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The Principal’s Role With IEP Teams

By Karen T. McElhinny and Dominick R. Pellegrin
Communicator
October 2014, Volume 38, Issue 2

Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), states must set forth policies and procedures demonstrating they have established educational opportunities for all students with disabilities. States have adopted regulations that require public schools to establish an Individualized Education Program (IEP) team to engage in evaluation, reevaluation, and assessments of children identified as requiring special education.

In many cases, your school’s interaction with a special needs child and his or her parents will be the first opportunity to implement a plan to provide that child with services. (However, some children with disabilities may come to school with an Individualized Family Services Plan). Often, parents of special needs elementary school children are not familiar with the regulations or the system. You can play an important role in helping parents and the child through the process and establish a positive, collaborative focus that may follow the child through his or her educational career. Therefore, as an elementary school principal, it is important to familiarize yourself with the regulations in your state. There are also resources available explaining the IDEA and federal IEP requirements located at http://idea.ed.gov.

IEPs and IEP Teams

An IEP is a product of collaboration between a student’s parents and educators to identify the needs of a student with a disability or giftedness, identify the special education services the student requires, and to determine how to meet those needs. The IEP is a tool that ensures that a student’s needs are being met. It evaluates the student’s progress and monitors whether a student is being provided a free appropriate public education.

Federal and state IEP regulations specify that each public school must establish an IEP team to engage in evaluation, reevaluation, and assessments of children identified as requiring special education. Under these policies, each member of the IEP team is expected to work toward “consensus,” which is usually defined as “general agreement regarding the IEP content” among all IEP team members. The district must ensure the IEP is available to each teacher and service provider responsible for implementing an IEP prior to beginning services as a result of an IEP team meeting.

IEP teams generally consist of the student (where appropriate), the student’s parents, at least one general education teacher of the student, and a representative of the district who is qualified to provide or supervise the provision of special education, and who is knowledgeable about the general education curriculum and the availability of resources of the district, and has the authority to allocate resources. Examples of appropriate district representatives include the county administrator of special education, principal, assistant principal, or professional special education personnel.

The IEP team also includes an individual who can interpret the instructional implications of evaluation results such as a special education specialist, audiologist, special educator, speech/language pathologist, related service provider, or school psychologist. At the parents’ or district’s discretion, others with knowledge or special expertise regarding the child, including related services personnel, may be included. 

Principals who fail to take responsibility and exercise leadership to ensure that IEPs are followed can face serious consequences. Grievance boards have even upheld the removal of public school principals for failure to comply with their IEP team responsibilities. See, for example, Kay Williams v. Cabell County Board of Education (1996).  In Williams, the County Board of Education removed an elementary school principal for violations of two students’ IEPs for confidentiality violations and failure to:

  • Take responsibility and administrative leadership;
  • Ensure teachers implemented the IEP; and
  • Cooperate with parents.

It is important that principals provide leadership for their IEP teams. One step principals can take is to communicate regularly with special education teachers and parents of children with special needs. Be proactive; instead of talking with teachers and parents when problems arise, get involved in the tough cases early to head off problems. Additionally, it is important to be preemptive in dealing with any knowledge deficits that may exist with teachers and staff. Arrange for in-service or continuing education for teachers or staff members who need additional training in the IEP process. Furthermore, make it clear to teachers and other staff that IEP regulations are important and must be followed.

Principals must always take care to thoroughly understand and properly follow the requirements of state policies. This is important not only to protect the principal from disciplinary action, but to ensure every special needs child receives appropriate services.

This article is brought to you by Karen T. McElhinny and Dominick R. Pellegrin of Shuman McCuskey & Slicer, PLLC, Charleston and Morgantown, West Virginia. The article provides general information only and cannot be used as legal advice or a comprehensive guide for state and federal IEP and IDEA regulations and policies.

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