The supports and resources that your child with a disability receives at school are set by their IEP—Individualized Education Program.
And the most important step in creating your child’s IEP is their IEP meeting. In that meeting, a team of parents, teachers and school staff work to create a plan to address your child’s special education needs.
This is a crucial process for getting the appropriate special education programs and services for your child as outlined under federal law—and figuring out what they need to make sure they receive those services, putting them in the best position possible going forward.
So as a parent, you may wonder if you can bring a special education lawyer to the meeting?
Legally, you can.
But should you bring a lawyer?
That’s a more complicated question. You might not find it necessary for every meeting.
Let’s go over some of the major points to consider when you’re thinking about bringing a lawyer to an IEP meeting.
In some circumstances, you might consider having a special education attorney with you at your child’s IEP meeting or Committee on Special Education (CSE) meeting.
Below are examples of those times. But these are just examples. Every family needs to do what they feel is right.
You may want to bring a lawyer if any of these situations apply to you:
Having at attorney can suggest the meeting will take a more negative or confrontational tone, but that doesn’t have to be the case.
In some situations, you may decide you need to have a special education attorney participate in your child’s IEP meeting not to be confrontational, but to bring another level of attention to your child’s needs.
Your lawyer first and foremost is there to help the IEP team move forward toward a positive result for your child.
And certainly, if the school district or school staff are telling you that you don’t need to bring a lawyer, or can’t or shouldn’t bring one, you don’t have to accept that. You should always consider you and your child’s needs when you make this decision.
If you go an IEP meeting without a lawyer, and you are not happy with the results, you can always request to have another meeting—a reconvene meeting—and at that time bring an attorney with you.
If you feel like you have a healthy relationship with the school, or you’re just starting to build a strong working relationship with the school district, you may want to hold off on bringing a lawyer to your child’s IEP meeting.
Bringing a lawyer can make the process more adversarial, whether intended or not. Of course, the conversation could also become adversarial without a lawyer, but you still may want to consider what affect a lawyer could have.
IEP meetings are supposed to be a cooperative, team environment, and while an attorney’s presence may facilitate that, it can also create an atmosphere you don’t want, appearing to be a preemptive action.
In addition, if you bring an attorney, the school district will send their attorney as well, and it’s important that families know that.
So if you are happy with services your child is receiving so far, and you get along well with your IEP team and school district, you might not want or need an attorney to be present at the meeting. You’re already being listened to, and your child is receiving support.
You may, however, still have questions and want to make sure that your child is in fact receiving everything they need.
In that case, here’s an alternative approach: You can always meet with a special education attorney in order to plan for the IEP meeting without bringing them to the IEP meeting itself.
With your lawyer helping you in the background, you can strategize for the IEP meeting without the school district knowing at all.
If you’re worried you might be missing something, that the school isn’t telling you something, or you’re unaware of a service, program or accommodation your child should be receiving, at least consulting with a lawyer outside the meeting could be helpful.
Every family and child is different. If you feel having an attorney at your child’s IEP meeting, even if you get along with your school district, is something that you want, you have a right to bring an attorney.
If you are bringing a lawyer to an IEP meeting, you should alert the school district in advance of the meeting as promptly as possible.
They have the right to have their attorney present too, and you should always provide advance notice about anyone you want to bring with you.
If you surprise your school district by showing up to the IEP meeting with a lawyer without warning them, the school district will likely push to reschedule the meeting, and then everything will be delayed.
It’s always best to be open with the school district, both about who you are bringing to a meeting and any documents you want them to review at the IEP meeting.
It’s also best for you to start working with your lawyer as far in advance of the meeting as you possibly can.
You probably can’t decide on a Wednesday that you want an attorney and expect them to be there for an IEP meeting on Friday. With such short notice, you’ll likely need to participate without your lawyer or reschedule the meeting.
This is because your special education attorney also needs time to get up to date on your situation, review documents, strategize and create a plan with you, so you both are prepared for the meeting.
Again, you can always strategize with the attorney and plan for the meeting without the attorney actually attending with you. This can also be cost effective, if that is a factor.
First, if you did not have an attorney at an IEP meeting with you, and you feel the meeting did not go well, or you do not agree with the special education services the school district is recommending, know that you can always request another IEP meeting.
In addition, if the IEP meeting takes a turn for the worse in the middle of it, you can request to stop the meeting, say that you need another date to finish the discussion—and that you will have an attorney with you.
You should always feel good about your IEP meetings, and especially about the resulting programs and services being recommended for your child.
If you don’t feel right about it, maybe even because you’re not sure what is being recommended or why, you might want to consult with a special education attorney who can prepare you and attend IEP meetings with you to advocate on your child’s behalf.