your best effort on their behalf.

  • Joan

    Great article. I wish you would have included, “We’re reducing the time in the general education setting because at the (insert grade) level, he won’t be getting anything out of it anyway, so that time is better spent on his goals in the special ed room.” That one drives me crazy, and I’m on the team. I try to chime in on the ridiculous comments made by my colleagues in regard to the students we serve, but it appears that the “team” often forgets that parents are a major part of it and steamrolls the proceedings just to keep the meeting under and hour. I wish I could do more for the parents at the meetings and it makes me sick that people who are supposed to be advocates for these children, are the ones who set them back. I know that’s not the case all the time, but unfortunately in my distict, it is the norm I’ve observed.

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  • Alma Aponte

    As committee chairperson formerly special education teacher retiring after this school year, in seriously considering becoming a bilingual-Spanish student advocate. Interested in working with a law firm.
    Available after July 28, 2013.

  • Kari

    How do I go about getting a school evaluation done for Autism? My daughter is 6. We live in Farmington Hills, MI. 48331 Oakland Co. and are in the Walled Lake School District.

    • Kari, ask the teacher, social worker, or principal to begin the process. if she is not yet in school contact the school district directly and ask for an evaluation.

    • Katie

      school can’t diagnose Autism. If you want an actual diagnosis you need an outside developmental/behavioral eval. Your pedi can let you know who can do this in your area. Likely the local children’s hospital.

  • DarkHorseSki

    #2 and #6 are BS excuses by the parents. The others range from very good answers to semi-acceptable.

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  • Samuel_Ian

    My private neuro psych evaluation says my child needs special ed because of executive functioning, we agree and see it. The DOE with there 2 hour test says my child is fine. How do I argue my case at the IEP meeting with their numbers? I feel like they will always say “our numbers show grade level…” and then my child will end up just making it through skill and never learn skills that will be used in high school and beyond


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